Modern agriculture relies on phosphorus in the form of chemical fertilisers to provide plants with vital nutrients. However, huge amounts of this valuable raw material end up in our sewage plants. Two new methods to recover phosphorus from wastewater could potentially contribute to the sustainable use of phosphorus in the not-too-distant future.
Researchers worldwide are working to develop new technologies for producing clean energy. A team of researchers led by Sven Kerzenmacher at the University of Freiburg's Department of Microsystems Engineering (IMTEK) is interested in combining wastewater and bacteria, an approach that is both unusual and promising.
In Germany, around 1,500 tonnes of antibiotics per year are administered to humans and animals. As a result, more and more bacteria are developing resistance to common antibiotics. As part of HyReKA, a cooperative project funded by the BMBF, scientists led by Professor Thomas Schwartz from the KIT are investigating how antibiotic-resistant pathogens spread and how they can be prevented from doing so.
Accidental oil spills such as those following oil disasters need to be cleaned up as quickly as possible. Researchers from the KIT in Karlsruhe have now developed an environmentally friendly process that can eliminate oil spills effectively. Nanofur is a material that imitates the fine hairs of aquatic ferns and is capable of absorbing large amounts of oil within a relatively short time.
The German city of Stuttgart purifies 27 million litres of wastewater every hour thus eliminating up to 95 per cent of the organic compounds. Scientists are now trying to find ways to use wastewater treatment plants for purposes other than the purification of wastewater. Besides making the purification of water more effective and complete the scientists are investigating whether fertilisers and hydrogen can be produced during the reclamation process.
Reducing energy consumption by 8,000 kWh and being able to generate 15,000 kWh of electrical power per day can save 500,000 euros operating costs in a year, as a project carried out by WEHRLE Umwelt GmbH on behalf of a pharmaceutical company found. WEHRLE Umwelt has been working with environmental technologies for over 30 years, principally focussing on plants for industrial wastewater treatment. The company offers intelligent solutions that are far removed from conventional wastewater treatment plants.
Sewage sludge, wastewater and liquid manure are valuable sources of fertilizer for food production. Fraunhofer researchers have now developed a chemical-free, eco-friendly process that enables the recovered salts to be converted directly into organic food for crop plants.
Technologies that can help identify pollutants in the wastewater treated in sewage plants are urgently needed. LimCo International GmbH might have a solution. The Konstanz-based company has developed a fully-automated early warning system for monitoring the quality of water and sediment in sewage plants and waterworks.
Sabine Sané, a doctoral student in the Department of Microsystems Engineering (IMTEK) at the University of Freiburg, has developed a concept that shows how micropollutants can be degraded in wastewater and how the latter can serve as a valuable source of raw materials. She is one of four researchers who have been awarded the 2014 Huber Technology Prize “Future Water” with a purse of 10,000 euros. Her concept is based on an enzyme that is secreted by the turkey tail fungus Trametes versicolor. This enzyme, known as laccase, has been shown to efficiently degrade pollutants and increase the performance of biofuel cells.
In view of the changing climate and the finiteness of fossil resources, research into renewable energies is gaining in importance. One of the things that researchers have been looking into for quite some time is different possibilities to use organic wastewater compounds as sustainable energy sources. Carsten Meyer from the University of Stuttgart works on the generation of alternative energy sources. Together with his team of researchers, Meyer was involved in a recently finished project that looked into the biological production of hydrogen from wastewater and sewage sludge.
The chemical element phosphorus, which is mainly used as a fertiliser in agriculture, is a key building block for all life forms. Phosphorus cannot be substituted by other elements or produced synthetically. In addition, it is scarce on Earth and the majority of phosphate rock preserves are located in just a handful of countries. A European-wide research project on phosphorus recycling now presents ways of producing the precious raw material from sewage sludge and wastewater.
Biotechnologists are increasingly learning how to apply the knowledge about biological metabolic processes in the field of environmental protection including waste management and environmental rehabilitation. Environmental biotechnology is a field with great potential. In future bacteria and other microorganisms will most likely also contribute to sustainability and cost efficiency in other areas including the cosmetics and detergent industry as well as in the production of fine and bulk chemicals.
BioLog GmbH, based in Landsberg, is developing bioplastics from chitin, a natural biopolymer extracted from the exoskeleton of crustaceans such as shrimps and crabs. Chitin is modified to chitosan, which can be used for many applications, including for wastewater treatment and as animal feed.
The chemical industry, companies that build engines, hospitals and printing shops – they all discharge exhaust air and wastewater containing compounds that have a detrimental effect on the environment and/or human health. Researchers at the University of Stuttgart are investigating ways to counteract specific waste problems, including biological methods.
For bacteria, the environment is rather like a big market where they can give and receive new survival strategies if need be. A group of researchers led by Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Grohmann at the Freiburg University Medical Centre is investigating how microorganisms exchange antibiotic resistance genes. In a project involving two hospitals in Mexico City, the molecular biologists are also investigating whether pathogens, resistance genes and antibiotic residues enter the wastewater system and become part of the agricultural water cycle where they can potentially become a serious threat to human health.
The Freiburg-based start-up company Ö-Klo leases composting toilets and is committed to the recovery of human urine and faeces. The young Ö-Klo entrepreneurs believe that reviving natural material cycles of soil, plants, food and excreta is crucial in times when natural resources such as phosphorus are dwindling.
The Institute of Biological Process Engineering (IBV) at the Mannheim University of Applied Sciences has been focusing on sustainable products and methods modelled on nature for 25 years. The institute will celebrate its 25th anniversary on the university campus at the end of the 2013 summer semester.
Together with various partners from environmental associations, the scientific community and the textile industry, VAUDE has launched the TextileMission research project. The goal is to find solutions that will reduce the environmental impact of microplastics released when synthetic apparel is washed. VAUDE is excited about the initial successful developments.
David Schleheck biologist at the University of Konstanz focuses on the bacterial degradation of surfactants and LAS in particular. The results of his research are of huge importance for the recycling of grey water in areas including home sewage treatment systems for example.
The purification of exhaust air, a classical technology for end-of-pipe environmental protection, is commonly used in cases when industrial processes result in malodorous exhaust air or air contaminated with hazardous substances. HANDTE Umwelttechnik GmbH started specialising in such solutions way back in 1889.
Every single biotechnological production process is tested in shake flasks before it is gradually scaled up to eventually produce tons of platform chemicals or biofuels in cubic-metre sized fermenters. Prof. Dr. Sybille Ebert teaches the theory and practice of bioprocess engineering in the form of lectures and practical laboratory exercises to students at the Biberach University of Applied Sciences. The trained chemist and mathematician was appointed to the endowed chair of process engineering in biotechnology in summer 2013. The professorship is part of the university’s Industrial Biotechnology bachelor degree course.
In the long run, biopolymers will find their way into industry and everyday life; they are the polymers of the future. The Institute for Sanitary Engineering, Water Quality and Solid Waste Management at the University of Stuttgart offers applications of biopolymers for the preparation of water as well as a new recycling strategy.
Coal, petrol and natural gas are our energy sources and the basis for the food, pharmaceutical and chemical industries. However, the supply of fossil fuels is gradually running out. The Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart has turned to microalgae in the search for alternative sources of energy. Initial pilot projects in which a variety of different methods based on state-of-the-art technologies were used have produced a broad range of chemical materials.