The Israeli start-up turning harmful wastewater into renewable energy

Major industries may be quickly striding into a technologically-advanced and smarter future, but waste disposal solutions often remain stuck in the past.

Particularly harmful and complicated-to-treat wastewater streams, produced by municipalities and food processing factories worldwide, are often disposed of via land spreading or, in some cases, dumped into aquifers and rivers.

Seeking to bring the field of wastewater treatment into the 21st century, and to embrace the popularity of circular economy technologies, Shfar’am-based AgRobics has developed a new “bio-stabiliser” technology that both improves wastewater treatment and collects biogas for energy production from the microorganism-rich waste.

“Wastewater is a worldwide challenge, in developed and developing countries, and treating it requires copious amounts of energy and chemicals,” said AgRobics co-founder Prof. Isam Sabbah, head of the Biotechnology Engineering Department at Braude College in Karmiel.

“[Wastewater] is therefore seen as a nuisance requiring two to five percent of a nation’s energy production. AgRobics sees this ‘nuisance’ as an opportunity, turning a waste stream into clean water and energy thus enabling the reuse of the water with the nutrients and stored energy therein.”

The start-up’s patented technology, backed by national water company Mekorot, features a combination of ancient bacteria and modern engineering. Archaea, some of the earliest forms of anaerobic life on the planet, are attached to a new type of reactor.

When wastewater is transported through the reactor, the bacteria swallows up the pollutants, cleans the water, and excrete “valuable biogas” that can be harnessed to produce renewable energy.

The technology has been successfully tested at wastewater treatments sites in Karmiel and Netufa, and at a food plant in southern Israel.

AgRobics is now working to establish its first demonstration plant in California, after receiving a BIRD Foundation grant to develop an innovative anaerobic wastewater treatment for food processing plants with local firm Bennett & Bennett.

Since the partnership was announced, AgRobics has signed a memorandum of understanding to treat the wastewater of one of the world’s largest dried fruit packers.

“We can be completely sustainable, we don’t need any energy to do our treatment and we produce energy,” said AgRobics CEO Gilad Horn.

“We can turn a plant into a net energy producer just from the biogas we produce. They can run entire operations off this biogas and sometimes have more than they need, and sell back to the grid. This is hopefully where we are going with future waste treatment.”

While the solution could be of vital importance for industry and municipalities in developed countries, Sabbah emphasises the potential of the circular economy approach for developing nations.

“With AgRobics, communities can have reused water – and fertiliser – for agriculture, and clean energy for the residents to use,” Sabbah said.