In early 1900s researchers showed that certain microbes could produce low levels of electricity from organic compounds in contaminated wastewater. However, it was not until two decades ago that this extraordinary finding attracted the interest of the scientific community worldwide. Nowadays electromicrobiology is a new discipline with many environmental and energy applications and a growing international society of researchers, ISMET.
ELECTRA is perhaps one of the most ambitious initiatives undertaken so far to develop the huge potential of electromicrobiology for water, soil and sediment bioremediation. Funded by the European Commission with 4,9M€ and by the National Science Foundation of China with 2,6M€, this 4-years research project will deliver two sets of novel technologies to remove hydrocarbons, emerging pollutants, metals, nutrients and mixtures thereof from water and soil in a sustainable way. The first set of technologies will employ bioelectrochemical systems requiring low energy input and no addition of chemical products, while the second set will necessitate no energy input and minimal chemical amendment.
A consortium of 24 academic and industrial entities led by Swiss Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz will collaborate very closely to achieve these goals. Among them, we find relevant academic institutions such as Universiteit Gent (Belgium), Helmholtz Zentrum für Umweltforschung (Germany) or Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (Italy); and large and small enterprises such as Chinese group Poten, Italian company Eni or Spanish start-up MetFilter.
Universitat de Girona (UdG) participates in ELECTRA through two of its research groups: LEQUIA and geMM. LEQUIA will deliver a bioelectrochemical system to remove nitrates/ammonium/arsenite from polluted groundwater. If proven to be efficient and robust, this technology will be tested by means of trial fields. The group will also develop a decision support system to assess and compare the rendered technologies, and lead the work package that includes all “low energy, no chemicals” biotechnologies. On the other hand, geMM research group will select, characterise and monitor microbial communities.
This multidisciplinary approach within UdG tasks, with process engineering, electrochemistry, artificial intelligence and microbiology, renders very well the nature of the project: a bunch of technologies and expertise to effectively develop and implement new sustainable microbial remediation electrotechnologies. The project Kick Off Meeting, held from 23th to 25th January in Switzerland, brought them together for the first time.
Photo: LEQUIA and geMM researchers participating in the project.
Project factsheet on EC website: https://cordis.europa.eu/project/rcn/220367/factsheet/en
This project has been funded through Horizon 2020 program of research and innovation of the European Union under the Agreement number GA826244.