Bacteria cleans up its act

Combining bacteria with the latest membrane filtration techniques, researchers at Nottingham University are developing new water treatment technology.

Bioremediation uses bacteria to eat contaminants found in water before it is filtered using membranes with pores ranging from ten microns to one nanometre.

Current membrane technology often becomes clogged with contaminants and to retain efficiency the membranes have to be removed and cleaned. Using the bacteria, the membranes can be cleaned in a closed system without effecting efficiency.

The team believe the technology could be used to optimise the use of water in an industrial system or provide drinking water where it is unavailable.

Developed in partnership with Cardev International, an oil filtration company based in Harrogate, ultrafiltration and nanofiltration also have other useful effects, including the collection of waste products with a high calorific value that can then be used for fuel.

Using atomic force microscope equipment, the researchers are examining how liquids behave at an atomic level and are being tested at a range of temperatures from -50oC to 150oC. The team believe the results could be used in mechanics and industry, for example, maximising the use of oil in an engine.

‘Examining the properties of liquids has never been done at this scale,’ said Professor Nidal Hilal. ‘By using bioremediation and nanofiltration technology combined, the water cleaning process is integrated – using far less energy than current processes. Add to this the recycling of waste products as fuels and you have a greener technology.’