Current Projects

Ultra-low phosphorus regulations: Improving removal of non-reactive phosphorus and downstream dewaterability in bio-P biosolids (Phase 2)

Regulations on effluent phosphorus (P) concentrations at wastewater utilities are becoming increasingly stringent, driving the need for improved technology to remove P. One popular approach is enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR). While this method can effectively remove P to as low as ≈ 0.1 – 1 mg/L, advanced processes are typically needed to satisfy ultra-low regulations. Moreover, EBPR biosolids may be more difficult to dewater, resulting in higher polymer costs. This work will:

  1. Investigate technologies to convert non-reactive organic-P to more readily removable inorganic-P, thereby increasing total P removal.
  2. Determine the role P species play in impacting dewaterability.
  3. Perform lab-scale tests of appropriate technology to shift P speciation, and

perform lab-scale tests to improve biosolids dewatering by releasing P from the biosolids prior to digestion.

  • University: MU
  • Research Aear: Innovative Water Treatment Systems
  • Investigators: Patrick McNamara, Brooke Mayer

Modified Ceramic Adsorbents for the Removal of Arsenic, Selenium and Virus

The removal of As, Se, and viruses remains a challenging task, particularly under slightly alkaline conditions that are most relevant to water/wastewater treatment. Conventional adsorbents (e.g., activated carbon, biochar, clay) are not very efficient in removing these pollutants.

This project focuses on the development of highly efficient and low-cost water filtration materials for the removal of the widespread and challenging waterborne pollutants that include arsenic (As(III) and As(V)), selenium (Se(IV) and Se(VI)), and viruses. Specifically, WEP scientists will prepare low-cost granular ceramic materials that exhibit a positive charge and strong interaction with the target pollutants. The products can be used for various applications, such as drinking water purification, industrial wastewater treatment, and municipal wastewater treatment and reuse.

  • University: UWM
  • Research Area: Innovative Water Treatment Systems
  • Investigators: Ying Wang

Engineered Macroporous Material for the Removal of Lead and Mercury from Water (Phase 2)

Heavy metals are a health concern for the human population and the fauna and flora of the receiving water bodies. Two of the most common and widely studied of these metals are lead and mercury, both of which are highly toxic to the developing brain and nervous system.

In 2017 WEP funded research developed a functionalized, zeolite adsorbent to increase the removal efficiency of heavy metals and reduce operational costs.

In 2018 this continuing research will test the engineered zeolite particles for the removal of a broad range of heavy metals, but especially lead and mercury that are found in waters. Our proof-of-concept studies have shown that zeolite-based composites can be synthesized cost effectively and efficiently. These particles can be used as stand-alone products or they can also be used as additives of existing water purification products.

  • University: UWM
  • Research Area: Novel Materials
  • Investigators: Marcia Silva

Removal and recovery of ammonia using amtB protein

The presence of ammonia in wastewater effluent over permissible levels can cause serious environmental damages in the form of eutrophication and toxicity to aquatic life.  Current ammonia removal and recovery technologies, e.g., ion exchange, have been shown to reduce ammonia levels by >90%. However, removal efficiency drops below 80% at influent ammonia concentrations of <10 mg/L.

The proposed work will provide proof-of-concept for a novel process using an ammonia-binding protein as a bio-adsorbent for removing and recovering ammonia for reuse as a fertilizer product. The protein has high affinity and selectivity for ammonia and may be able to remove ammonia with a high efficiency (>90%) at concentrations <10 mg/L. Additionally, similar to ion exchange processes, the protein may also be able to release ammonia under controlled conditions for later reuse. As part of this project, the protein’s ability to adsorb and desorb ammonia under different environmental conditions will be assessed. The team will also perform a literature review evaluating removal and recovery processes targeting nitrogen (e.g., ammonia/ammonium, nitrate, nitrite, and organic nitrogen) in wastewater.

  • University: MU
  • Research Area: Novel Materials
  • Investigators: Brook Mayer

Advanced surface alloying of mild steel to stainless steel compositions during manufacture for improving the corrosion and wear resistance of water industry (Phase 2)

The water industry has relied on using expensive corrosion resistant alloys such as stainless steels or other highly alloyed steels for equipment to be used in corrosive aqueous environments. Alternatively, corrosion resistance can be enhanced only on the surface of the components used in the water industry through coatings of metallic parts. During 2017, WEP scientists succeeded in developing a low-cost surface alloying technique to add nickel and chromium to the surface of low-cost mild steel in contact with coated cores during the sandcasting process itself under full industrial scale casting from 10,000lbs melts at Maynard Steel. Surface alloying with Nickel and Chromium changed the surface composition, microstructure, and hardness, as well as enhanced corrosion resistance. The specific target of the 2017 project was to enhance the corrosion resistance of the low carbon steel to that of 18/8 stainless steel (8 wt% Nickel and 18 wt% Chromium).

In 2018, the 3rd year of this research, the specific target will be achieving surface enrichment with control of thickness and surface finish of surface alloyed layer using coated cores that will enable surface enrichment of interior surfaces, extending the technique to coat the interior of the entire mold surface to produce an actual shape or a part (e.g., cylinder and valve) with enrichment of both the outer and inner surface to enhance corrosion resistance, and to increase the robustness and reproducibility of the process while further decreasing the cost of surface alloyed castings.

