Biomass engineering is generally considered to be the addition of micro-organisms to a system in order to improve the function of the system. The addition is often made to improve a biological waste water treatment plant but may also be applied to other biodegradation such as soil remediation or composting.

Biomass engineering is also referred to as bioaugmentation, bacterial augmentation and bacterial supplementation. Micro-organisms include bacteria and are often referred to as microbes bugs or cultures. Enzymes are "biological catalysts" and only form a small part of the picture. Fungi are also micro-organisms and play an important role in biomass engineering.

What can Biomass Engineering Do?

1. Products for biomass engineering are available for a number of biological waste water treatment problems, including products for addition to sewerage treatment plants, septic tanks, drain lines, urinals and clearing algae in ponds. They can also be used to degrease sewers and for cleaning oil spills.

2. Improve BOD and COD removal. Products with a broad range of activity may help overall organic removal, as measured by the Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) and the Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD).

Sewerage Treatment Plants: Adding specific micro-organisms can accelerate the start-up process by introducing bacteria that are capable of degrading the components of the waste water. This type of application of the product can be very successful and enables a quick, clean and relatively cost effective start-up.

Septic Tanks: The use of aggressive cleaning chemicals in food preparation areas, wash-rooms etc. in the quest for hygiene tends to make life pretty difficult for the bacteria that populates the septic tank. This may be overcome by reducing the excessive use of the cleaning chemicals and reviving the bacterial population by introducing products containing bacteria which have greater resistance to chemicals.

Bathrooms: Some bacterial products (particularity those combined as a cleaner) are very effective digesters of soaps, fats and uric acid (all of which contribute to odours). They work by "replacing" the sulphide producing bacteria and digests the waste thus eliminating the cause of the problem rather than making it.

Degreasing Drains: Products containing a micro-organisms (able to produce lipase enzymes) and surfactants can clear grease and control odour in drain lines and sewers. This is the area most relevant to hotels and probably the most controversial use of bugs. As such, it warrants a little more details. Biological additives are increasingly used for grease and odour control in drainage systems of kitchens and some have demonstrated clear hygiene, safety and cost benefits.

What is the difference between Bacteria and Enzymes? Enzymes are only a catalyst, starting the process of degradation of grease; they play no further role. The bacteria complete this process. Bacteria product their own enzymes and multiply. A quality drain cleaning product will be able to withstand extreme conditions in pipes, etc. to a much greater degree than an enzyme product. The will also have good lipase producing capabilities and a viable spore count - which give greater effective shelf life. A high "bug count" or large variety of strains is therefore not necessarily an indication of a good product.

So, what happens to the grease? The biological breakdown is a process which starts with conversion into fatty acids and glycerols, which then degrade to carbon dioxide and water. Unlike emulsification, the degradation process is not reversible and so there is no danger of grease reforming further down the line.

Bacteria products are a useful preventative maintenance tool. They should not be used to substitute regular grease trap pumping (though through good practice and for odour control, they may reduce it). Be wary of broad spectrum products claiming to cure all ills, as all wastes are different.