October 2007, Vol. 19, No.10

Research Notes

WERF Launches Comprehensive Nutrient Removal Challenge Program

Earlier this year, the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF; Alexandria, Va.) board of directors approved the selection of a team for the research organization’s comprehensive 5-year nutrient removal program. The team will be led by Program Manager J.B. Neethling of HDR Inc. (Omaha, Neb.). Other core team members include H. David Stensel of the University of Washington (Seattle), Mark Laquidara of Metcalf & Eddy–AECOM (Wakefield, Mass.), and Julian Sandino of CH2M Hill (Englewood, Colo.).

More than 30 wastewater utilities, universities, consultants, and water organizations in the United States and abroad have indicated a willingness to participate in this effort. Many more are anticipated to join this WERF-led initiative in the next few years. The WERF challenge is being guided by a group of volunteer experts from WERF’s Nutrient Challenge Issue Area Team (IAT), representing WERF subscribers from both the United States and abroad.

“This is the first programwide challenge we have launched at WERF, and it has already become the model for others to follow,” said Amit Pramanik, senior program director at WERF. “This new model allows us to develop coherent long-term research plans, fully aligned with the needs of our subscribers, and nimbler in terms of producing readily applicable results.”

Through the program, WERF intends to develop further the science and corresponding application tools and practices associated with a wide range of issues, such as nutrient characterization and bioavailability in aquatic environments; selection of sustainable, cost-effective processes to meet nutrient limits in wastewater treatment facilities; and demonstration of new nutrient removal technologies and practices, as well as improvements to existing ones. One goal of this challenge is to reduce capital, operating, and maintenance costs for nutrient removal at wastewater treatment facilities by at least 10%.

“Nutrient removal is one of the most pressing water quality challenges currently facing many utilities, not just in North America but all over the world,” Neethling said. “Implementation of [the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s] national nutrient criteria strategy that requires states to adopt numeric nutrient standards will likely require many utilities across the U.S. to achieve effluent nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations at or below our current technical capabilities.”

As part of the Nutrient Challenge’s kick-off activities, a WERF Nutrient Research Stakeholder Workshop was held March 7 and 8 in Baltimore in conjunction with the WEF–IWA specialty conference on nutrient removal to further refine the challenge’s research needs and to seek funding partners and collaborators.

The facilitated workshop drew nearly 100 participants representing all of the key stakeholder groups in the industry. A total of 25 priority areas were identified, many of them similar to those identified in a similar workshop conducted by WERF in 2006. Based on this input, as well as additional guidance provided by IAT and the program management core team, a list of projects to be funded for the first year has been defined and currently is being considered by IAT and WERF. Generally, these projects fall within the identified top-priority research areas of refractory dissolved organic carbon, carbon augmentation alternative sources, and phosphorus speciation and particle characterization.

This Nutrient Challenge is built on a collaborative approach to invite others to participate in the effort. An affiliates program is being established to enable utilities, engineers, regulators, researchers, vendors, and others interested in the topic to become participants in the challenge. Affiliates will be able to contribute their experience and knowledge, share data and reports from their experiences, and contribute additional funding through WERF’s targeted collaborative research program.
The Nutrient Challenge is developing a comprehensive Web site that will serve as a central communication location with core team members, IAT, WERF subscribers, affiliates, and the public about the activities, needs, and products from this challenge.

For more information on the Nutrient Challenge or to become an affiliate, contact Pramanik at  (703) 684-2470  , ext. 7228, or at apramanik@werf.org.

Report Indicates Bioenergy Activity, Industry Moving Quickly in Oregon

A new study of the potential for bioenergy businesses in Oregon reveals an industry that is already taking off with surprising speed, spurred by business tax credits, aggressive advocacy groups, and a streamlined regulation system.

The report, funded by a $40,000 grant from the Oregon University System and the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department, shows that there are few hurdles for proposed new businesses to jump, a lot of private and public interest, and a new era of bioenergy production already under way, according to an Oregon State University (OSU; Corvallis) news release.

“We knew there was a lot of interest in this area and opportunities for growth, but it was very surprising to see how much is already going on,” said Kenneth Williamson, head of chemical engineering at OSU, who coordinated the production of the report.

“It appears the most activity so far has been focused in corn-based ethanol and waste-oil biodiesel production, but we expect the field to broaden beyond that,” Williamson said. “Because electricity from hydroelectric production is so inexpensive in the Pacific Northwest, the production of liquid fuels may continue to be the most promising area, especially in areas like cellulosic ethanol where we have some advantages.”

Another major advance, Williamson said, would be legislative approval and funding for the new Bio-Economy and Sustainable Technologies Research Center, or BEST, which has been proposed by the Oregon Innovation Council (Portland) as another of the state’s signature research centers. Building on the success of the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (Corvallis) in helping the nanoscience and microtechnology industries, researchers believe that BEST will provide the research and development component for bioenergy and bioproducts that is now lacking, OSU reports.

The initiative is envisioned as a collaboration of OSU, Portland State University, the University of Oregon (Eugene), and the Oregon Institute of Technology (Klamath Falls), and could help a “clean energy” industry in the Pacific Northwest grow to $2.5 billion during the next 20 years, organizers project. That would also generate thousands of new jobs and create diverse industries all across the region, according to the OSU news release.

To read the report, see www.inr.oregonstate.edu/reports_environment.html.

Professors Spearhead International Membranes Project

Two Michigan State University (MSU; East Lansing) professors, Volodymyr Tarabara and Tom Voice, are leading an ambitious project to develop water-purifying strategies using membranes, according to an MSU news release.

Tarabara and Voice are leading an international partnership of environmental engineers and scientists from MSU and Duke University (Durham, N.C.), two research centers in France, and three institutions in Ukraine and Russia that will create new technologies for the project. With a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the team leaders are bringing together domestic and international expertise, as well as investing in students, to develop robust membranes, the release notes.

“NSF’s initiative to invest in international education and research is relatively new,” said Tarabara, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. “It was motivated by the recognition that the world is becoming increasingly more global and that for American graduates to successfully compete with researchers from other countries, they have to be better prepared for the challenges of working in the global marketplace.”

The team’s strength, Tarabara said, is that each institution brings something unique to the table.

“For example, research to develop stronger hollow-fiber membranes will unite the world-renowned expertise in carbon nanotube chemistry at Rice University [Houston] with the knowledge of hollow-fiber membrane manufacture and optimization at France’s National Polytechnic Institute of Toulouse,” Tarabara said.

“Development of high-flux membranes to remove heavy metal contaminants will include the group in Kiev [Ukraine], which is heavily involved in this work due to local environmental contamination, along with a group from MSU, which is developing high-flux membranes that reject large molecules,” Tarabara said.