Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

The Role of the Worm in Recycling Wastewater

Business
The Role of the Worm in Recycling Wastewater

Water, as we all know, is a terrible thing to waste. But for businesses that go through a lot of water—dairy farmers, wineries and sewage plants—vast quantities of wastewater is an unfortunate byproduct.

But since 1995, Chilean company BioFiltro has recycled more than 28 billion gallons of water to date with this humble organism: the worm.

Red worms remove up to 99 percent of wastewater contaminants in four hours in the BIDA System.

The worm's invaluable contribution to crop health goes all the way back to Charles Darwin, who detailed their digestive capabilities in his 1881 book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through The Action of Worms.

BioFiltro's BIDA System is a closed-loop biological wastewater treatment system. The worm-and-bacteria powered process can remove up to 99 percent of Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) and Total Suspended Solids (TSS) and 70-90 percent removal of nitrogen, oil and grease in four hours, according to BioFiltro’s regional manager Mai Ann Healy.

Healy told EcoWatch that "most other treatment systems require days, if not weeks, to achieve these results."

BioFiltro currently has 129 facilities installed in six countries. They process the wastewater from the Chilean Air Force Base on Antarctica as well as the Atacama Desert, which is the driest desert in the world. The company is currently constructing plants in California to serve the needs of food processors, wineries, waste haulers and sanitary waste, Healy said.

The BioFiltro plant in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Chile.

Recently, the company teamed up with Fetzer Vineyards to become the first winery the U.S. to use the system to process 100 percent of its wastewater. The Mendocino, California-based winery will use "billions" of earthworms to process its winery wastewater during the 2016 harvest season, a press release states. In doing so, Fetzer will accrue energy savings up to 85 percent over current wastewater treatment technologies.

Healy took the time to answer a few of EcoWatch's questions via email.

EcoWatch: What makes worms so good at filtering wastewater?

Healy: Worms in and of themselves are not great at filtering wastewater. Rather, worms target the solids (or TSS) and break this waste down in their stomachs. Their excrement (worm castings) are rich in microbial activity.

This bacteria is aerobic, or needs air to function, and the burrowing earthworms create air channels throughout our system thereby bringing air to these tiny soldiers and creating an optimum living environment. This symbiotic relationship between worms and bacteria is what powers our systems, as the bacteria target the BOD of wastewater, the worms target the TSS and nitrogen.

Ultimately, our BIDA System converts wastewater into a reusable asset and contaminants into nutritious fertilizer onsite.

EcoWatch: Can I drink worm-filtered water?

Healy: You cannot drink the water that comes straight out of our system. In the wastewater world, the term is primary, secondary and tertiary filtration. Our systems as a stand-alone provide secondary filtration. Water from secondary filtration can be reutilized for select agricultural purposes but not human consumption. Water for human consumption must have tertiary filtration which is a disinfection process.

EcoWatch: Who started the company and why?

Healy: The first commercial scale plant was installed in 1995 by our chief technology officer, Alex Villagra. He first started studying the ability of worms to digest waste and wastewater while he was studying at the University of Chile and accredits his continued interest to the fact that "oftentimes the answers to the world's most complex problems are right in front of us—products of billions of years of research and development, mother nature shows us, through her natural processes and designs, that she does know best."

Villagra spent many years going through iterations of design, bacteria and worms. In 2010, Villagra teamed up with Matias Sjogren and Rafael Concha, all three of whom are engineers, to form what is now BioFiltro. The mission was to scale and globalize this revolutionary approach as all three are inspired to show the world how natural processes are capable of not only treating wastewater in a more efficient way, but also procuring a safer environment for future generations.

EcoWatch: Why are earthworms/microbes ideal for winery wastewater?

Healy: Winery wastewater is rich in sugars—worms and bacteria love sugar. The amount of worms present in our system is related to the wastewater quality—facilities that discharge water high in sugars, proteins, and fats (so wineries, milk/cheese/ice cream plants, slaughterhouses) have a very dense worm population.

Read page 1

EcoWatch: Are there really billions of worms in Fetzer's system?

Healy: We have some systems that achieve worm densities of 12,000 worms per cubic yard and that's not counting all the microscopic biology present. Fetzer’s system will have billions of worms and bacteria working tirelessly to reduce waste.

EcoWatch: How big or deep is the BIDA System? What does inside of it?

Healy: The layers are described here but essentially our BIDA System is an open-top structure, typically made out of concrete (concrete floor, 4 walls, open top). The layers, from bottom to top, are 1. drainage basins placed on the floor which create an air chamber; 2. geotextiles; 3. river cobble; 4. wood shavings. The size depends on how many gallons will be applied per day as well as the contaminant level—the dirtier the water, the larger our system.

When BioFiltro commissions a plant, we inoculate the wood shavings with a specific mix of worms and bacteria. Our systems are modular and scalable, so we can serve the needs of an individual household up to mega food processors. Our largest facility is a 2 million gallon per day food processor in Chile.

EcoWatch: What kind of maintenance does it require?

