In order to be successful in modern industry, companies must walk a precarious tightrope. Market forces pull them in one direction, towards cost reduction and increased efficiency, while the weight of ecological responsibility pulls them in another, towards environmental sustainability and a secure future for our planet.

Lean too far in one direction and the company’s profits will be harmed, perhaps catastrophically. Waver too far towards the other and we are looking at environmental disaster. Balance is required — a middle ground in which a company can be both economically successful and ecologically sound — and this is where techniques such as bioaugmentation are proving critical.

But what exactly is bioaugmentation? How exactly does bioaugmentation work for businesses that deploy it within their operations? We set out to answer these questions.

What is bioaugmentation?

Bioaugmentation refers to the manual addition of an organic culture to an environment such as a bioreactor, with the intention of treating sewage or other contaminated materials. This environment will already have a microbial population in most cases, but bioaugmentation is designed to enrich this population and make it more effective in reducing the level of contamination. With the addition of pre-grown microbial cultures, bioreactors and other treatment equipment are ready to hit optimal levels of efficiency without any delay.

The obvious reasoning behind this addition of microorganisms is to increase both the efficiency and the efficacy of the processes within the bioreactor or within another industrial application. The contaminants are removed more quickly and effectively, and at a lower cost. This makes it easier for organizations to maintain that all-important balance, protecting profits while also striving for ecological sustainability.

How does bioaugmentation work?

Bioaugmentation works by increasing the level of active microbes and microorganisms within the treatment environment. These microorganisms are already working to transform contaminants into less harmful compounds, but each microorganism can only handle this transformation up to a certain rate. If the ratio of active microorganisms to harmful contaminants is not optimal, the efficiency of the process will be greatly reduced, and there may be harmful compounds left over after the treatment phase.

By pre-growing microbes and then adding these microbes to the mix, business owners can help to tip the balance in their favor. This ensures that the ratio is always optimal and complete degradation can take place with a high level of efficiency.

However, often bioaugmentation is a little more targeted — and utilizes a little more science and design — as opposed to simply increasing the amount of active microbes in the degradation process. Business owners may decide to choose specific microorganisms that are known for their high levels of efficiency in this area, or they may select cultures that have been found to be extra effective when working on specific contaminants.

A more measured and scientific approach gives business owners the opportunity to get more from the bioaugmentation process, pushing the efficiency of contaminant cleaning even further and optimizing costs and results.

The benefits of bioaugmentation

Bioaugmentation delivers a number of different benefits to businesses, including the following:

  • Cost optimization

Bioaugmentation is a low-cost process when compared to other methods of treating wastewater effluent. While there are costs involved in sourcing or cultivating specific microbe cultures, the expense of powering and maintaining more traditional methods may be greater in many cases.

  • Regulatory compliance

The process of bioaugmentation is generally supported by regulators across different jurisdictions in the United States. Regulators apply a number of different metrics as they rule on the viability of treatment methods. These include the effectiveness of the treatment — i.e., the level of risk that harmful contaminants may be left over, the environmental stability and sustainability the treatment provides, and the level of disruption the treatment causes in the local community. Bioaugmentation tends to score well in all these areas.

  • Public acceptance

All businesses need to be aware of the impact they are having on the local community. Maintaining a good relationship with this community, through minimizing disruption and noise and through ensuring the safe and responsible disposal of wastewater, is vital. When bioaugmentation is deployed, there is little noise or other environmental disruption, so this positive relationship is achieved.

  • Reduced carbon footprint

With bioaugmentation, there is no need to waste energy in heating the reactor or the treatment environment, nor do businesses need to apply high levels of pressure in order to achieve the desired treatment results. This links back to the cost optimization mentioned above, but it also helps to secure ongoing environmental sustainability — thanks to a greatly reduced carbon footprint. This is going to become increasingly important in the coming years, and any businesses that do not already have environmental sustainability measures in place will need to change the ways in which they operate.

  • Highly effective contaminant treatment

All of the above are great features of bioaugmentation and help to make the process a viable option for businesses. However, business owners are still not likely to incorporate bioaugmentation into their operations unless it can provide reliable and effective results in the treatment of contaminants.

Even if the addition of pre-grown microorganism cultures reduces energy usage at the facility, it is not going to be a green solution unless it can effectively remove harmful compounds from wastewater. Even if the process of bioaugmentation reduces operating costs, it is not going to be cost-effective if substandard treatment results in fines for the company.

Fortunately for business owners, bioaugmentation is a highly effective contaminant treatment, reinforcing all of its other benefits.

Targeting a sustainable future with bioaugmentation

Bioaugmentation, when backed with a scientific approach, is helping businesses to target a future of sustainability and stability, both in an economic and an ecological sense. A degree of research and understanding is required, particularly if businesses are to get the very best out of this process, but bioaugmentation is certainly going to play an important role in the future of American industry as businesses seek to walk that fine line of balance.