California startup Aquacycl has partnered with beverage giant PepsiCo to clean up the company’s industrial wastewater. Aquacycl developed the first commercially-viable microbial fuel cell, a technology promising to revolutionize the treatment of water used in manufacturing.
These fuel cells, called the BioElectrochemical Treatment Technology system (BETT), generate direct electricity from the bacteria already in the wastewater. The PepsiCo partnership is helping the soft drink manufacturer cut up to 90% of its greenhouse gas emissions, eliminating 100 tons of greenhouse gas every month.
Aquacycl’s technology works by breaking down sugar from leftover drinks. Essentially, PepsiCo’s plant releases expired or mis-bottled drink liquids, and then the BETT begins to work. As the microbial fuel cells break down the sugars in the discarded fluid, they naturally generate electricity, which is gathered to power the sensors running the entire system.
It’s the only technology that can work on such highly concentrated leftover fluids without diluting the heavy liquids first. It works in various containers, including shipping ones, which makes it versatile and less expensive.
The entire system can be scaled larger or smaller depending on how much waste needs to be treated. The water is then safe and clean to be disposed of, or, in some cases, it can be reused by PepsiCo.
“We basically are giving the bacteria a nonstop treadmill,” said Orianna Bretschger, Aquacycl’s CEO. “That’s enabling us to provide treatments in a small footprint very efficiently because we can do in hours what a conventional technology takes days to do.”
“Our food and beverage customers spent millions of dollars a year per facility to dispose of ultra-high strength wastewaters … which are typically discharged to the sewer or hauled off-site to a landfill,” she said.
“The cost of dealing with these wastewaters can range from $20,000 a month up to $100,000 a month per facility,” continued Bretschger. “Aquacycl provides the only technology that can treat these wastewater streams without dilution, providing 20 to 60% savings … we have the smallest footprint and the least amount of sludge of any technology available today.”
It’s a process proven to cut costs significantly and has operational benefits. Not to mention that it keeps all wastewater out of sewage systems entirely.
“Globally, water and wastewater treatment accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire shipping industry,” said Bretschger.
The bulk of those emissions is caused by giant treatment plants and disposal of the resulting sludge, which must be transported to landfills. Aquacycl’s technology eliminates all of that, making it critical to a sustainable future for manufacturers like PepsiCo, who rely on global water supply and quality to produce their products.
For Aquacycl, the partnership is just the beginning. The company is in the early stages of working with other drink companies, including Anheuser-Busch and port facilities that store chemicals. There is hope that textile producers and paper factories may also try Aquacycl, especially as each works to reach new climate goals.