Israeli wastewater-electricity startup uses microbial fuel cell

An Israeli startup company producing wastewater-to-electricity technology has received investment from GE and other major global players in its latest funding round, announced on 28 June 2011.

Emefcy, based in Caesarea, has developed a system based on a microbial fuel cell (MFC) with an ion-exchange membrane at its heart. Its Megawatter™ system enables direct electricity generation or hydrogen production from wastewater while simultaneously providing wastewater treatment.

Based on the degradation of organic matter, which liberates electricity, Emefcy’s MFC has an anode chamber and a cathode chamber. The anaerobic anode chamber is most commonly connected internally to the cathode chamber by an ion-exchange membrane, and the circuit is completed by an external wire.

The benefits are both economic and environmental. Conventional wastewater treatment, says GE, uses 2% of global power capacity (80,000 MW) and 57 million tons per year of CO2, costing US$ 40 billion/year. Rather than using conventional energy-intensive aerobic processes or methane-producing anaerobic digestion to treat wastewater, Emefcy harvests renewable energy directly from the wastewater and feeds it to the power grid, creating an energy-positive wastewater treatment plant.

Energy Technology Ventures – a GE, NRG Energy and ConocoPhillips joint venture – is making its first non-US and first water-related investment by providing capital to Emefcy. Also in the funding round were Pond Venture Partners, Plan B Ventures and Israel Cleantech Ventures. Financial details were not disclosed.

The primary initial applications for Emefcy’s technology are for wastewater treatment in the food, beverage, pharmaceutical and chemical industries, with total market potential of US$ 10 billion annually.