The solution can be used to treat wastewater while generating energy and income.

Among the various sustainable energy alternatives, hydrogen appears as a possibility for the future.

Hydrogen can be a raw material for the production of electrical energy and fuels, an alternative widely sought after around the world.

But hydrogen is produced by energy intensive processes, which makes its use impractical at the moment. The solution that researchers at the Federal University of CearĂ¡ (UFC) found was produce it exclusively from wastewater.

In laboratory tests, they were able to generate enough energy to charge cell phones. The amount is still small, but the idea is that This alternative can be used on a large scale and can even be used for its own wastewater treatment. Imagine producing clean energy while solving one of big city’s biggest problems. It would be an extraordinary achievement.

Sanitation is considered to have no commercial or political value, so there is no investment. Once we can place a business value on wastewater treatment, companies and politicians will see sanitation in a different way, not just as a worthless obligation, but as a source of revenue.

Fernanda Leite Lobo, Department of Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering UFC


The research used biochemical technology that the UFC says is recent in academia and not yet used in Brazil.

The principle is the use of chemical energy from organic matter in wastewater to produce electrons, which can be manipulated to generate electricity and create certain chemical reactions. It is these reactions that make the production of hydrogen possible.

This technology works with a microbial fuel cell capable of converting chemical energy present in wastewater into electric current.

It’s a simple model: an acrylic cube with two electrodes (an anode and a cathode, much like the positive and negative sides of a battery).

The electrons that go from one electrode to the other are collected and used by means of a power control system (PMS) to generate the voltage needed to produce hydrogen.

We have succeeded in isolating the reactions, that of the production of energy by the sewer and that of the release of hydrogen, by electrically isolating the electrodes that are in the sewer and by storing this energy for a time. It is precisely this stored energy that enables the production of hydrogen, eliminating the need for any external energy source.

Fernanda Leite Lobo.


The use of this large-scale method for the treatment of waste continues to depend on numerous studies and, of course, on political will not only for its application but also in the form of research incentives. But for now, there is some evidence that the technology is possible.

Its use in the automotive industry is also a reality, standing out as a clean fuel that does not produce greenhouse gases, in addition to being quiet.

The study was carried out in collaboration with the US universities of Princeton and Columbia and the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Even the tests are done in North American laboratories.

The next step will be to apply the methodology in the UFC laboratories. Also in 2020, researchers hope to partner with the Chinese Institute of Technology in Harbin (HIT) for additional testing.

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