New technology streamlines wastewater treatment by removing deadly pathogens

Posted 27 July 2017

PathogensA new technology developed to generate electricity while cleaning organic waste during wastewater treatment has also been found to kill life-threatening water pathogens and improve water quality.

In a breakthrough discovery from researchers at the University of the West of England, microbial fuel cell (MFC) technology has been found to attack and destroy the Salmonella pathogen. 

“We were really excited with the results – it shows we have a stable biological system in which we can treat waste, generate electricity and stop harmful organisms making it through to the sewerage network,” said Director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre and lead researcher Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos. 

Ieropoulos said the technology, which he believes is a world-first, could prove helpful for the wastewater industry if systems are fitted in homes, as wastewater reaching sewerage systems will be cleaner and easier to treat.

“Water companies are under pressure to improve treatment and produce cleaner and cleaner water at the end of the process,” Ieropoulos said.  

“This means costs are rising, energy consumption levels are high and powerful chemicals are being used.”

Researches added Salmonella enteritidis to urine flowing through the system and found that pathogen numbers dropped below minimum requirements used in most wastewater treatment facilities

“The wonderful outcome in this study was that tests showed a reduction in the number of pathogens beyond the minimum expectations in the sanitation world,” said University of the West of England Emeritus Professor of Microbiology John Greenman.

“We have reduced the number of pathogenic organisms significantly, but we haven't shown we can bring them down to zero – we will continue the work to test if we can completely eliminate them.”

Researchers are now working on testing other pathogens, including viruses, with the aim of establishing whether the MFC technology can completely remove pathogens from wastewater

It’s hoped the new discovery will also add to the benefits of the technology’s application in the developing world, whereby electricity for smaller communities is produced while removing harmful bacteria from effluent released back into waterways.