Project harnesses bacteria

Technology harnesses bacteria to generate electricity needed to treat wastewater in a project driven by University of Tasmania researchers.

The power-generating method being trialled could revolutionise the treatment process by creating electricity from the wastewater being treated itself, researchers say.

They presented their findings at a forum held at UTAS’ Newnham campus on Friday.

While the team has focused recently on treating dairy wastewater, the technology could apply to other industries.

Their work, backed by a Tasmanian Community Fund grant, uses microbial fuel cells in wastewater lagoons or ponds. 

Sludge at the bottom breaks down without oxygen, while that closer to the top does so with oxygen.

Similarly to a battery, the fuel cell uses the difference in chemical potential between the layers to create an electrical current used to power pumps aerating the wastewater and speeding the treatment process.

Project co-leader Rouzbeh Abbassi said he worked on a similar concept, applied to municipal wastewater, previously at Princeton University.

If they took part in field trials in Tasmania, local companies including TasWater could use the technology within one to two years, he said.

It could lead to cost savings and greater efficiency to the dairy industry, researchers say.

They have installed a proof-of-concept, scale microbial fuel cell integrated with a wastewater lagoon in a laboratory at Australian Maritime College, and will continue tests until mid-2017, when they plan to publish their research findings. 

Researchers plan next to begin conducting full-scale field trials of the technology with the state’s dairy industry and would like to hear from other interested organisations.

Project co-leaders Dr Abbassi and Dr Vikram Garaniya thanked the Tasmanian Community Fund, co-leader Dr Trevor Lewis, and Dr Asheesh Yadav at CSIR India for their support.