DOE grant funds wastewater treatment innovation

3/30/2021 2:58:37 PM

photo of Jeremy Guest
Jeremy Guest

A research team will work to accelerate the commercialization of a distributed water treatment technology that provides energy-positive treatment of high-strength food and beverage industry wastewater, thanks to a grant from the Department of Energy (DOE). CEE associate professor Jeremy Guest is conducting the University of Illinois portion of the research, for which his team will receive DOE funding of nearly $420,000.

"The development of resilient, modular wastewater treatment and energy recovery technologies can reduce burdens on aging centralized infrastructure, while also creating jobs and economic opportunities in circular resource management,” Guest said. “It has the potential to improve economics and environmental outcomes, both for industries and the communities in which they reside."

The technology being developed is the Modular Encapsulated Two-stage Anaerobic Biological (METAB) system, a laboratory-scale technology that addresses a critical barrier to widespread use of distributed biological technologies: the ability to design a low-maintenance, low-energy and small-footprint system that treats variable high-strength wastewater effectively. To address this barrier, the METAB system uses microorganisms encapsulated in small beads to degrade influent carbon to produce hydrogen and methane. Encapsulation provides an energy-efficient means to ensure that microorganisms are present at a high density, their activity is maximized and they are retained in the system. The technology also makes use of two stages so that it is possible to tune the system for maximum microbial activity and the collection of high-value products, such as hydrogen. Through this latest project, the team will further develop the METAB system by addressing critical unknowns that prevent its widespread use.

Industry partner Evoqua Water Technologies will collaborate in advancing the commercialization of the technology. Other critical insights for advancing the METAB system will be realized through the involvement of Metropolitan Council Environmental Services, a government body with the responsibility to treat high-strength industrial wastewaters and the innovative outlook that has led to incentivizing distributed treatment of such flows; and Fulton Brewing, an industrial generator of high strength wastewater.

The project is one of 16 just announced by the DOE with the overarching goal of reducing carbon emissions and water treatment costs while improving water quality and equity of distribution nationwide. By modernizing the water infrastructure, DOE hopes to reduce electricity demand and turn water utilities into clean energy producers.

In addition to Guest, collaborators include project lead Paige Novak, William Arnold and Natasha Wright, all from the University of Minnesota.

The DOE announcement and full list of projects is available on the energy.gov website.