Anammox Bacteria: Living in and Loving Sewage

Have you ever ‘visited’ a sewage treatment plant? In one of my science courses I did and was amazed at the amount of ‘agitation’ that the sewage received.  It was always in the state of churning and bubbling, agitated of course by electrical pumps. The bright side of it all [if one can use that term with sewage] is that the process produces methane gas that can be used to generate the electricity used in the plant.  Or burned off as in so many places that do not capture the gas.

A discovery has been made of a new type of bacteria, anammox, a name which identifies its anaerobic ammonium oxidation capabilities.  This bacteria does not require oxygen [anaerobic] to survive as it does the work of oxidizing the ammonium [nitrogen] which is produced in the sewage treatment process.

An article in NewScience explains:

“Existing treatment plants use a lot of energy to get rid of the ammonium. The process uses bacteria that convert ammonium into nitrate, and the bugs that do this need oxygen, which must be constantly supplied to the treatment tanks by electric pumps. The nitrate is then converted into nitrogen gas by still more bugs, known as denitrifying bacteria. These require methanol, which must also be added to the mix.”

Thus these newly discovered bacteria are really workhorses, to mix a metaphor, that reduce energy consumption and eliminate two additional steps in the process.  Hats off to anammox bacteria and to Gijs Kuenen at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and his colleagues- the scientists who discovered these ‘green’ bacteria.

The standard sewage process consumes an average of 44 watt-hours per day for each person who adds waste to the sewage system.  However the newly discovered bacteria zero this out and, in fact, according to estimates, the process could generate 24 watt-hours per person per day. That is a net gain of 68 watt-hours per person per day.  In a large city, that could add up to megawatts of energy saved for other purposes.

“This month the team will begin building a pilot plant to demonstrate the technology at the Dokhaven waste water treatment plant in Rotterdam, the Netherlands”


2 thoughts on “Anammox Bacteria: Living in and Loving Sewage

  1. Waste management is upclose and personal here in the country. I intimately know the workings of a Septic system, how a healthy one functions and how they can go horribly wrong.
    The Dutch seem to be on the cutting edge of new organic energy technologies. The idea of generating energy with waste seems so logical that it should be easy, but this is an entirely new angle.
    There are entire families and species of organisms here on earth which are not oxygen based. In the Pacific Ocean Trenches, there are volcanic zones with vents that spew superhot water under compression into the ocean.
    Surprisingly enough, in these places where the temperature of the water is above boiling, there are many tube worms and bacteriae which thrive there and have evolved beyond the need for oxygen.

  2. Good follow-up, Microdot. Yes indeed, those ‘living conditions’ which directed scientists of old no longer are relevant to ‘life.’ Thus there is great interest in the moon Titan as well as the ice-covered moon of Saturn, Enceladus. Neither habitat seemed to be inhabitable with life as we used to know it, but now, wit the data you listed, they are wide-open for the possibility of teeming with life.

    As you know, the study of science is way down the list here in The States, which is why we have so many non-scientific ‘stuff’ talked about by politicians and of course, the religious folks.

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