Light battery for fisherfolk has potential to treat wastewater

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A battery made from recycled materials, originally used to power lights in Philippine fishing communities, has been repurposed to treat wastewater.

Created in 2016 for remote fishing areas with limited energy sources, iLAWA draws power from pollutants in the water, namely phosphates, which originate from residential runoffs. Six years later, another application for the technology came to light when researchers found it can be used for wastewater treatment.

“It was really based on the notion of iLAWA drawing power from wastewater,” said Dr. Drandreb Earl O. Juanico, the project’s research head, in an interview with BusinessWorld.

Submerged in water, the battery technology from the recycled aluminum cans both lit the path of fisherfolk and cleaned the lake when it was first used in Laguna de Bay.

“If phosphates are considered pollutants in that lake water, then technically speaking, the lake water itself can be considered as wastewater since it has waste components, so why not use iLAWA for wastewater treatment facilities?” said Dr. Juanico.

The Department of Science and Technology’s (DoST) program Balik Scientist also led Dr. DJ Donn Matienzo, a Filipino industrial electrochemist in Europe, to join the team and help them develop the new idea.

Testing began this May at a major wastewater treatment facility in Luzon. If results, which are scheduled to come in this year, are promising, iLAWA plans to connect with companies that want to try their technology.

“Our target is industrial scale facilities. Once we’re done with this pilot test, we’ll be able to answer bigger operators’ questions of how to scale this up,” Dr. Juanico said.

DIFFERENT PROTOTYPES

Despite this pivot, the team will continue to  pursue its original goal of helping fishing communities.

The designs of the prototypes for the fisherfolk, for example, are geared for lighting and portability since they have to be brought onto small boats and attached to fish lures. Meanwhile, the iLAWA prototypes meant for wastewater treatment facilities can be as heavy as possible but with a more maximized cleaning effect.

The original team of engineers from the Technological Institute of the Philippines (TIP) — Niel Jon Carl Aguel, Ana Luz Callao, Paul Vincent Nonat, and Rowel Facunla — were recognized in 2017, when their project received initial funding from DoST.

Dr. Juanico added that the evolution of their technology is far from over, with ideas for more prototypes up ahead.

“We’re now figuring out a way for the waste treatment facility to make use of the electricity generated by iLAWA. It doesn’t necessarily have to go to a lighting implement. We can charge the battery and it will store the energy for later use,” he said.

By connecting the battery with other TIP projects related to energy storage, possibilities include harnessing the energy to drive pumps or generate electricity within the vicinity.

Whether it’s for local fishing communities or major wastewater treatment facilities, the adoption of iLAWA will promote aluminum recycling and help clean polluted waters, showing sustainability is achievable in the country, according to Dr. Juanico.

“If we get the data out there and convince policymakers that we can do this right here in the Philippines without foreign technology, by just making the most of the resources we have, then maybe we can address our problems in the local landscape,” he said. — Brontë H. Lacsamana

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