One company’s remarkable solution to a growing energy and pollution problem
By: Alan Pierce
According to the latest United Nations estimates, world population will reach 9.6 billion by 2050, with most of that growth taking place in developing countries. By this time, finding a sustainable equilibrium to help balance such population density will no longer be a hot topic of partisan debate, but a global movement spurred by the simple and urgent necessity of an unduly and excessively burdened global ecosystem.
The energy and waste management methods of your children and grandchildren living in this era will have to be sustainable and renewable. They’ll have to be efficient and powerful. They’ll have to be innovative.
Like nature, these systems must also recognize that “waste” itself is a misnomer. There is no such thing as “waste” in nature, only various forms of reusable energy. Imagine future waste management techniques which not only reduce pollution but also produce important biogases and eliminate pathogens in the process.
Maybe these systems will also utilize household sewage or the byproducts of your local brewery to produce electricity and power the grid in a sustainable way. This could very well be the technology of the future—but it’s actually here right now.
Technology for a Growing Planet
Pilus Energy, a cleantech energy company championed as one of the “Five Cincinnati Companies That Could Change The World”, has developed a type of bacteria that “eat” waste (such as sewage, industrial byproducts, etc.) and through this process produce electricity and other elements key for a sustainable local and global energy infrastructure.
Termed BactoBots™, these living waste warriors have the potential to completely redefine how we look at waste, from something that’s a useless encumbrance to something with valuable and indispensable energy capital.
Here’s how it works: Organic wastes like sewage, fertilizer runoff, etc. would flow into a fuel cell developed by Pilus Energy. The BactoBotsTM harnessed by the cell then metabolize this waste, helping to remediate the substance while producing direct current electricity, hydrogen gas, and chemicals all of which can be used locally for various industrial or energy needs.
Their BactoBots™ patent represents one of the world’s first synthetic biology innovations with the potential to extract value from something like wastewater. Some of the benefits of this new engineered organism is it’s almost completely non-pathogenic and avirulent, does not emit CO2, and is resistant to heavy metal poisoning and swings in pH. The company will license the EBR and BactoBots, then provide the Genetic Rights Management consumables as well.
Reshaping the Energy and Waste Infrastructure
This technology gives new meaning to the term “clean energy.” The waste remediation and energy producing characteristics of this technology make it valuable not only in the industrial arena, but across any system that produces waste and needs energy. Could anything ever fall outside that umbrella?
A comprehensive BactoBotTM system could power your home, neighborhood or city, and at the same time reduce the resources needed to ameliorate the ecological and social effects of the waste that is both endemic to biological life itself, and endemic to our industrial system.
It’s hard to argue against, say, a brewery that fuels itself through its own waste byproducts. The environmentalist certainly wouldn’t object, nor would the bottom line-minded CEO. Because such a system isn’t just a green solution, it provides a highly desirable economic model as well.
The Business Side of BactoBotsTM
Pilus Energy plans to wholesale the consumables and accessories directly to Licensees who then deploy the reactors and retails the consumables and accessories to the end users (consumers). These consumers receive extremely low cost renewable energy and can even benefit from feeding electricity back onto the grid.
Ultimately, Pilus Energy’s vision is to create an entire renewable energy ecosystem and do so in a way in which economic value will be generated by creating incentives to adopters in each phase. In addition, by extracting energy from waste molecules, adopters of this technology not only generate revenue, but also help cultivate immense social benefits as well.
Overcoming the Politics of Energy Innovation
Given the stunning potential of this technology, bringing it to market may seem like a mere formality. Not true. In reality, innovation in the energy sector is fraught with obstacles. A report by the Breakthrough Institute details the struggles of innovating and scaling new clean energy technology, and places this struggle in the context of a market in which “entrenched incumbent technologies” are essentially protected by current public policy regulations or lack thereof.
With limited private-sector financing opportunities and inherent public policy obstacles to full market competition, pioneers like Pilus Energy find it difficult to bring innovative energy solutions fully to market. Often, their more efficient and sustainable prototypes don’t even have the opportunity to compete in the open market with more established energy technologies.
In Pilus Energy’s case, they also must address public concerns over developing and using genetically engineered bacteria. Is this just Monsanto dressed up in greenspeak? In short, no. In terms of the environmental concerns surrounding this issue, Pilus Energy strives to provide a failsafe process to ensure its bacteria never exist outside the fuel cell.
The BactoBotsTM are already engineered to be harmless and a genetic rights management system also provides protection from theft, cloning, and accidental discharge into the environment. Consumable non-molecular keys must be present in the wastewater (or whatever substance is being treated) and if they are not, the bacteria self-destruct.
What’s Happening Now
Pilus Energy plans to partner with licensees in swiftly developing countries like China and India, as well as establish labs in the United States to help create locally based BactoBotTM driven infrastructure where the bacteria themselves are developed, and the energy and remediation benefits remain in the local community. They’ve also completed a crowd-funding campaign using IndieGogo.com to help raise money for their ambitious and innovative energy solutions.
The unprecedented rate of global growth and energy consumption calls for such solutions; from 2005 to 2030 global energy consumption is expected to increase by 50 percent, with a 95 percent rise in developing countries.
Most of this demand and consumption will come from the fossil-fuel sector. What does this mean? More drilling. More CO2 emissions. More pollution. More problems—where instead we need solutions.
As the human population of the Earth continues to expand so does the weight of our waste footprint, and the demand for energy production, which is sustainable, efficient, and economically viable.
Pilus Energy notes on their website that more than 1100 terawatt hours of energy is stored as waste molecules and transported as wastewater annually across the globe. To put that in perspective, a city of 500,000 people uses just 2 terawatt hours of energy in an entire year. The number one user of energy is water. The number two user of water is energy production (behind agriculture). Since 5-6 X’s more energy is stored in wastewater than is used to remediate wastewater, this would create an untapped reservoir of energy for other functions behind water remediation. With that kind of energy value in the byproducts of our day-to-day life, wouldn’t we be crazy not to use it?