Winery helps turn wastewater into hydrogen


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For all that pours from a bottle of wine, be thankful for all the stuff they leave out -- the pulp, the stems, the seeds, plus all the wastewater that wineries use to wash it away.

Wash water comes along with any kind of agricultural operation, and it's expensive. One winery in Napa alone can generate 10 million to 12 million gallons a year at a cost of $100,000.

"We use 5 percent of the electricity in this country just for our water infrastructure," explains Dr. Bruce Logan of Penn State Wniversity.

Dr. Logan never imagined using the Napa Wine Company as a laboratory, but it's happened. He has a built an experimental, small scale, wate treatment plant. Through organic matter hydrolysis, it converts biological material in wastewater to energy.

"The bacteria grow on these brushes and they create electricity. Amps of electricity," says Dr. Logan.

With hydrogen gas as the byproduct, hydrogen fuel could run equipment. Hydrogen fuel cells could generate electricity.

"In a perfect world, if I could have hydrogen run the wastewater pond, that would be a home run," says Napa Wine Company general manager Sheldon Parker.

For now, this remains a conceptual study. Dr. Logan's first units were so small you could hold them in your hand. A new one is the size of several refrigerators.

In a working world, they would need to be large enough to hold all of the wastewater, but therein lies the potential.

"There is almost 10 times more energy in the wastewater than we use to currently treat it," says Dr. Logan. "If we get out a tenth of that energy, we could run the treatment system by itself, but we still got nine times more energy in there that we could extract. We're wasting that; we're throwing it away."

If this system develops as planned, an industrial version might be five years away and could convert any kind of wastewater, even sewage.

For now, though, wine is much nicer to work with.

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