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Scientists are developing technology that would turn raw sewage into an energy source, according to a report in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have tested a microbial fuel cell, similar to a hydrogen fuel cell, that captures electrons naturally released by bacteria as they digest organic matter and converts them into electric current, instead of having it oxidize. So far, scientists have generated 76 milliwatts per square yard by converting biodegradable wastewater, said Bruce Logan, Penn State's Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering.

That's not a lot of electricity -- common light bulbs use 100 watts of energy, for example. But Logan envisions a system in which wastewater treatment plants would power themselves with this technology. Such plants now consume 5 percent of U.S. energy production, he added.

Wastewater from 100,000 people could yield 2.3 megawatts of power, he said, enough to power 1,500 homes.

-- Washington Post