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Application of Microbial Fuel Cells for waste water treatment

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Microbial fuel cells help clean up waste water

EU-funded researchers have improved the design of microbial fuel cells (MFCs) to create a reliable and cost-efficient system for decontaminating waste water in remote areas.

Climate Change and Environment icon Climate Change and Environment

Clean water is vital for human life, but this crucial resource is threatened around the world by pollution from the residential, industrial and commercial sectors. Fortunately, society is moving towards a circular economy, where water recycling plays a major role, replacing the traditional ‘take-make-consume and dispose’ model of growth. Currently, the world’s population is growing by about 80 million people each year, which means demand for freshwater is increasing by 64 billion cubic metres a year. There is therefore an urgent need to reuse water exacerbated by the threat of water scarcity that has encouraged the development of water treatment systems to meet ever-growing demand. The Horizon 2020 MEMBio project addressed this challenge by developing an efficient, versatile and environmentally friendly process for the industrial synthesis of biocompatible ceramic scaffold membranes for treating wastewater. “Our system will reduce energy demand and thus the generation of sludge, with minimum maintenance,” says Dr Jonas Gurauskis, project coordinator and founder of AENEAM Advanced Membrane Technologies. Improved technology and policies MEMBio membranes are MFC devices, featuring a design that improves upon standard MFCs, which use respiring microbes to convert organic substrate directly into electrical energy. “Our cells are not focused on electrical production, they are aimed at the consumption of contaminants by microbial species within the cell’s anode,” explains Dr Gurauskis. Researchers conducted full operational tests to validate the system ahead of full commercialisation and used market analysis to develop a technical roadmap. “We identified three different type of clients to target and initiated targeted pilot studies,” notes Dr Gurauskis. “We will evaluate the performance of three different prototypes in real environments and this will lead to re-engineering/re-design of our membranes and bring us closer to market readiness.” Apart from the technical roadmap, other key results include a redefined intellectual property (IP) policy, which was achieved with the help of an EU mentor. Dr Gurauskis comments: “We are extremely happy with the guidance we have received. Being a small company, it is difficult to devote resources to classical IP management based on patenting everything. After some brainstorming we decided to go for a ‘freedom to operate strategy’.” Full technical support The project will publish MEMBio’s findings and designs in open source journals, following the principle ‘as open as possible and closed as necessary’. “This approach will simplify the patenting process and will ensure that any other company will not patent anything similar to our membranes,” notes Dr Gurauskis. MEMBio offers companies in the agro-industrial sector not only the water treatment system but also maintenance and consultancy services. The cells will be deployed in remote agricultural or industrial sites with wastewater streams that require water treatment before disposal/reuse. “It is important to stress that the cells require very little maintenance. This makes them the perfect choice in third-world locations where standard waste water treatment technologies fail due to lack of trained personal or options to keep them running,” Dr Gurauskis points out.


MEMBio, microbial fuel cell (MFC), water treatment, wastewater, intellectual property (IP), energy efficiency

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