Overcoming Barriers of Waste and Energy

Edwin Antonio Chingate (ESR3)

My plan for today is to show you the clear link between environmental research, personal development, and gas stealing. But first I wanna talk a little bit about you. I know that you’re producing a lot of waste every day! You shower every morning; you flush your toilet at least 5 times a day; you wash your hands frequently; you wash your dishes after your meals; and you’re making your laundry once a week, right? That’s just wastewater from your house. What about the plastic that you’re using or the carbon footprint from your activities? Do you feel bad about yourself? Let me tell you about waste production in my environmental engineering research.

Every Monday, I clean my glassware and accessories for microbial medium storage with 27 L of ultra-pure water. To be sure that it would be appropriate for my microbial medium storage, I autoclave it for two and a half hours. Tuesday afternoon, I use that glassware to prepare 15 L of microbial medium, and I start my experiments.

Activated sludge from the wastewater treatment plant as inoculum, incredible diversity of bacteria that also include potential pathogens. 5 mL for every chemostat and continuous flow can start. 12 pumps, 6 scales and 6 magnetic stirrer plates are working constantly for me to get a picture of bacterial metabolism with my daily samples.

After one week of constant operation, that 15 L of microbial medium becomes waste. Depending on the experiment, they have some toxic substances and a lot of bacteria. The following week, the cycle continues.

In the end, I have some useful data, a lot of wastewater, and confusion in my mind. Am I really working for the environment?

Depressing, right?… instead I would prefer to show you how to steal gas from a car:

Let’s go step by step. All that you would need is 1 m length tubing, an unprotected car, and a container for your new acquisition.

1. Open the gas tank.

2. Introduce one extreme of your tubing into the gas tank, and be sure that you reach the bottom.

3. Put your container next to the tank at ground level.

4. Be sure that now your tubing has a curve shape like in figure 1.

Figure 1. Expected shape for tubing in the crime.

5. Suck out some gas from the other extreme, and you will see gas flowing into your container without any additional effort.

6. Enjoy your gas.

Step 4 describes not just how to start the gas flow in a crime, but almost everything in life. Also, you may notice some similarities between figures 1 and 2. Both start at a certain level, high for gasoline or energy for chemical reactions. Then, that level increase and later decreased even lower than the initial point.

Figure 2. Chemical reaction progress representation1

Everything in life implies effort, and most of the time, the biggest challenge is at the beginning. Climbing that mountain of effort is always challenging, but when you realize that that’s the most difficult part, you’ll feel everything smother. A piece of advice for free: if you wanna make your dreams come true, go for it and start now!

In my case, I’m living a dream. My work is a constant challenge, sometimes I don’t even know where to start with my tasks, but I have as much space and resources as never before. I can follow my curiosity and solve a puzzle every day. Successful in my research means contributing to trace organic chemicals (TOrCs) removal from our water.

First-year in my Ph.D. wasn’t easy, but I know that I would solve this puzzle with my effort. I’m climbing a huge mountain, not just effort but also waste. I’m getting data that help me to understand bacterial metabolism and how do they transform those TOrCs. Deep knowledge in bacterial transformation of TOrCs would drive to improve current solutions and make them accessible for more people.

Just to finish, I have to tell you that we are also treating all of our waste at the chair of urban water systems engineering from TUM.