Chul Park, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, has been awarded the 2013 Paul L. Busch Award from the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF). The $100,000 award will be used to demonstrate the ability to treat wastewater with low oxygen requirements and to efficiently collect biomass that can be anaerobically digested to generate methane.
WERF is honoring Park for a project that it says has the potential to change both how wastewater is treated and its associated energy consumption.
Algae-based processes have the potential to treat wastewater and nutrients without aeration, through the symbiotic growth of bacteria and photosynthetic algae, and to generate bioenergy feedstock. Although attempted in the 1960s, use of algae for wastewater treatment has not been successful primarily because collection of the algae was expensive and relatively ineffective. Responding to these challenges, Park and his research group developed a novel biogranule, an algal-sludge granule that flocculates and settles very well. The granule is composed of algae and bacteria within one granular biomass and can be naturally formed in the wastewater treatment process. The cohabitation of algae and bacteria within that granule enables a consistent, efficient symbiotic process.
The WERF award selection committee members say they favored this project due to its attention to matters beyond nutrients. This research seeks to provide information applicable to sustainability discussions such as the reduction of greenhouse gasses, energy neutrality and energy generation, as well as carbon footprints.