Alternative Energy Source? The Secret May Be in the Sewer

by Guest-Author on September 12, 2012

Do you ever find yourself worried about the future of our planet? With our resources rapidly depleting more and more every day, much about Earth’s long-term future is uncertain. Energy sources such as coal and oil are finite and therefore come with an expiration date, so when they’re gone they’re gone. Thankfully, several scientists, engineers and other knowledgeable specialists are using their collective brain power to develop sustainable, renewable alternatives —and one might be closer than we realize.

In Minnesota, a public utilities employee—Scott Sjolund—has been toying with the notion that we can extract and utilize valuable energy from our nation’s sewer systems. His idea is derived from the concept that our sewers consist of kitchen and bathroom runoff from sinks, showers and toilets, most of which contains some degree of heat. And heat can be used to generate energy, thus, our sewers are a potential powerhouse of renewable energy.

To be sure, sensors were installed to gauge just how much untapped energy might be coursing through city pipes, and the results were impressive enough to give Sjolund’s belief some concrete scientific support. The energy would primarily be used for heating and cooling systems, as some experts have said the sewer is already at ideal temperatures for that.

A professor from the Oregon Institute of Technology’s Renewable Energy Program, the nation’s first four-year higher education program dedicated to the study of renewable energy, even weighed in on the subject. He believes that not only is this a promising, sustainable option, but it also has the potential to cut costs that would normally be used for installation of other heating and cooling systems—talk about a win-win for the environment, people and companies.

The only problem? Extracting the useful energy in an efficient, effective manner that preserves the fuel without the contamination. As everyone knows, sewers are hardly the cleanest places, so taking necessary sanitary measures is a must. The process would involve running water through a heat pump where the energy can be extracted, and while it might seem complex, experts assure it is very conceivable.

Similarly, some energy plants are using sewage to fuel their operations, and while the overall processes and methods involved are a bit different, the basic principle—that sewage is a practically unlimited energy source—remains the same. The 2010 Winter Olympics also used a similar concept to supply the various Olympic villages with energy.

So do sewers hold the key to infinitely renewable energy? Sources say yes, but there is still a long way to go. Consumers should remain patient and confident that this is a good sign of progress and growth. Presently, this option does risk a lot of competition from readily available, competitively priced natural gas, but, just like coal and oil that has an expiration date, whereas sewage will always be as long as there are humans inhabiting the planet.

Discoveries such as these have only helped the world of renewable energy. Being a field of growing importance, many colleges are beginning to expand their curricula to incorporate programs that focus on alternate energy choices. Recognizing that our society’s need for more options will only grow with time, many students find these fields of study attractive and secure—an investment in the future of not only their professional careers, but also our planet as a whole.

This guest post is provided by Mariana Ashley, who writes about educational issues for She enjoys covering hot button topics such as climate change, pollution and politics, as these issues directly affect and influence college students of today. She can be reached by email at

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