Using microbes to create hydrogen fuel from waste water

 

Waste water from manufacturing poses both an environmental problem to dispose of as well as a missed opportunity to gain energy from it. Using dark fermentation may be the answer to both, providing a useful source of clean hydrogen.

This year in The Future Project, one of the groups working with Quantal Bioscience is trying to solve the problem of industrial wastewater disposal and rising energy costs. Quantal Bioscience is an applied microbiology company working on a variety of research and commercial microbiology problems, and is in alliance with a fermentation process facility that is currently being built in Sydney west to commercially produce yeast and probiotics. It is with this facility’s wastewater that we believe there is a potential for biohydrogen gas production, and to potentially partially power the facility. Research into alternate and renewable energy options has increased in recent years, so much so that it is now available for industrial manufacturing facilities to make use of renewable energy options. Renewable energy is not just a source of power limited to huge wind and solar farms and residential settings but can be used to produce sideline energy from industrial waste.

Students: Atharva Thengodkar, Jack Thomas

Researcher: Michelle Bull

Company: Quantal Bioscience

There can be an assortment of renewable energy options in these facilities including harnessing additional mechanical energy, biogas production, and various fermentation options. Harnessing renewable energy is of interest to these industrial corporations as it is both beneficial into the environmental, and can be financially beneficial in minimising energy costs, especially if a closed-loop energy production/combustion system is developed. To do this, we are investigating the possibility of employing dark fermentation, an active area of research in microbiology and engineering involving fermentation without light. Dark fermentation is currently not commercialised and there no information as to the dark fermentation of probiotic wastewater. One of the main benefits of dark fermentation over photo-fermentation (in the presence of light) is that microorganisms such as cyanobacteria and certain algae will not grow. We are testing different groups of anaerobic microbes, found in a variety of aquatic sediment from sites at The King’s School for their hydrogen-production capacity in a laboratory-scale system. Enrichment for anaerobic spore formers, and other factors such as temperature, substrate concentration and pH will be investigated to determine the optimum conditions for hydrogen production.

 

Here are the scientific journeys of the students working on this project:

Atharva, Year 11, Cherrybrook Technology High School: My scientific journey started in Year 6 when I was given the opportunity to take part in a competition aimed to develop young minds to think scientifically and analytically. The year-long training paid off and got me really interested in the field of applied sciences. It was then that I had move countries due to circumstances. During the four years I’ve been in Australia, I have been looking for opportunities to follow my interests and finally found one - The Future Project. Working with Quantal Bioscience through The Future Project to establish a new method of producing hydrogen from probiotic wastewater has added fuel to the fire that is my passion for applied Sciences.

 

Jack, Year 11, The Kings School: My scientific journey began early in high school, where, under the safety and supervision of my parents, I explored the finer details of explosive deflagration and combustion. This fascination morphed itself into a passion for all things chemistry which I harnessed by working in a pharmacy and eventually being trained in the basics of pharmaceutical compounding, which offered me some basic lab experience. Once attending The Kings School, I immediately aspired to join The Future Project when I had the opportunity to, and joined the junior interns program in Year 10. Here I worked with Quantal Bioscience for the first time as we looked for, and isolated potential new antibiotic-producing bacteria to help the fight against antibiotic resistance.

               

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