Making clean electricity from dirty water
Pipeline Organics wants to turn wastewater into power for industry
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Today’s startup has a fascinating approach to helping industrial plants create a self-sufficient, environmentally friendly electricity supply…
…and all it takes is wastewater and their tech. Scroll down to read all about what Pipeline Organics is developing.
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Pipeline Organics wants to turn industrial wastewater into clean electricity
Increased fuel prices continue to bite, traditional sources of energy around the world are less reliable, and businesses face regulatory and stakeholder pressure to become greener.
All those things together mean that industries that use a lot of energy could increasingly find themselves in a tricky situation.
Pipeline Organics wants to solve this by helping take some power-intensive industrial processes off the electricity grid entirely. They’ve developed a way of directly generating electricity from wastewater that can then be immediately used on-site to power operations.
“We’re looking to disrupt the global energy distribution network with our enzymatic fuel cell technology,” explains CEO and co-founder Arielle Torres.
That work has evolved into the startup’s product: a battery that is designed to be submerged into wastewater containing organic matter.
“As that wastewater flows through from one electrode on the battery to the other, the chemistry of the surface coating on the electrode is interacting and reacting with that organic matter, which is slightly modifying the waste to become charged,” says Torres.
“And then as it flows across to the other electrode, it creates potential difference. That will generate a current, which we then collect.”
The current can then be stored or fed straight back into powering industrial processes.
Torres says the aim is to make Pipeline Organics’ customers “self-sufficient in the long term, saving them energy costs, and offsetting any carbon footprinting, whether indirect or direct.”
She adds that there is potential for this tech to be used in a consumer context to power homes. But for now the startup is focused on the industrial market. She says any industrial plant that creates wastewater with organic matter in it, for example food production, could benefit from it.
Going to market
While not ready to go to market yet, Nottingham-based Pipeline Organics is working towards a first product that will take the form of a half-metre cube. Torres says it will be able to generate the equivalent energy of 32 solar panels over the course of a year.
Unlike solar panels, it won’t be dependent on sunshine, and can be placed in wastewater tanks that already exist, rather than taking up additional space.
Over time the startup plans to scale its tech up. For example, its fifth generation unit is planned to be “about the size of a car” and able to generate the equivalent of around 5,100 solar panels in a year.
These larger units could be particularly useful in utility companies’ large wastewater processing facilities, of which there are thousands in the UK alone.
To give an idea of the scale of wastewater that is processed by water companies, one company alone, Welsh Water, wrote in its 2020-2025 business plan that by 2020 it would be processing 830 million litres of wastewater per day.
Scale the tech enough, and businesses could sell back to the grid or even scale up their own production without worrying about increased power costs, Torres suggests.
Torres sees food and beverage production as the likely first market. Despite not having as much wastewater as some other industries, she says its concentration of organic waste makes up for this. From there, manufacturing and the water industry will be the next likely markets.
But with so many potential markets and customer sizes, won’t Pipeline Organics face huge costs to adjust their tech for each installation? And won’t that limit their ability to scale the business and lead to unpredictable profit margins?
Torres says no. She declines to go into much detail, as it’s part of their patent application. But she does say that the manufacturing method for the hardware allows its size and shape, and suitability for different types of wastewater, to be easily adapted without any significant change in cost.
The story so far
Torres, Jodeiri, and their fellow co-founders Andrew Raslan and Eric Lehder, met in 2020 while doing PhDs in Nottingham. They were all part of a programme called YES, which helps academic researchers commercialise their work.
The four teamed up on the programme to put together the beginnings of their startup, and ended up winning a cash prize which allowed them to incorporate Pipeline Organics in the summer of 2021.
Torres says that since then they’ve developed the tech to a point where they have a completed proof of concept. This being a deep tech project, the timescales for coming to market are much longer than you’d expect from a piece of software.
Pipeline Organics is part of the Conception X programme, which helps turn PhD research into venture-backable startups.
“We're now iterating and prototyping to get to the point where we can demonstrate to interested industry parties that we can simply take a black box, put it into wastewater, and show that it a lightbulb lights up… a quick visual check to make it easier for non-technical individuals to appreciate this is working.”
By Q2 next year, they want to begin a pilot study with a UK-based water company that Torres says is already interested. They then plan to go to market and start generating revenue within the next two years.
Go deeper on Pipeline Organics
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