Self-Sufficient and Off the Grid

Nov. 8, 2017

Earlier this week, Water Efficiency’s Laura Sanchez wrote about a method of generating potable water from the atmosphere by collecting the condensation from a car’s air conditioning coils or from household appliances. It’s a worthwhile goal, whether your main concern is conserving water or avoiding plastic water bottles. There’s a similar concept gaining ground that promises to provide both water and energy, but unlike generating water from your car, this one suffers from a bit of an ick factor.

The device in question is known as the NEWgenerator, developed by Daniel Yeh at the University of South Florida. It starts not with a car but with wastewater—read “sewage”—and uses the same sort of technology as anaerobic membrane bioreactors, or AnMBRs. AnMBRs, as this article explains, convert sewage into biogas that can be used to generate electricity. The NEWgenerator can be used for small-scale wastewater treatment in places where conventional large-scale sewer systems and treatment plants are unavailable or overtaxed. An early version of the device was tested two years ago in India, and a $1.14 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be used to install the next-generation model in Durban, South Africa.

Although traditional membrane bioreactors are scalable, they tend to be large, and Yeh is envisioning the NEWgenerator as a compact, solar-powered, easily movable water treatment device that can be distributed wherever it’s needed. He says that in addition to producing energy, it recovers nitrogen and phosphorus from the wastewater it treats in sufficient quantities to be used to fertilize crops. (The “NEW” in the name stands for nutrients, energy, and water.)

In many areas of the world with water shortages, collection and recovery of stormwater has been tried as a solution, but the problem with rain is that it’s usually seasonal: the resource is abundant when you least need it. This article from Stormwater looks at the feasibility of rainwater harvesting and storage in various climates and concludes that for some—southern California, for instance—it doesn’t make economic sense. Do you think some combination of a compact wastewater treatment device and a rainwater harvesting system could provide enough water for non-potable uses in such places? Or, if technologies like the NEWgenerator succeed, do we need to bother with rainwater harvesting at all?

StormCon 2018 Call for Papers Is Open
StormCon, the conference exclusively for stormwater and surface-water professionals, is seeking abstracts for presentation at StormCon 2018, which will take place in Denver on August 12–16, 2018. The deadline for submitting abstracts is Wednesday, December 6, 2017.

We are accepting abstracts in six conference tracks: Stormwater Infrastructure and Best Management Practices; Green Infrastructure; Stormwater Permit Compliance; Funding, Staffing, and Managing the Stormwater Program; Industrial Stormwater Management; and Research and Testing. For descriptions of the tracks and more information about submitting an abstract, please visit  

About the Author

Janice Kaspersen

Janice Kaspersen is the former editor of Erosion Control and Stormwater magazines.