EL MAT Sustainable Solutions

EL MAT Sustainable Solutions

EL MAT Sustainable Solutions

The South African start-up EL MAT SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS has developed an innovative microbial fuel cell (MFC) solution with a triple output: it produces electricity, purified water and fertilizers from wastewater. Their innovative plug-and-play on-site device treats wastewater and reduces stress on the grid while providing a de-centralized electricity supply in urban and rural settings. For these reasons, EL MAT Sustainable Solutions was chosen as a finalist of the ISC3 Innovation Challenge 2022, as well as the ISC3 Start-up of the month for February 2023.

Year of Foundation:


Addresses the following SDGs:

SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 5 (gender equality), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities)

Benny Malesela Molala

a young man in a suit smiling at the camera
EL MAT's founder Benny M. Molala
a visualisation of a microbial fuel cell
Typical fuel cell operation for a microbial fuel cell
scientific equipment with a beaker and voltmeter attached to it
The EL MAT Sustainable Solutions microbial fuel cell's activity being tested

Creating a solution out of a problem

The rationale behind Benny Molala’s decision to found EL MAT was nourished by the insight he gained from his honor’s degree research related to Metallurgical Engineering and awareness from working at a mining company. The realization that there was no proper solution for wastewater treatment plants’ and mining companies’ drainage water led him to deep-dive into the topic.
“We found that the acid mining drainage had a foul smell – First, we wanted to eliminate this odor to improve everyone’s health and safety. While I was doing my research, I found out that the bacteria causing the smell, consume lots of energy: And as we know from Physics, energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but only converted from one form to another. So, it dawned on me that we could use bacteria for some form of energy. This led me to the foundation of EL MAT”
, Benny says. He deployed his knowledge as metallurgical engineer and the experience he gained from industry, complemented by his training as a chemical engineer – which now he also spreads as an assistant lecturer at the University of Johannesburg – and came up with his ingenious process.
The main problem he and his mentor, the late Dr. Sydney du Plessis, had to overcome in order to promote their niche research idea was to create an understanding of how bacteria is able to produce electricity, clean water and produce fertilizers as well. It may sound too good to be true, but Benny’s modular microbial fuel cells do exactly this – without the introduction of hazardous materials or expensive feedstocks. This is also where the company’s name is derived from – EL MAT which hints to electricity and materials, as it is the configuration of materials that leads to the technology’s output of electrical energy.
As of now, a team of eleven people with an experience of 65+ years in the fields of electrical, mechanical and chemical engineering, private equity analysts, health and safety analysts is working on implementing the idea. Six of EL MAT’s employees are female
“We are looking to expose more women to the engineering sites and get more female innovators as they have an upper hand when it comes to engineering”,
Benny says with a smile.

“Waste” water? Multiple valuable products

So how does the process work? The heart of EL MAT process is a microbial fuel cell (MFC). This MFC converts the organic matter of the untreated wastewater into electricity using bacteria. The bacteria consume the organic matter and produce electrons as a byproduct, which can be captured and used to generate power.However, the MFC process has additional benefits and side products. On the one hand it converts the organic material to usable energy and pure water. On the other hand, the solids that remain in the MFC are different kinds of nutrients left by the bacteria which can be extracted and used as fertilizers for agriculture. As there are no moving parts and hazardous chemicals involved, it involves low maintenance and lets you extract the products easily. Another advantage is the flexibility that ensues from their technology.
“Once the generator is kickstarted, it functions on island-mode. We do not want to replace the existing electricity network, we want to supplement it,”
Benny explains. The technology thus provides energy that would otherwise have to be taken from the grid.

Next up at EL MAT Sustainable Solutions

After proving the performance on a lab scale, EL MAT Sustainable Solutions is now looking to scale up their process. With two Memorandums of Agreement ongoing with wastewater treatment plants in South Africa, Benny wants to prove that their process works in a real-life wastewater treatment plant situation. The long-term goal is to expand their activities into diverse other fields of application and more geographical locations. With their innovative electricity generation solution, EL MAT SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS, who was a ISC3 Innovation Challenge 2022 finalist, contributes to SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 5 (gender equality), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities).