By Anum Yoon
It’s probably safe to say most Americans don’t give much thought to water, unless they live in California. We just assume whenever we want to use some, we can turn on the shower or the sink faucet without thinking twice. And if worse comes to worse, we could always head out to the nearby supermarket to grab a couple of gallons or stop by the gas station to overpay for 20 ounces of the liquid.
This is an extremely convenient thing, because water is the essence of all life. Without it, we couldn’t survive.
It’s very easy to take simple access to water for granted, however. While most Americans might not worry about where they’re going to find the water they need to survive, taking a step back and looking at the world through a wider lens paints a completely different picture.
Believe it or not, 750 million people around the globe — about 11 percent of the population — don’t have simple access to clean drinking water. And on top of that, 2.5 billion people — about 1 in 3 — don’t have access to clean sanitation.
Though a vast majority of the world — 70 percent — is covered with water, it’s not fresh water. The oceans are bigger and more expansive than many of us can imagine, but we can’t drink the water in the ocean. Only 2.5 percent of the world’s water is fresh.
As the world’s population continues to grow and water is needed for more and more applications (e.g., fracking is responsible for 135 billion gallons of water being used in the United States alone), it’s imperative we take serious steps to solve the world’s water problems before it’s too late.
Luckily, thanks to forward-thinking problem-solvers and breakthroughs in technology, we may be inching closer to a serious solution for the water problems plaguing our planet.
“It grows in a witches brew, can degrade over 50 organic molecules and even photosynthesize like a plant,” explains Peter Lammers, an algal bioenergy professor at Arizona State University. For those reasons, it’s “one of the most interesting microorganisms on the planet.”
Because of the way it works wonders at Yellowstone, Lammers and a team of researchers are wondering whether the microorganism can be leveraged to do something else: turn wastewater clean. To test the hypothesis, he and his colleagues are diverting wastewater from the city of Las Cruces, New Mexico’s sewer system and redirecting it into bags that are lined with Galdieria sulphuraria.
Because of the microorganisms’ filtering ability, so to speak, wastewater may be able to be purified — while also providing water treatment plants with an additional revenue stream. Currently, the electricity and technology needed to treat wastewater and remove nitrogen and phosphorous is expensive. However, the organic material within sewage creates more energy than it takes to sterilize it. If treatment plants can harness this energy and sell it, the increased revenue will cut down on the energy used by the facility.
In addition, when it’s used in water purification, Galdieria sulphuraria helps leave behind more organic sludge which can be converted to biofuel oil. So much so, Lammers believes, that sewage treatment farms may even be able to become nearly self-sufficient because they could nearly eliminate their electricity usage.
Should the research prove successful, the applications could be limitless. Wastewater is becoming a bigger and bigger problem across the globe. In addition to humanity’s utter dependence on clean water, it’s important to remember we’re not alone on the planet. All plants and wildlife depend on the liquid, too.
In any event, things need to change. As it stands now, 90 percent of the world’s wastewater is discharged into our environment without being treated. Let’s hope Galdieria sulphuraria lives up to its promise. The future of our planet may very well depend on it.
Image credit: Pixabay