Promising electrochemical technologies for cleaning wastewater are boosted by discovery of extremophilic microbes in the Red Sea.
Warm and salty wastewater is a by-product of many industries, including oil and gas production, seafood processing and textile dyeing. King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) researchers are exploring ways to detoxify such wastewater while simultaneously generating electricity. They are using bacteria with remarkable properties: the ability to transfer electrons outside their cells (exoelectrogenes) and the capacity to withstand extremes of temperature and salinity (extremophiles).
In this study, MECs with water from one brine pool, Valdivia, generated a stable electric current for almost two months, withstanding temperatures of 70°C and 25% salinity. Genetic analysis of the biofilm of microorganisms colonizing the anode showed a high proportion of the genus Bacterioides and significantly more of these bacteria than were found in the original samples. This enrichment of the biofilm by Bacterioides shows that members of this genus have strong potential to thrive under extreme conditions, while generating electric current.
Now a chief technologist in industry, Shehab is proud of this first study to explore the Red Sea brine pools as a novel source of exoelectrogenic bacteria. “We have shown not only that exoelectrogens are present in these environments, but also that they can be used to run MECs under challenging high temperature and high salinity conditions,” she says.
The researchers are now exploring ways to enrich MECs with other bacteria known as electrotrophs, which are able to consume electrons, also from the Red Sea. “These have the potential to convert waste products, such as carbon dioxide, into valuable chemical products, such as methane and acetate,” explains Saikaly.
Contacts and sources:
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)
Citation: Shehab, N.A., Ortiz-Medina, J.F., Katuri, K.P., Hari, A.R., Amy, G., Logan, B.E. & Saikaly, P.E. Enrichment of extremophilic exoelectrogens in microbial electrolysis cells using Red Sea brine pools as inocula. Bioresource Technology 239, 82-86 (2017)
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