Award recipient seeks new technology to convert greenhouse gas into green fuel

Oct. 14, 2010
ALEXANDRIA, VA, Oct. 14, 2010 -- The WERF Endowment for Innovation in Applied Water Quality Research presented its 10th Annual Paul L. Busch Award to Kartik Chandran, Ph.D, for his research efforts to create an innovative wastewater treatment technology that could make affordable resource recovery a reality for plants of all sizes...

ALEXANDRIA, VA, Oct. 14, 2010 -- The WERF Endowment for Innovation in Applied Water Quality Research presented its 10th Annual Paul L. Busch Award to Kartik Chandran, Ph.D, at its annual subscriber luncheon at WEFTEC 2010 in New Orleans. Chandran was selected for his research efforts to create an innovative wastewater treatment technology that could make affordable resource recovery a reality for plants of all sizes.

The Paul L. Busch award carries with it a $100,000 research grant that will aid Chandran and his team at Columbia University as they attempt to develop a new treatment technology that transforms plant-generated methane and carbon dioxide, potent greenhouse gases, into the green fuel, methanol. The technology could offer wastewater treatment plants a more cost-effective, environmentally friendly process for producing this alternative fuel and help them address one of their top challenges -- the reduction of nitrogen in effluents.

"Effective resource recovery is crucial to the future health of our industry, our communities, and the environment," says WERF Executive Director Glenn Reinhardt. "An innovative and elegant solution such as this one, which integrates into existing biological treatment processes, could be a major step forward for treatment plants big and small. WERF has great hope for this technology and great confidence in Chandran's ability to make it a reality."

Current methanol production in the United States is done largely through an expensive conversion process that chemically catalyzes the oxidation of methane gas. Chandran's research takes an alternative and more cost-effective approach to generating methanol through the development of autotrophic microbial reactors. These reactors, which treatment plants can integrate into their normal biological treatment processes, convert the methane in digester gas straight to liquid methanol, avoiding purification and chemically catalyzed conversion.

Successful application of this technology could also hold significant benefits for other areas of wastewater treatment. By integrating the microbial nitrogen and carbon cycles, it will be possible to simultaneously address nitrogen removal and greenhouse gas emissions by converting nitrogen to nitrite using ammonia oxidizing bacteria, and then channeling the methanol that these bacteria produce into biofuel or an external carbon source to enhance denitrification. Consequently, the process could lower the overall greenhouse gas footprint of wastewater treatment plants by reducing both methane and carbon dioxide release, as well as recovering methanol.

The Paul L. Busch Award will help Chandran explore this new direction along the water-energy nexus and will allow him to continue his work combining environmental engineering, environmental microbiology, and environmental sustainability into a practical solution that could transform tomorrow's wastewater treatment plants.

Chandran is an associate professor at Columbia University and director of the Columbia University Biomolecular Environmental Sciences (CUBES) program. In addition to the Paul L. Busch Award, he has received numerous awards and honors, including the National Science Foundation's CAREER award in 2009 for his ongoing efforts to characterize nitrous oxide and nitric oxide emissions from wastewater treatment plants at the molecular mechanism and metabolic modeling levels.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Paul L. Busch Award and $1 million dollars of total funding in support of groundbreaking wastewater research. To learn more about the award, visit www.werf.org/PaulLBusch.

The Water Environment Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization formed in 1989, is America's leading independent scientific research organization dedicated to wastewater and stormwater issues.

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