Small-Scale Teamwork Puts an End to Oily Wastewater Fujimix Co., Ltd. IP

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Category: Machinery

Fujimix's microorganism trio is bringing a novel means of treatment to oily water pollution

Treating water that has been contaminated with oil is a difficult challenge. Previous methods have not only proven inefficient, their byproducts have a foul smell. The Aichi-based firm Fujimix Co., Ltd. has While it may not have a catchy name, discovered a way to remove fats and oil from water by harnessing an ingenious biological solution.

As Fujimix's Head of R&D, Masatake Fujioka, explains, the standard technique in Japan for dealing with oil-contaminated water is dissolved air flotation (DAF). However, DAF systems can be expensive to install and maintain, often generate bad smells, and are actually inefficient in removing the contamination.

In considering the problem, Fujioka hit upon the idea that it might be possible to “digest” the contaminating oil using a biological agent. This idea led to an odd passion: he became obsessed with oily water. He would take analysis samples of it everywhere he traveled – from drainpipes, roadside ditches, and even onsen.

Symbiotic Microbial Agent Against Wastewater Treatment, courtesy of Fujimix Co., Ltd.

Fujimix Co., Ltd.'s Head of R&D, Masatake Fujioka

Three Is the Magic Number

But his travels, and many vials of oily water samples, paid off. It turned out that one biological agent wasn't enough. A single bacterium might break oil down into the components of fatty acid and glycerol, but those components would recombine into oil if not digested themselves. However, by mixing the bacterium with two kinds of yeasts, a symbiotic relationship was created: the yeasts would feed on the fatty acid and the glycerol that had been created by the bacterium.

In collaboration with Professor Katsutoshi Hori of Nagoya University, and with support from the prestigious Japan Science and Technology Society program for target-driven R&D companies, Fujimix was able to refine and improve the performance of this microbial agent. As Fujioka explains, they also had to find a way to produce this microorganism in an efficient and easily scalable way, which proved challenging: “It's tricky because yeasts and bacteria are living things. You have to give them an environment in which they feel most comfortable so that their performance increases.”

Microscopic Scale, Macro-Level Potential

While it may not have a catchy name, Fujimix's Oil Degrading Microorganism is a natural boon to the food processing industry, restaurants, and other facilities that produce large amounts of oily wastewater. It works in conjunction with other water treatment systems, and using Fujimix's equipment, companies can grow the mix of yeast and bacteria by themselves, minimizing the need of having a specialist on-site for maintenance purposes.

Fujioka explains that "Fujimix is currently focused on domestic development, but in the near future we aim to develop internationally by cooperating with large chemical manufacturers, waterworks, and engineering companies and extending our reach to Southeast Asia, where oil pollution is becoming a serious problem and standards for water treatment are getting stricter."

Example of Wastewater Treatment Laboratory Test, courtesy of Fujimix Co., Ltd.

They have patented the microbial technology in Japan, and have filed for a PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) application that will be effective in the US, the EU, China, Korea, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand. For the future, Fujimix is looking to implement their technology in membrane bio-reactors and for methane fermentation, putting these resourceful microorganisms in situations where they can play a major role in cutting down pollution.

Based on Interview in February 2016