What’s on : Lectures

Making Sense of Sewage – Industrial Biotechnology

Lectures
Date
30 Jan 2018
Start time
7:30 PM
Venue
Tempest Anderson Hall
Speaker
Dr James Chong, Department of Biology, University of York

Event Information

Making Sense of Sewage – Industrial Biotechnology

Dr James Chong, Department of Biology, University of York

Along with more than 11 billion litres of waste water each day, the UK population flushes more than one million tonnes of organic material down its sewers every year. How is this material treated and where does it go? Through the process of anaerobic digestion, this waste has the potential for energy to be reclaimed and for much of the organic material to be recycled into useful resources. Anaerobic digestion is a widely-used, but poorly understood industrial biotechnology, the basis of which is a complex community of microbes. In this lecture I will explain how my group is using cutting-edge analytical methods to better understand these communities with the aim of developing methods to optimise and improve the recovery of resources from sewage.

Member’s report

While making sewage interesting and at times amusing, Dr Chong had a very serious story to tell. We heard staggering figures for the amount of sewage generated in the UK; 11 billion litres of waste liquid and over a million tonnes of organic material every year.

This sewage is treated in thousands of plants around Britain. Sludge is processed by about 1,500 types of naturally occurring microbes. A sewage-treatment known as anaerobic digestion produces methane gas, which means essentially that treated sewage has the potential to produce energy. Dr Chong and his team are involved in researching ways to recover this resource, including genetic engineering of microbes so that they produce more gas rather than growing other microbes. The ultimate objective is to harness the energy to produce electricity. There are many challenges yet to overcome including not just the scientific but also the development of the infrastructure needed to store and deliver the energy.

Ken Hutson