New Invention is a Recycling Breakthrough

Newly patented technology can cheaply make sewage and waste water clean enough to drink and could cut water use by 60 per cent
June 9, 2006

Newly patented technology invented by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) scientist, Dr Tony Taylor, can cheaply make sewage and waste water clean enough to drink and could cut water use by 60 per cent, according to ANSTO’s online magazine, Velocity published today.

Dr Taylor, a microbiologist, has invented a revolutionary membrane bioreactor that he describes as a
simple arrangement of gills that uses bacteria to operate as a lung and a stomach.

“The system literally eats waste matter and breathes air, so is self perpetuating,” explained Dr Taylor.
“The great thing about the technology is that, firstly, it’s cheap and, secondly, it can be used in a
variety of sizes for houses, unit complexes or municipal treatment plants.

“At this stage we have made a working model the size of a fridge freezer that can be used in a house
to recycle waste and we are now looking for business partners to help develop and manufacture this
size and bigger sizes in the future,” he said.

Called a nano-particulate membrane bioreactor (NMB) the secret of this technology is in the unique
membrane, which is inexpensive and is patented by ANSTO.

“In most similar technologies the biomass (fungi and bacteria) this is grown in liquid which means
oxygen levels are low and aeration is expensive,” explained Dr Taylor. “My membrane deals with
these issues cheaply and effectively so the biomass can effectively do its job of eating all the rubbish
and leaving the clean water behind.

“On one side of the membrane cells are grown in direct contact with air and, on the other side, the
sewage and waste water flows, but at the same time feeds the cells through the extremely porous
material,” said Dr Taylor. “This process enables 50 times more biomass growth compared to other
membrane surface culture technologies.

“At about $1 per square meter, this technology is cheaper than current membranes which can cost up
to $500 per square metre,” he said.

Overall the whole new invention is a lot cheaper. Many sewage plants spend around $250,000 a year
on electricity to aerate their systems and the NMB would cost around 20 per cent of this figure.

There are many other uses to this invention, including: antibiotic and production; mining;
bioremediation; and aquaculture. In the case of aquaculture, the sludge from the sewage treatment
process, which collects at the bottom of the bio-reactor can be used to feed prawns and yabbies and
the NMB delivers so much oxygen to the water that higher organisms such as worms and insects
appear in the sludge in 24 hours. This makes for ideal fish food, although some may argue that they’d
rather not know what they eat!