Healy: Our telemetry system is constantly monitoring various water quality parameters so that BioFiltro can ensure optimum system performance. Major maintenance tasks are executed by BioFiltro and consist of removing the worm castings. Over time, the top layer turns into castings (worm poop), which is a natural and highly nutritious fertilizer, and the castings must be harvested to keep the system aerobic. When we do this, we simply replenish with a layer of fresh wood shavings. Occasionally BioFiltro must also separate and remove worms from the system as they multiply exponentially.

BioFiltro's treated wastewater can be reutilized for certain agricultural purposes.

EcoWatch: What makes the BIDA System unique? What are some of the advantages of using it?

Healy: It's energy-efficient. We use up to 95 percent less energy than traditional wastewater technologies to deliver the same, if not better, quality effluent. Many dischargers could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, each year just to power the aerators used to clean their water. Fetzer, for example, is expecting to reduce its energy consumption by 1 million kWh each year as a result of implementing our system.

It's natural. Our standalone BIDA System does not require the use of any chemicals. It’s also virtually odor-free as we process the wastewater within approximately four hours of being discharged from the client’s facility.

It's sludge-free. Since our worms and bacteria digest everything there is no sludge, which is a typical byproduct of wastewater treatment. The only "byproduct" of our system is the nutritious castings which are actually a highly sought-after value-added product.

It's simple to operate. We design our system with the client in mind and, thanks to our telemetry monitoring system, can provide a largely hands-off wastewater treatment solution. The client can therefore focus on their core business while our system runs automatically and mostly autonomously.

The BIDA System is a decentralized closed system. By offering a complete wastewater treatment system that is easy to operate, we empower rural clients and communities who otherwise would have no access to fresh water. For example, we have a site in Patagonia, in Torres del Paine National Park, which is inaccessible by car and needs to treat its water so that it does not pollute the beautiful landscape around it. There, we enable them to responsibly care for their site. In other communities, we empower those with limited access to recycle water for agricultural purposes.

EcoWatch: What are the goals of the company?

Healy: The goal is to prove that this natural process, a product built on 21 years of R&D, offers the best solution to wastewater technology. We have treated more than 28 billion gallons of wastewater. Our motivation is to implement water filtration systems that reduce dependency on freshwater sources while improving the environment in which our clients operate.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

One of the World’s Largest Hospitality Chains to Grow Its Own Vegetables at 1,000 Hotels

Costco Lends Money to Farmer to Buy More Land to Meet Growing Demand for Organics

3 Solar Ovens That Give You the Power to Cook With the Sun

World’s First Plastic Fishing Company Wants to Rid the Oceans of Plastic Pollution

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

This image of the Santa Monica Mountains in California shows how a north-facing slope (left) can be covered in white-blooming hoaryleaf ceanothus (Ceanothus crassifolius), while the south-facing slope (right) is much less sparsely covered in a completely different plant. Noah Elhardt / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.5

By Mark Mancini

If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.

Read More Show Less
Flames from the Lake Fire burn on a hillside near a fire truck and other vehicles on Aug. 12, 2020 in Lake Hughes, California. Mario Tama / Getty Images

An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.

Read More Show Less
Although heat waves rarely get the attention that hurricanes do, they kill far more people per year in the U.S. and abroad. greenaperture / Getty Images

By Jeff Berardelli

Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020

If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.

Read More Show Less

A film by Felix Nuhr.

Thailand has a total population of 5,000 elephants. But of that number, 3,000 live in captivity, carrying tourists on their backs and offering photo opportunities made for social media.

Read More Show Less
Scientists have found a way to use bricks as batteries, meaning that buildings may one day be used to store and generate power. Public Domain Pictures

One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.

Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.

The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.

The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.

If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.

The first power bricks are only one percent of a lithium-ion battery, but storage capacity can be increased tenfold by adding materials like metal oxides, Julio D'Arcy, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who contributed to the paper and was part of the research team, told The Guardian. But only when the storage capacity is scaled up would bricks become commercially viable.

"A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries," D'Arcy told The Guardian. "What we have done is provide a new 'food-for-thought' option, but we're not there yet.

"If [that can happen], this technology is way cheaper than lithium ion batteries," D'Arcy added. "It would be a different world and you would not hear the words 'lithium ion battery' again."

Aerial view of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Gamboa, Panama, where a new soil study was held, on Sept. 11, 2019. LUIS ACOSTA / AFP via Getty Images

One of the concerns about a warming planet is the feedback loop that will emerge. That is, as the planet warms, it will melt permafrost, which will release trapped carbon and lead to more warming and more melting. Now, a new study has shown that the feedback loop won't only happen in the nether regions of the north and south, but in the tropics as well, according to a new paper in Nature.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods speaks during a press conference after a shooting at Forest High School on April 20, 2018 in Ocala, Florida. Gerardo Mora / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

A sheriff in Florida is under fire for deciding Tuesday to ban his deputies from wearing face masks while on the job—ignoring the advice of public health experts about the safety measures that everyone should take during the coronavirus pandemic as well as the rising Covid-19 death toll in his county and state.

Read More Show Less