Environmental

January 5, 2013

Microbial Wastewater Treatment Facilities Are Environmentally Beneficial

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Microbial wastewater treatment is part of a process to treat sewage generated by public and private users. Waterborne diseases can spread without proper cleaning. Clean water is essential for plants and animals who will suffer if unclean wastewater is discharged into waterways.

Over time a complicated system has been developed to convert sewage into a form safe enough for its release into the ecosystem. Modernized plant facilities manage the process. Normally, this process applies three levels of material management. The initial preliminary stage followed with the primary and then the secondary stage. Some systems employ further tertiary treatments.

Incoming influent material is first screened to collect collectible pieces of trash. The trash is disposed of in garbage pits or incinerators. The facility then begins treating the influent which contains biological and chemical pollutants.

Primary treatment removes about 60 percent of the suspended solids from the water through settling processes. With secondary stage more than 90 percent of suspended solids are removed. This stage is entirely dependent upon the use of microbes to decompose the material. The most widely used method involves the use of activated sludge. Tertiary treatment removes more of what is left using methods such as passing through wetlands, further filtering or disinfection by treatment with chlorine, ultraviolet light or ozone. This cleansing stage is not always included in such systems.

The goal is to modify or remove polluting material to enable safe discharge into the natural environment. The quality of this effluent has improved since the 1970s. The passage of the Clean Water Act, overseen by the EPA, required investments that have been agents of beneficial changes. Yet there is room for further improvement and technological progress.

Although microbes are normally applied in the secondary phase, using bacteria in other phases is also beneficial. They can begin decomposition earlier if used at the primary stage. To prevent the potential for algae blooms microbial activity can be used to remove excess organic nutrients. Microorganisms help reduce sludge. Sludge is a byproduct that is filtered and has to be eventually disposed of.

Recent research work has demonstrated the productive uses of microbial fuel cells as generators of energy. These microbial fuel cells employ certain types of bacteria to make energy from waste conversion. The MFC is a type of battery that is part biological reactor and part electrochemical cell. It normally has 2 electrodes separated by an ion exchange membrane. On the anode side microbes make up a cell that sticks. In the process of metabolism the microbes act as catalysts converting organic matter into electrons, protons and carbon dioxide. By oxidizing organic pollutants bacteria transfer electrons to the anode. Then the electrons flow to the cathode through the electrical circuit generating electricity.

The electricity-generating capacity of bacteria has been known for some time. In recent years efforts to increase the amount to a commercially viable level has begun to bear fruit. A growing number of facilities have become beneficiaries of improved capacity, efficiency and reduced operational costs. The use of microbial wastewater treatment keeps the procedures as natural as possible and this is in the interest of the eventual goal of treating influents.

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