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  • Melvin Mathews

Are you familiar with the important work done by bioreactors in shipping?

(Photo by Colin Watts on Unsplash)

As you probably know, modern cruise ships have a complicated wastewater purification system and a larger number of older ships have installed a retrofitted one. Even though these systems include various different types of processes from mechanical separation to adding polymers, the most important process happens within the bioreactor. Its cleansing power is based on bacterial purification, in which a variety of different bacterial floras consume particles from wastewater as their resource for energy. In ideal conditions, the end result should be crystal clear water, ready to be ejected from the vessel.

Too often the result is not as described. The purification processes within bioreactors are extremely sensitive and vulnerable to malfunctions if conditions vary. The larger the bioreactor is and the more powerful its purification process is, the more capability to withstand condition changes it has. Because of this, the ramp-up stage is one of the most challenging parts, when starting a bioreactor.

Within the next few months, this will be a hot topic, as more cruise ships resume sailing again. Almost every single ship has to go through the ramp-up stage again, which can take months, even when things go according to plan. And let's not even begin talking about, repurcussions when things go south.

Normally the bioreactor ramp-up is done by feeding wastewater into a bioreactor in small amounts and slowly increasing the phase and quantities. What happens is that naturally bacterial floras will start to use particles in wastewater as their source of energy and then multiply. But what is important is that even slight changes in wastewater’s quality might end up killing these bacterial floras.

For a while now in the marine industry, greener solutions have started to become more popular and the answer for faster bioreactor ramp-ups might be found from them. What if we could add the right mixture of bacterial floras directly into large quantities of wastewater and then feed it to a bioreactor? This could lead to considerable shorter ramp-up times and allow the cruise ship to start taking passengers onboard faster.

This technology is being used in a bioreactor ramp-up process onboard Mein Schiff 1. This innovative project was executed by the Finnish micro-biotechnology company ProtectPipe Oy. The ramp-up process was originally planned to take at least three months but just after seven weeks the bioreactor had returned to full operations. Taking into consideration the fact that this was a pilot project, the results in the future should only get better.

Will solutions such as these be a game changer when hot and cold laid up ships return to full deployment, avoiding delays and breakdown when in service?

Let me know you thoughts

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