University of Utah researchers have developed a new way to purify water: zap microbes with electricity until they do the job for you.
The team's electrobiochemical reactor (EBR) process replaces tons of chemicals by feeding electrons to microbes.
Tests show that the electrons accelerate how quickly the microbes remove pollutants such as arsenic, selenium, mercury and other materials, significantly reducing the cost of wastewater cleanup.
The research is now being used by a University of Utah startup company named INOTEC.
Jack Adams, president of INOTEC and a research professor in the Department of Metallurgical Engineering, pioneered the process.
He says the new method can enhance just about any type of wastewater treatment. It's now being tested primarily for removing metals from mining wastewater, but also could be used for other industrial and agricultural wastes, he adds.
In conventional wastewater treatment, microbes or chemicals alter or remove contaminants by adding or removing electrons which come from nutrients and chemicals added to the system. But it's necessary to add huge amounts.
The EBR system overcomes this shortcoming by directly supplying excess electrons to the reactor and microbes using low voltage and no current. The electrons can easily be supplied by a small solar power grid.
"The provided electrons make reactors more efficient, stable and controllable," Adams says.