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    A bizarre contraption has just been put together in the northern Utah town of Plain City. It's the first full-scale test of a major invention from the University of Utah. If it works, it could have worldwide significance and will save people here lots of money on their sewer bills.

    It looks like alien mushrooms sprouting in a sewage lagoon, but it may be the wave of the future in sewage treatment.

    Don Weston, Plain City director of environmental services, said, "The good bacteria stays in there and just continues to eat, eat, eat and propagate and propagate."

    For the folks in Plain City, the new concept came at a good time. Their sewage volume is increasing with growth. Effluent discharges are getting closer to violating pollution standards. They face the enormous cost of a mechanical sewage plant.

    "They figured it would be right around $13 million. And this is going to cost us $100,000," Weston said.

    Over the next couple of weeks, they'll be filling up the lagoon so the sewage will rise above the level of the domes. Air will bubble through them and up through the sewage.

    "We call them PooGloos," said Professor Kraig Johnson, with the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Utah.

    A University of Utah team invented the igloo concept and have successfully treated sewage in the lab. "I don't know why somebody didn't think of this already. It's elegant in its simplicity," Johnson said.

    The idea is to give bacteria lots of surface area to grow on, plenty of oxygen, and a dark environment to prevent algae growth. "If you can keep the algae from growing and enhance the bacteria, then the pollutants are removed by the bacteria," Johnson explained.

    The result is faster, cheaper sewage treatment. "This way we can use two of our six ponds to do the same thing, and I can shut half this plant down once these are going," Weston said.

    And homeowners don't have to pay for a big new plant.

    Plain City mayor Jay Jenkins said, "We've got real low sewer rates. We're down around the $10-a-month area. And our feeling was if we would have had to go to a mechanical plant, we probably would have ended up having to increase that to around $40 or $50 a month."

    If it works, communities all over the world may have PooGloos in their future. The University shares the patents, so if PooGloos catch on around the world, the U will split the profits with the inventors.

    For more information, click the related link to the right of the story.

    December 4, 2008