The idea of generating electricity from wastewater treatment is nothing new, but some new techniques and applications have emerged that bring a more positive impact not only to the environment, but on the community as well.
Alumni from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras have put together a startup that develops microbial fuel cells (MFC) that can generate electricity from textile wastewater. JSP Enviro, the company they founded in 2016, was created with the aim expanding wastewater treatment and restoring polluted water systems to improve the landscape and produce sustainable solutions. They did their initial testing on a 30-acre lake located in Chennai.
Dr V T Fidal Kumar, the Founder of JSP Enviro said, “Microbial Fuel Cells are relatively a new technology and if implemented for all major industrial effluents, we can aim to achieve high energy savings. I am hopeful that this technology will create a great impact on the waste and energy sectors.”
They wanted to target textile wastewater because of the large quantities of dyes that make its way to the water bodies untreated because of a lack of Common Effluent Treatment Plants. JSP Enviro wanted to create an energy positive effluent treatment process that has no operational expenditure and is carbon neutral. They expect that initial investment should be earned back in 5 years due to energy savings. They also wanted to make it flexible enough to be scalable and work from small installations with minimal maintenance.
To understand how MFCs work, JSP Enviro’s Dr Priyadharshini Mani explained, “This product is based on environment-friendly microorganisms that degrade the waste and produce electricity in the process. The distinctive feature of our technology is that it is energy positive as opposed to the energy-intensive technologies available in the market. The product requires minimal maintenance and is targeted at dyeing, printing, leather, dairy industries in India. The current systems used are expensive and have a high maintenance cost. Therefore, our technology is expected to significantly reduce the cost, making it accessible to the small industries.”
Microbial fuel cells (MFC) converts biochemical reactions to electrical energy by the action of microorganisms. Much like batteries, these cells have a positive (anode) and a negative (cathode) portion where electrons pass through. MFCs utilize a membrane that separates the anode, where oxidation occurs, from the cathode where reduction takes place. Electrons produced during oxidation then pass through an electrode that then make its way to the cathode. Most MFCs use an organic electron donor that is oxidized to produce CO2, protons and electrons.
MFCs can be used for low power generation applications such as battery-operated devices. Any organic material can be used to feed the fuel cell, including the dyes used by small textile companies in India which JSF Enviro has targeted. It provides a renewable form of energy and does not need to be recharged.
JSP Enviro is currently in the process of joining the IIT Madras Bioincubator to augment R&D for its product. They plan to launch a demonstration model by early 2020.
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