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2024. 03. 07 -

Water management company "Vilniaus vandenys" will help FTMC scientists develop technology to generate electricity from wastewater

From left: FTMC Director Prof. Gintaras Valušis; Innovation Manager Karolis Stašys; Kasparas Kižys, Head of #hitEnergy; Viktoras Matonis, Director of "Vilniaus vandenys" Production Service; Innovation Expert Dr. Aušra Railaitė. Photo: "Vilniaus vandenys"
In 2023, three FTMC PhD students - Kasparas Kižys, Pamela Rivera and Romualdas Petkevičius - have come together for an idea to turn the wastewater we leave behind every day (from toilets, washbasins, etc.) into electricity. The team, subtly named #hitEnergy, won the startup competition at the prestigious Life Sciences Baltics 2023 event on 22 September and has been making rapid strides ever since.
We are delighted with our latest achievement - on 5 March, FTMC signed an agreement with "Vilniaus vandenys" (Vilnius Waters), the largest water management company in Lithuania, whose experts will help develop this promising technology.
Here is our English translation of press release from "Vilniaus vandenys" detailing the objectives of this collaboration.
(Head of FTMC, Prof. Dr. habil. Gintaras Valušis and "Vilniaus vandenys" Director of the Production Service Viktoras Matonis. Photo: "Vilniaus vandenys")
Experts from "Vilniaus vandenys", the country's largest water management company, together with FTMC scientists, intend to develop a technology that would generate electricity from wastewater. The research team is already experimenting with fuel cells that use yeast to produce energy from various sugars in biological waste, such as sucrose, glucose or fructose, among others. By the end of the year, a prototype is expected to be built and the technology will be demonstrated in real-life conditions rather than in the laboratory.
The cooperation and access to the laboratory at the country's largest wastewater treatment plant in Vilnius is foreseen in an agreement signed this week between the company and the Center for Physical Sciences and Technology (FTMC).
"As a Vilnius municipal company, we are committed to helping the capital achieve its goal of becoming a climate-neutral, green and innovative city. We manage the Vilnius City Wastewater Treatment Plant, which treats almost one third of the country's wastewater, so we have a great potential for secondary raw materials, which are seen as the energy of the future. This gives us the opportunity to explore, develop and innovate based on the principles of renewable energy and the circular economy, as envisaged in our business strategy," says Viktoras Matonis, Director of the Production Service of "Vilniaus vandenys".
(A biofuel cell prepared for the experiment. Photo: FTMC)
Microbial fuel cells (MFC), or so-called biofuel cells, are currently one of the world's most widely accepted ways of extracting electricity from wastewater. The potential of this technology is being explored in many countries. According to V. Matonis, in the long term, the integration of this innovative technology into wastewater treatment plants could reduce the cost of electricity needed to operate them.
Wastewater is rich in organic compounds, which are a food source for some bacterial species. Some bacteria release electrons as by-products of their metabolic processes. In this way, microbial fuel cells could generate electricity from the organic matter found directly in the wastewater, thus offsetting the energy needs of the treatment plant.
In the biocells developed by the researchers, yeast generate by-products and the mediators generate electrons that emit an electric current. The team hopes to reach TRL6 level by the end of this year, when the technology is considered to have been tested in a real environment. The so-called TRLs (Technology Readiness Levels) are stages of technology readiness that indicate the stage at which a technology is currently being developed.
(Kasparas Kižys. Photo: FTMC)
"A year ago, we received the first samples from "Vilniaus vandenys", which we used last summer to test the development of microbial fuel cells. By the end of this year, we hope to have a real pilot model that can be implemented in our partners' water treatment systems, and then to be able to offer several versions of our microbial fuel cell to the market within three years," said Kasparas Kižys, FTMC researcher and the author of the idea.
According to K. Kižys, there are attempts to develop similar technologies around the world, but his team is still among the few that have combined the whole process into a system that has the potential to work in real conditions.
"There is similar research going on around the world and the desire to use micro-organisms to generate electricity is quite old, but there has been no breakthrough so far. We are unique because we are using a system with yeast as the active link. This opens up new perspectives for us. Yeast is a more resilient, viable, low-cost and bio-safe micro-organism that can be modified and we have tested its applicability in our own laboratory," said K. Kižys.
(Vilnius City Wastewater Treatment Plant. Photo: "Vilniaus vandenys")
The scientists expect the project with "Vilniaus vandenys" to be beneficial in several ways - firstly, it aims to provide the "Vilniaus vandenys" treatment complex with green, renewable and clean electricity.
"We have a vision to produce a prototype of an ultra-large-scale electrochemical reactor, which would allow us to generate large amounts of electricity. This vision requires constantly renewable "fuel", which "Vilniaus vandenys" could offer. We have a dream that with this future unit, we will not only supply "Vilniaus vandenys", but also part of the energy needs of Vilnius City. Moreover, energy is not the only focus of this project. We have a hypothesis that this technology could contribute to the wastewater treatment process, which would not only save the energy used for treatment, but also make the process more efficient," explained K. Kižys.
Center for Physical Sciences and Technology is the largest research institution in Lithuania, carrying out unique research and technological development work in laser technologies, optoelectronics, nuclear physics, organic chemistry, bio and nanotechnology, and other scientific fields.
"Vilniaus vandenys" intends to become independent from external energy sources by 2032. Last year, "Vilniaus vandenys" already generated almost a quarter - 23% - of the electricity needed for its operations from sewage sludge. In parallel, sewage sludge is investing in the development of solar parks to diversify its energy resources as much as possible. They produce 3% of the electricity needed by the company.
"Vilniaus vandenys" information
For more information about #hitEnergy click on this link
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