• Melvin Mathews

How micro-biotech is replacing acid therapy to enable sustainable onboard operations in shipping

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

(Photo by Diego F. Parra from Pexels)

One of the biggest problems when designing a cruise ship is the lack of space available. Everything essential has to be fitted into a smaller space than in normal conditions. This causes huge challenges within wastewater systems as sewer pipes are often half of the diameter compared to the ones installed on buildings, causing the sewer pipes’ total volume to drop nearly 75%. Having only ¼ of the volume in use, sewer pipes are vulnerable to clogging as uric scale and other waste starts to build up within the sewer pipe’s inner surface.

For decades there has been a simple and quite powerful method to get rid of these problems; pumping acids into the sewer systems. Even though these acids, sulphuric acid for example are effective to get a clogged pipe open, the effect will quickly diminish as the acid dilutes with water. This leads to a situation where loads of acids are pumped into sewer pipes each day to make sure the effect would be powerful enough. Whether this leads to somewhat clean pipes or not, problems still persist.

Acids used onboard are highly corrosive causing metal parts of the sewer system to corrode. Eventually, the whole sewer system is at a point, where it’ll start to leak from here and there. A melting cruise-ship sewer system might very quickly become a large problem, but not the only one. Pumping a massive amount of acids into the sewer pipes will cause harm in the wastewater purification process, where most of the process is based on trusted microbes inside a bioreactor. Messing up the bioreactor’s purification process causes costs and might even get cruises canceled. On top of this these acids are dangerous for the employees handling them as it is harmful when inhaled or when in skin contact.

To get the cruise ships rid of acid addiction some creative companies have come up with new solutions in the industry. Probably the most promising of these solutions is microbial sewer treatment. Microbes can be pumped into the sewer pipes in the same way as acids, where they’ll start to use waste within the pipes as their source of energy. As the effect isn’t based on a chemical reaction, it won’t dilute on its way down the system. In the end, these microbes will find their way into the bioreactor and empower the wastewater treatment process.

Could it be solutions such as these that get ships rid of using acids altogether?

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