Urban Utilities is pioneering the use of homegrown ‘superbugs’ to treat Queenslanders’ wastewater.

The bugs naturally clean waste in a way that significantly reduces chemicals and power use, making the essential treatment process cheaper and more environmentally friendly. 

After ten years of research and development, Urban Utilities is now introducing the unique microorganisms – called anammox bugs – to the state’s largest sewage treatment plant at Luggage Point in Brisbane’s east.

Urban Utilities spokesperson, Michelle Cull, said the innovative technology is revolutionising wastewater treatment and could be rolled out Australia-wide. 

“These remarkable bugs might be tiny, but their healthy appetites are key to unlocking a cleaner, greener and more efficient way to treat sewage,” Ms Cull said.

“The bugs feed on nutrients like ammonium and nitrogen, naturally removing them from sewage, requiring less chemicals and energy than traditional treatment processes. 

“The amazing anammox will help clean an equivalent of around 50 Olympic swimming pools every day as they are added to sewage, eating the waste and leaving the water behind.” 

The pioneering technology, developed by Veolia Water Technologies, will also help Urban Utilities treat an increasing volume of wastewater as more people call south-east Queensland home.

“We’re expecting to save around $500,000 a year by using less power and chemicals and with a more efficient treatment process, the plant will have more capacity to cater for future population growth,” Ms Cull said.

It has taken five years to farm the slow-growing bugs at Urban Utilities’ Brisbane innovation centre.

“We started with enough bugs to fill a jam jar but now we have enough to fill more than ten backyard swimming pools,” Ms Cull said. 

“We’ve finally grown enough bugs to introduce them into the treatment process and start reaping the benefits, as they’re extremely efficient at removing nutrients from sewage.  

“So, the next time people flush the loo or turn on the washing machine, they could be providing the next meal for our hungry bugs.”

Veolia Water Technologies General Manager for Projects, Michelle Moroney, said the most exciting part about the anammox bugs was their potential to reduce power and chemical use nationwide.

“Due to biosecurity laws, you can’t import anammox bugs into Australia, so it’s taken a long time to grow them for this project,” Ms Moroney said.

“The bugs grow on special plastic discs – that we call carriers – which are a critical part of the process. We had to crane around 500 cubic metres of the carriers into tanks at Luggage Point.

“The anammox project is great news for other water utilities around Australia, as they’ll be able to access these superbugs to incorporate them into their own treatment processes.”

Urban Utilities’ sewage treatment plant at Luggage Point treats the sewage from 800,000 Queenslanders every day – the equivalent of about 50 Olympic swimming pools. 

For more about anammox superbugs and our other projects, click here

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