Zapping Microbes With Electricity Could Cut Chemical Use in Wastewater by 50%


Photo by tauntingpanda via Flickr Creative Commons

The mining industry requires significant amounts of water, and the water used becomes polluted with toxins including arsenic, mercury and sulfates. Typically, the water is cleaned with microbes which do their job by adding or removing electrons from the soup, but they need to be supplemented with chemical additives. But a new process could change that, feeding microbes with electric charges instead, and cutting the need for chemicals by half, or possibly even more. Earth Times points us to news from University of Utah, which reports that a team of researchers have found a better, more environmentally friendly way to clean the wastewater from mines.

The process is called electrobiochemical reactor (EBR), through which small doses of an electric charge is applied to microbes to help them more quickly and efficiently remove the toxic pollutants from mining, industrial and agricultural wastewater. The process has shown to improve the microbe activity by two to 10 times, and drastically reduce the cost of processing wastewater. Not only is the use of chemicals reduced by at least half, if not more, but also the contaminants can be collected and recycled.


Image via INOTEC

To make the process even more eco-friendly, the electric voltage can be supplied by a small solar array, taking the process off-grid.

So far, five lab tests have been successful, and the group, which has a start-up called INOTEC, is readying for an on-site pilot-scale project at an inactive gold mine, and a second contract for a pilot project at a silver mine is in the works. The start-up has been recognized at the prestigious Clean Tech Open competition this year, and is confident that after pilot testing, the process can be scaled up for industrial uses at not only mines, but also agricultural areas like feedlots and industrial areas.

Other innovative ways to use microbes to clean water supplies includes igloo-shaped domes on the bottom of wastewater treatment plants that house microbes, as well as simply playing Classical music. While playing Mozart might be an iffy strategy, providing electric stimulation will probably prove useful.

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Tags: Concepts & Prototypes | Pollution