Microbes Feast on Drain Pipes’ Blockages (Kemia-magazine 6/2017)

Microbes Feast on Drain Pipes’ Blockages (Kemia-magazine 6/2017)

Pipe repair is not a word anyone likes to hear. The microbiotechnology company ProtectPipe promises to delay it by decades.  

Just living life means producing organic waste daily, some of which ends up in the drain pipes and sewage system. A lot more ends up there than just the outcome from a regular bathroom visit. You put the dirty dishes into the washing machine, but you rinse the excess scraps of food off first. When you shower, skin particles and hair flush down the drain to join the other organic waste.  

New challenges for the wellbeing of the pipeline are a result of modern energy efficiency and environmental requirements. “If there was a constant, steady stream of water in the pipes, that would move the organic waste along with the water all the way to the water treatment plant. Problems occur, when the new energy efficient washers and toilets push the waste to the sewer with colder water and less force”, explains the Director of Administration Hannu Keränen.  

When the sewage waste gets stuck, it starts to decompose. Foul smelling and drain damaging hydrogen sulfide begins to form and take its toll on the top of the pipes’ inner surface.  “We need to brush our teeth clean from organic waste too. If the waste isn’t removed, the bacteria start to destroy them.  During this process bad smells, calculus, gingivitis and caries begin to emerge.” Keränen compares. “The same thing happens in our drain pipes.” 

ProtectPipe came up with the solution to feed the organic waste to the bacteria before it has a chance to wreak havoc. Creating a type of microbe cleaning solution that can withstand the harsh sewer environment was not simple. Due to the constant stream of chemicals and detergents that are poured into the sewer, the pH- levels are in constant change. The water coming from washing machines is hot, around 70 degrees Celsius. In the winter the water temperature in the pipes can drop below 4 degrees Celsius.  

Optimal cocktail 

Working with microbiology researchers from the University of Helsinki the company has managed to create live microbes that can survive even harsher conditions. The bacteria are able to also reproduce in the drain pipes. The microbe solution consists of five different strains of bacteria. The solution has been optimized so that it is able to not only chop away at fat, protein, starch and cellulose, but also the hydrogen sulfide compounds that are formed from them breaking down.  

“Unlike the problematic enzyme products, this microbe solution is environmentally friendly.  Also, it doesn’t contain any substances that are harmful to humans” Keränen assures. The goal of this solution is to keep the sewer pipes clean and in good condition for longer.  There are 1,1 million houses and 139 000 housing cooperatives in Finland. “It does matter, whether you need to renew your pipes in 25 or 50 years.” 

“The repair deficit will be cut in half if the household has 50 extra years time to save up.”  Hannu Keränen hopes that people realize the gravity of the situation when they become aware of the amount of organic waste that they produce. “There are 7,6 billion people in the world. Each person creates around 1,3 kg of waste daily. All together that is nearly 10 million tons per day.” People are starting to be aware of their carbon footprint, but Keränen encourages people to also learn to recognize their organic waste footprint. “When people are aware of their organic footprint, they will also learn to reduce it. 

By Irene Andersson, read the article on the online Kemia- magazine on page 86  

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