ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – UTA engineering student Ben Johnston found out there’s a lot of waste left from marketing something as simple as a gallon of milk.

“For every gallon of milk there’s ten gallons of refuse waste,” Johnston said. “And it just comes from all the washing they have to do with the big containers they have to use, all the pasteurization, homogenization, those kinds of things.”

Johnston designed a microbial fuel cell to use spoiled milk, orange juice or other liquids. The idea would use large tubes and a basic reaction with bacteria in the liquid.  “If on one side you have a bunch of oxygen and on the other side there’s very little oxygen because that’s where the bacteria are living the electrons will flow towards the side with more oxygen,” Johnston said.

It gets technical, but the short of it is Johnston designed a tube using a membrane and a solar panel to convert that reaction to electricity. The electricity in turn creates hydrogen in the cell. And hydrogen can be used as fuel.  “You can collect that and use that in a hydrogen fuel cell to power like a forklift or something like that,” Johnston said.

Johnston’s idea won a prestigious statewide contest backed by private industry.  “We wanted ideas that reduced waste, which this certainly does,” said Tom Pryor of the Small Business Development Center at UTA which helped organize the contest. “(It) has the potential of commercial success and creating jobs.”

Now the contest backers are either providing or helping find the seed money to develop the microbial fuel tube and potentially manufacture it in North Texas.

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