| 03.18.2018

Eliminating waste water

Funding from Idaho enables further research into new wastewater treatment technology

Researchers from the University of Idaho recently received $427,000 from the Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission to test the feasibility of the latest version of a water treatment process called Nutrient, Energy, Water (N-E-W) Tech.

“What we did is we looked at nature and said ‘How does nature clean water?'” said Gregory Moller, lead researcher on the project and faculty member in the School of Food Science. “We modeled that and engineered it at scale so that you could do it at high flow and in a short amount of time.”

N-E-W Tech is a reactive water filtration treatment catalyzed by biochar, a form of charcoal resulting from burning biotic matter. The process uses catalytic oxidation to remove most organic contaminants from water to sterilize it.

Moller said research into wastewater treatment is critical to solve global problems. He said an example of such problems is the “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, which was caused by nitrogen and phosphorus discharge by the 42 U.S. states contributing to the Pacific River Watershed. The nitrogen and phosphorus contaminations caused uncontrolled algae growth in the area, which robs the water of oxygen and creates dead zones, he said.

Blue Water Technologies Inc. first commercialized the N-E-W Tech technology in 2003, Moller said. Wastewater from Plumber and Grangeville even travelled through earlier versions of the system for sanitation.

Improving wastewater treatment is critical for places like Plumber, which has one of the nation’s most stringent wastewater discharge permits, he said. Moller said Plumber’s restriction on nutrients discharged into the water is because water from Plumber discharges into Coeur d’Alene.

“When you can say you have an impact, that’s kind of nice,” Moller said. “It’s also a very positive impact.”

N-E-W Tech offers many benefits over other water treatment technologies, Moller said. He said it costs a third to a half of the capital, maintenance and operational costs of other treatment approaches and is more efficient.

Since N-E-W Tech uses biochar, biochar produced through the process can be sold as a fertilizer, said Daniel Strawn, a researcher working on the project.

Biochar sequesters carbon, which is important in dealing with issues such as climate change, Strawn said.

“Potential uses of this material (biochar) as soil amendments to improve crop growth, sequester carbon, recycle nutrients … It’s really an amazing technology,” Strawn said.

Installing N-E-W Tech in an existing wastewater treatment plant would be a retrofit, since it acts as a tertiary treatment, Moller said. N-E-W Tech is scalable, meaning its input capacity can be changed to accommodate inputs from cities of various sizes, he said.

The additional funding awarded to UI researchers will be used to scale up a 3.0 version of N-E-W Tech to process 10-15 gallons per minute. Moller said the purpose of scaling up is to test treatment process for larger-scale feasibility and for testing with additional water types.

From this testing, Moller said the limitations of the third version of N-E-W Tech will be ascertained. He said he anticipates the testing will go well and he hopes it will produce water of higher quality.

The third version of N-E-W Tech is also being commercialized through Blue Water Technologies. The feasibility study is expected to be finished in 6-12 months.

“What we are trying to do is actually get rid of the term wastewater, so that there is no waste in the process,” Moller said. “So now it is just a raw material that we are going to process and turn around and make it an unrestricted, reuse water.”

Aleya Ericson can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu 

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