New research into anammox bacteria could cut costs at wastewater treatment plants.
Daniel Noguera, a researcher from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explained why research is important: "Ten years from now, the typical treatment plant will probably look pretty different from today. Recovered resources may not only include clean water and energy, but also a variety of chemicals, such as fertilizers and precursors of plastics and fibers. As part of this evolution, I believe anammox reactors will soon become conventional."
A new study from Noguera and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, published last month in Nature Communications, could ultimately make wastewater processes cheaper. The study focused on the microbial communities that mediate anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox). Scientists around the world have identified that anammox research may lead to cost efficiencies.
Anammox “is typically used to treat high strength ammonium wastewaters and offers significant cost savings compared to conventional nitrogen removal processes that require energy-intensive aeration for nitrification and also consume large quantities of organic carbon during denitrification,” the study said.
The study broke ground by focusing on the mysterious role of anammox bacteria.
“The exact role of heterotrophic bacteria in anammox systems has not yet been determined... The specific metabolite exchange reactions promoting interactions between heterotrophic and anammox bacteria remain poorly understood,” the study said.
The results, per the study: “Our findings improve the understanding of metabolic activities and interactions between anammox and heterotrophic bacteria and offer the first transcriptional insights on ecosystem function in anammox granules.”
Noguera explained the conclusions of the study, per a statement from the University of Wisconsin-Madison: "We knew very little about the role of the bacteria that coexist in anammox granules," he said. "For the first time, our study identified detailed gene expression levels in these granules. This provides important clues on what the anammox bacteria and their partners might actually be doing, and how they interact."
He also weighed in on the cost implications of their probe.
"Being able to remove ammonium anaerobically is pretty important because about 50 percent of a sewage plant's operating cost is pumping oxygen into the water," Noguera said. "Some of this oxygen is needed to remove ammonium with the conventional method."
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Image credit: "Cell culture," Umberto Salvagnin © 2008, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/