Scientists have grown a clean, green superbug that eats sewage

This bacteria offers a greener way to treat wastewater.
This bacteria offers a greener way to treat wastewater. Copyright Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Copyright Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
By Max Thurlow
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A superbug which eats its way through wastewater has been grown from scratch at a plant in Australia.


A superbug which eats sewage has been grown from scratch at a plant in Queensland in an Australian first.

The bacteria offer a greener way to treat wastewater and are saving water management company Urban Utilities, half-a-million (Australian) dollars a year.

These unique looking bacteria are called anammox bugs and they thrive on waste water - particularly the type that flushes down your toilet.

"They don't have x-ray vision or super strength, it's their big appetites that makes them so remarkable," says Michelle Cull from Queensland Urban Utilities.

They eat their way through sewage, getting rid of nitrogen and ammonium, and cleaning it naturally in the process. They are purposefully grown on small plastic discs called carriers which are then moved into sewage tanks.

The more traditional process of cleaning wastewater used large amounts of chemicals and energy but now the bacteria are providing a more sustainable and efficient way forward.

"The anammox bugs will save us around half a million (Australian) dollars a year in operating cost but it will also benefit the environment because there are a cleaner, greener way to treat sewage," says Cull.

The Brisbane grown bacteria were introduced by Queensland Urban Utilities to cater to the rapidly growing population.

"Growing cities mean more waste water, that means more nutrients and ammonia that we need to remove. Anammox bacteria are so efficient at doing that, that they've actually created 10 per cent extra capacity here at Luggage Point," says Plant Manager, Peter Donaghy.

They also use 60 per cent less energy than the last process but there is one thing to bear in mind.

Anammox bacteria grow very slowly. Five years ago Urban Utilities only had enough to fill a small jar. Now they've released ten backyard swimming pools worth of the bacteria at Queensland's largest sewage plant.

The bacteria can't be imported due to biosecurity laws, so Urban Utilities has had to grow them from scratch in temperature controlled tanks.

It's the first and only anammox farm in Australia but Urban Utilities says there will soon be enough to share with the rest of the country.

"That's going to be available for us at Urban Utilities at some of our other plants but also going to be available to other utilities across Australia who also want to harvest the benefits that anammox brings," says Donaghy.

Click on the video above to see the superbug in action.

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