Wastewater Treatment Facility to a Potential Power Plant
Jeon Byong-hun (Professor, Earth Resources and Environmental Engineering)
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"Biomass is the only replacement for fossil fuels," said Jeon with certainty. Biomass is defined as living or recently dead organisms and any byproducts of those organisms, plant or animal. It can be used to produce renewable electricity, thermal energy, or transportation fuels (biofuels). In his recent review article, "Recent progress in microalgal biomass production coupled with wastewater treatment for biofuel generation," Jeon reviewed the technologies required to successfully integrate the two seemingly different areas: wastewater treatment and cultivation of microalgae.
In order to generate biofuel, a substantial amount of biomass is required. Biomass is found in the natural world, such as in food crops. However, and often times, they are rare and have a low energy yield. Microalgae overcome all of the stated shortcomings. Known as one of the fastest growing life forms on earth, microalgae are found in fresh water or marine systems but can also survive versatile environmental conditions. In other words, microalgae have optimal conditions to be converted into energy. This potential energy source requires abundant Nitrogen and Phosphorus along with diverse minerals, and surprisingly enough, wastewater is a source of such nutrients. With the adequate pre-treatment of wastewater, a sewage disposal plant can turn into a ground for the mass cultivation of microalgae.
This particular review article written by Jeon and his colleagues discourse on the advantages and disadvantages of recent progress and research around the world on such point. The reason why Jeon's research team can write such a review article concentrated on the relationship between microalgae and wastewater treatment is because the very research team discovered that wastewater can be used as a type of microalgae farm. "I personally dream to change such disposal plants into energy plants," said Jeon. He mentioned that 0.5% of the national electricity is spent on the wastewater treatment facilities. What if that facility can generate the amount of resource they use? Or even better, utilize the infrastructure to produce even more energy? "Sewage plant is located in every other neighborhood, unlike other power plants such as nuclear or coal plants. If sewage plants can create energy, the town will be a self-sufficient town."
In becoming one of the leading labs in the field, Jeon emphasizes looking through the keywords. As a college student, Jeon believed that ‘environment' and ‘energy' are going to be one of the most conversed topics in the future. Environmental engineering and eco-friendly energy came naturally into his pathway, which led Jeon to where he is now. Mentioning the fact that Korea can produce only ca. 0.3% of biogas than that of Germany's, Jeon suggested that the environmental engineering field in Korea still needs further research and development. "The field is very future-oriented," said Jeon. "Among the many topics that are and going to be significant in the coming days, renewable and environmentally friendly energy are some of the areas that engineers can contribute to." Jeon plans to keep working on his dream to convert wastewater facilities into energy-independent, and energy-creating social infrastructure.
Kim So-yun firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Choi Min-ju
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