Vintners make wine with the power of waste water

Water is precious, especially for a vintner. Making a gallon of wine requires anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred gallons of water.The Clois du Bois winery in Sonoma County, Calif., spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year just powering the pumps that clean its waste water. But they are trying a new system that will clean up their waste water and turn it into power.
Spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2006, Cambrian Innovation is commercializing a portfolio of environmental solutions based on newly discovered electrically active microbes. By harnessing the power of bio-electricity and advances in electrochemistry, Cambrian Innovation's products help industrial, agricultural and government customers save money while recovering clean water and clean energy from wastewater streams.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), engineers and co-founders Matt Silver and Justin Buck are bringing their research from the lab to the market. One system, called EcoVolt, generates methane gas from the wastewater by leveraging what is called "electromethanogenesis." It's a newly discovered process for producing methane.

"NSF funding of Cambrian Innovation's research demonstrates our strong interest in supporting small business innovation that leads to novel and greener technological solutions to societal challenges," says NSF program director Prakash Balan.

The EcoVolt system sends wastewater through a bio-electrochemical reactor. As water filters through it, special bacteria in the reactor eat the organic waste in the water and release electrons as a byproduct. Those electrons travel through a circuit to generate methane, or CH4.

A wireless signal allows the process to be monitored remotely. This very high quality methane is then piped out to an engine, where it's burned with a small amount of natural gas. It then generates heat and energy. In addition, sensor systems built by Cambrian Innovation can also monitor pollutants, such as fertilizer run-off.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1230363, SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research program) Phase II: A low-cost real-time bio-electrochemical nitrate sensor for surface water monitoring; NSF award #1152409, SBIR Phase II: Exogen: Enhanced Anaerobic Digestion of Wastewater Using Bio-electrodes; and NSF award #1127435, SBIR Phase II: Energy Efficient COD Removal and De-nitrification for Re-circulating Aquaculture Facilities with a Combined Bio-electrochemical

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