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Microbial Solutions has completed a trial of a commercial-scale bioreactor with BAE Systems that will be used to provide an environmentally friendlier way to dispose of used metal-working fluids.

Microbial Solutions has developed an ecologically friendly bacterial treatment, known as Microcycle Technology, which turns toxic exhausted metal-working fluids into grey water that is safe to dispose of in the sewerage system.

Metal-working fluids are vital in any industry that requires precision cutting of metal.

They are essentially cooling lubricants, sprayed in the machining process to ensure a clean cut, and contain a number of toxic and dangerous chemicals and compounds that must be rendered less harmful before used fluids can be disposed.

Microcycle Technology involves the use of a bioreactor, a large cylinder containing a plastic matrix into which the metal-working fluids are poured.

A specifically selected consortium of bacteria is introduced into the bioreactor.

These bacteria affix to the matrix and consume the toxins and chemicals, reducing the pollution load of the fluids by up to 98 per cent.

The grey water produced has a pollution load below the currently required standards for sewer disposal.

Additional benefits are that the toxic components are converted to harmless gas and there is no residual oily waste to dispose of.

Microcycle Technology replaces costly and energy intensive disposal processes, such as vacuum evaporation and ultra filtration, which also produce toxic oily waste residue that is transported to landfill for disposal, where its anaerobic degradation produces the greenhouse gas methane.

BAE Systems commissioned a trial bioreactor from Microbial Solutions for its facility at Brough in East Yorkshire.

This 5 tonne reactor, 3.5m high by 1.5m in diameter, has been in operation since early 2008.

BAE Systems and Microbial Solutions are in discussions to extend the plant to a total capacity of 25 tonnes, which will be capable of processing around 0.5 million litres of waste metal-working fluid per year, and are exploring options for taking the technology to other BAE Systems sites.

Microbial Solutions works in partnership with Houghton Europe, with the objective of providing a complete supply and treatment process to major manufacturing companies.

Microbial Solutions is a spin-out company from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, a research centre owned by the Natural Environment Research Council.

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