New research could improve sustainability and cost effectiveness of wastewater treatment

Nov 16, 2012

University of Notre Dame researcher Robert Nerenberg can tell you many things you might not know about wastewater treatment plants, including their significant carbon footprint, energy demands and chemical costs. His past research has addressed ways to drastically improve the energy efficiency of wastewater treatment. He now is telling the wastewater treatment industry about his promising new line of research that has the capability of significantly decreasing chemical costs and carbon footprint.

Nerenberg, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and earth sciences, points out that are increasingly using a biologic nutrient removal (BNR) process to protect human health and the environment. This BNR process typically adds an external electron donor, or , such as methanol or ethanol. However, these chemicals are expensive, have toxicity and handling concerns, and can have a significant carbon footprint.

Nerenberg notes that gaseous have rarely been used in wastewater treatment because of their sparse solubility. However, a new known as the membrane-biofilm reactor (MBfR) effectively delivers gaseous substances directly to the biofilm, bypassing the solubility problems. has been delivered to an MBfR to remove oxidized contaminants such as nitrate.

Nerenberg is studying the feasibility of using several inorganic or gaseous compounds, such as sulfur, sulfur dioxide, sulfite, hydrogen sulfite and methane, for delivery to MBfRs. Many of these compounds are waste products of other industries and can be much more cost effective and sustainable than the carbon compounds currently used in BNR processes. Elemental sulfur, for example, is a waste product from a number of industries, including oil refining and coal or gas-burning refining plants, and in many cases these industries would be happy to provide the sulfur for free to entities willing to remove it. The research thus also offers a means to transform a waste product into a valuable resource.

Nerenberg's research offers such promise that the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) Endowment for Innovation n Applied Water Quality Research awarded him its 2012 Paul L. Busch Award. The $100,000 award recognizes an outstanding individual whose ongoing efforts contribute significantly to water quality research and its practical application in the water environment.

The Busch Award Committee identified Nerenberg's work as feasible and able to demonstrate results and full-scale application quickly. Nerenberg will initially focus his research on sulfur and sulfur dioxide, which have the highest potential for immediate application. And he is already moving the research forward quickly with help from the Hampton Roads Sanitation District in Virginia, where preliminary denitrification tests have been conducted with sulfur and sulfur dioxide.

Nerenberg hopes the research will provide the basic information necessary to quickly develop treatment applications and help identify the most suitable reactor configurations, thereby dramatically decreasing operational costs and improving sustainability at wastewater treatment facilities.

Explore further: Rising anger as Nicaragua canal to break ground

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Household sewage: Not waste, but a vast new energy resource

Jan 05, 2011

In a finding that gives new meaning to the adage, "waste not, want not," scientists are reporting that household sewage has far more potential as an alternative energy source than previously thought. They say the discovery, ...

Value-added sulfur scrubbing

Oct 21, 2010

Power plants that burn fossil fuels remain the main source of electricity generation across the globe. Modern power plants have scrubbers to remove sulfur compounds from their flue gases, which has helped reduce the problem ...

Wastewater: Energy of the future?

Nov 14, 2005

Professor Jurg Keller at Australia's University of Queensland said he and his colleagues have discovered how to turn wastewater into electricity.

Bacteria -- energy producers of the future? (w/ video)

Aug 22, 2011

All of us use water and in the process, a lot of it goes to waste. Whether it goes down drains, sewers or toilets, much of it ends up at a wastewater treatment plant where it undergoes rigorous cleaning before it flows back ...

Recommended for you

Rising anger as Nicaragua canal to break ground

21 hours ago

As a conscripted soldier during the Contra War of the 1980s, Esteban Ruiz used to flee from battles because he didn't want to have to kill anyone. But now, as the 47-year-old farmer prepares to fight for ...

Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

Dec 20, 2014

One of the most prolific oil and gas basins on the planet sits just off Cuba's northwest coast, and the thaw in relations with the United States is giving rise to hopes that Cuba can now get in on the action.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.