Harnessing energy from organic matter is hardly a new concept, but a new startup out of Boston, Cambrian Innovation, has found a way to make the process available to commercial enterprises.The company recently launched its first bio-reactor, called the EcoVolt, and installed two units at a brewery and winery in California. The entire reactor is stored inside a shipping container with certain modifications.  Each unit is designed to integrate with virtually any commercial building, allowing its waste water to cycle through the reactor to produce electricity and clean water.

The process works similarly to the way that anaerobic digesters work, except the team at Cambrian use a slightly different approach. Using a specific class of microbes, called exoelectrogens, the EcoVolt is able to pull electricity from the microbes as they eat away at the organic matter. The resulting electricity is then used to convert hydrogen and carbon dioxide into methane, a process that also results in clean water.

The advantage of the EcoVolt over traditional anaerobic digesters is that it can be set up relatively easily for facilities that handle a lot of waste water. Partially to demonstrate this fact, Cambrian chose Bear Republic Brewery and the Clos du Bois winery in California as their first commercial recipients of an EcoVolt.

Bear Republic Brewery uses the EcoVolt to converts its beer waste into electricity to help power its brewing facility. The brewery believes that the EcoVolt should be able to cover 50% of its energy needs, as well as allow it to recycle 10% of its water. They also estimate that the EcoVolt will be pay for itself within 4 years thanks to reduced energy costs.

Cambrian Innovation is currently working with the Department of Defense to develop a newer, self-sustaining system for use on military bases and in countries with underdeveloped infrastructure. The company also has its eyes set on providing a new generation of water treatment systems for NASA. And with the space agency’s eyes set firmly on establishing a presence on the moon, Mars, and beyond, its entirely possible that Cambrian’s technology will find its way out there among the stars.

Source: IEEE Spectrum