A company has come up with a simple and cheap solution to clean water by harnessing the power of microbes.
Across the globe water utilities are facing new threats when it comes to providing clean and safe drinking water to people as chemicals from agriculture and medical waste enter waterways, leading to increased health risks.
Available effective solutions are often expensive and can produce large quantities of waste that not every city or community can afford to handle. One company has come up with a solution that is cheap and simple enough to be implemented on a wide scale.
The secret lies in harnessing the power of microbes.
Microvi is a San Francisco-based company that employs water-cleaning microbes to do the cleaning. Sludge formation has been a major issue in similar methods, but the company claims to have solved this thanks to the section of the right microbes in a carefully fine-tuned process called cryptic growth.
Microvi uses plastic beads to create the right conditions that stop organisms from reproducing but still allow them to engage in high-quality water cleaning over long periods.
Beads that act as “biocatalysts” help maintain a stable microbe population with living microbes digesting dead ones and so preventing the formation of sludge. The cleaning process can take place in giant reservoirs filled with biocatalyst bubbles, through which water is pumped continuously. When the water flows through the beads, the microbes convert nitrates into nitrogen, which is then released into the atmosphere in what is considered a much safer process than many alternatives.
The beads are expected to work for around 10 years and after which some can be recycled and some might need to go to landfills. Overall, the company calculates that its system can achieve a tenfold reduction in waste compared to other methods. Still, the technology can take on only part of the whole filtration process and works best as a module of the larger system.
At the moment it can handle ammonia, phosphorus and a few other pollutants, but the range of these might increase with time. Previous tests have indicated that the new technology helps reduce nitrates to five milligrams per liter, twice less than the current EPA standard. Also, independent tests have confirmed that over 20 years the tech could help reduce overall water-cleansing costs by around 40%.
The company’s director of Innovation Research, Ameen Razavi, emphasizes that one of their key aims is to help the industry move away from its reliance on chemical and physical processes, which requires lots of energy and produces tons of waste.
The system’s first applications are already running in Australia, England, and the U.S., often to the benefit of remote or disadvantaged communities that can’t afford more expensive solutions. The company is planning to keep expanding with larger full-scale facilities soon.