From compost heap to innovative biotechnology: a milestone for cheaper wastewater treatment

Posted By GWE / February 25, 2016 / Related technologies: FLOTAMET™,

GWE’s proposal engineer, Dr. Ir. Emilie Courtens, is finding treasure in unexpected places. Dr. Courtens is studying ways to improve the efficiency of nitrogen removal wastewater technologies. Current biological nitrogen removal processes operate at low temperature. However, nitrogen removal at higher temperatures is seen as an attractive alternative to traditional treatment as the energy-consuming cooling system can be avoided for hot wastewater, less waste sludge is produced and smaller reactors are required.

The developed thermophilic process is based on an intense cooperation of bacteria with archaea. The very specific structure of their cell membranes allows them to work efficiently at high temperatures. As a result of the reduced sludge production, this new technology could lead to operational cost savings of 30%, and a more efficient use of industrial land surface. In addition, the benefits are not only applicable to hot waste water, as many industries have an excess of waste heat that can be easily exploited.

Although most research on thermophiles focuses on exotic places such as Icelandic hot springs or hydrothermal vents in the deep ocean, Dr. Courtens, in her research at the Laboratory of Microbial Ecology and Technology (LabMET), University of Ghent, showed that similar thermophilic microbes can be found right in your backyard compost heap!

Further research is currently being conducted at the University of Ghent in collaboration with GWE for implementation of this process on industrial wastewater. Dr. Courtens’ discoveries show that innovative solutions can sometimes be found in ordinary environments.