Don't flush! You can use that poop to power your house.
Okay, that's an exaggeration, but only because the infrastructure isn't in place (yet) to support the process. The fact human feces could supply energy - and a lot of it - is real, according to a new United Nations University (UNU) report.
If harnessed properly and safely, the biogas from poop could power as many as 138 million homes worldwide, and due to the ubiquity of available resources (ahem) the market value of poop power could equal $9.5 billion dollars in natural gas.
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The benefits of turning human waste into energy are seemingly limitless. Reliance on natural gas goes down, energy independence goes up, the environment improves, the financial savings are sizable, and human waste stops being a liability and becomes an asset.
Feces conversion could also help people in certain parts of the world who don't have wide access to improved sanitation.
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In India, for example, many people defecate in the open. If that fecal matter alone was turned into biogas, it could generate power great enough to feed 10 million to 18 million households. It would also help prevent illness that arise from sanitation problems "When it comes to creating misery and poverty, human waste mismanagement has few rivals," Says UNU director Zafar Adeel said in a release. "If we can demonstrate a simple, cost effective new approach in low-resource settings, if we can successfully make a business case and change the economic paradigm of human waste management, we can advance development, protect the environment and help reduce sanitation problems causing 1/10th of all world illnesses."
Biogas is generated when the bacteria in feces breaks down in an environment without oxygen (an anaerobic system).
Despite the obvious benefits of converting poop into power, the trickiest part might simply be changing minds and hearts.
"We recycle the nutrients in human waste effectively via agriculture in many places, yet the potential energy value of human waste has been given much less attention to date," report co-author Chirs Metcalfe said in the release. "Challenges are many but clearly there is a compelling, multi-dimensional financial case to be made for deriving energy from waste."