These novel, low-cost surface treatments, when applied during the casting process itself, will be able to significantly decrease the corrosion rate of water components made from less expensive alloys like cast iron and low-cost steels for IAB member companies.

  • University: UWM
  • Research Area: Novel Materials
  • Investigators: Pradeep Rohatgi

A continuous and static water contaminant detection system (Phase 2)

The goal of this project is to develop a static and non-interfering water contaminant sensor that makes continuous measurements for specific water contaminants using a technique similar to the magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS). WEP scientists will place water in a pipe in a large external magnetic field and continuously measure changes in radio frequency energy when different media and contaminants are present in the water. This technology will be developed theoretically and experimentally to determine ppb level detection of specific contaminants.

The operating principle and feasibility of the sensor will be examined and explored further to determine the sensitivity and selectivity of known contaminants. This technology is capable of detecting multiple contaminants simultaneously, thus contaminant selectivity and sensor sensitivity will be improved to meet the EPA standard by optimizing the sensor components and adjusting the external magnetic field. Finally, it will be implemented in a relevant environment to verify it is useful in an industrial setting as a detection system.

The sensor design, fabrication procedure, sensor configuration and measurement setup parameters, developed data acquisition software, and signal processing code will be delivered to the WEP member companies. This system would present companies with the technology to continuously monitor water quality using sensors that would last the same lifetime of their systems. The technology is versatile, allowing configuration to their systems without major modifications.

  • University: MU
  • Research Area: Sensors & Devices
  • Investigators: Chung Hoon Lee

Low Cost Pressure Sensing using Micromachined Membranes (Phase 2)

This continuation research project will investigate an area of specific interest as defined by the WEP’s members.  Specifically, Professor Coutu’s team will focus its research on a novel, low-cost, pressure sensing device, fabricated using microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology. The MEMS membrane device and sensing element will be constructed using silicon-on-insulator (SOI) wafers, packaged for the water environment, and fabricated using batch processing to ensure low-cost and high reliability.

Analytic models will be used to develop the initial designs. Finite element analysis (FEA) will be used to evaluate initial sensor designs and will be compared to experimental data collected from actual devices.  Pre-packaged devices will be tested first using flowing dry nitrogen. Once the failure mechanisms and device sensitivity are studied, the operational PSI range will be established for each application. The devices will then be packaged and retested using dry nitrogen. Testing will culminate using flowing water in a representative environment.

  • University: MU
  • Research Area: Sensors & Devices
  • Investigators: Ronald Coutu

Static, Robust, Low-cost Flow Metering Technologies

Many flow sensing technologies exist. Static flow sensing technologies like pitot tubes and orifice plates have complex geometries and are dependent on comparison of pressure at two different points in the flow. This dependence on precision pressure sensing transducers increases their cost and limits their durability. However, static flow meters have the potential for high reliability at low-cost because of the lack of moving parts. This also supports application in high pressure and harsh environments typical of industrial and filtration operations. These systems are dependent on the interaction of the flow with structure. Measurement is regularly performed using classic diaphragm pressure sensors. While these are an established design, they are high-precision devices and are therefore relatively expensive and prone to damage.

This project seeks to create new, scalable designs for flow sensors. Design will begin with evaluation of existing sensor/transducers and integration into a structural sensing system. Simulation validated with testing will reinforce and inform design modification. An additional goal is to create a scaling algorithm for the designs so that they can be adapted to broad applications.

  • University: UWM
  • Research Area: Sensors & Devices
  • Investigators: Nathan Salowitz

Porous Graphene-based Capacitive Deionization Device for Selective Removal of Heavy Metals

Many methods have been developed to remove heavy metals from water, including chemical precipitation (CP), ion exchange using resins or zeolites, adsorption by carbon, membrane filtration, and electrodeposition. These methods often suffer from problems of limited efficiency at low metal concentrations, fouling by organic matters, high cost, pressure drop, or low regeneration rates.

Alternatively, Consumption Capacitive Deionization (CDI) emerges as a low energy consumption, high-efficiency, and high recovery rate process for deionization especially for low-strength metal laden water. One key challenge for economic removal of heavy metal ions by CDI requires the development of advanced and cost-effective materials, which can achieve high adsorption capacity with high removal rates and good durability. Especially, the chemical modifications to give selectivity to particular ions have just begun to be explored for CDI.

This continuing project aims to develop a high-efficiency (> 99%), high-selectivity (> 90%) and low-energy CDI unit.

  • University: UWM
  • Research Area: Sensors & Devices
  • Investigators: Xingkang Huang

Evaluating and proposing engineering, policy, and legal options to guide real-time control (RTC) of stormwater infrastructure

Real-time control (RTC) of stormwater infrastructure has been proven to be an effective measure for urban stormwater management.  However, applications have been limited due to a lack of engineering, policy, and legal readiness for breakthrough technologies. This project will therefore address this gap to accelerate a technology that has the potential to transform urban stormwater management.

The proposed project plan involves 4 tasks:

  1. Review the current state of the practice in stormwater engineering design criteria and identify those that address RTC of stormwater infrastructure.
  2. Evaluate engineering design criteria alternatives that consider RTC of stormwater infrastructure through hydrologic models.
  3. Identify institutional and legal barriers and incentives to implementation of RTC.
  4. Develop a framework that incorporates engineering, policy, and legal options for advancement of RTC of stormwater infrastructure.

This project will result in engineering, policy, and legal options that stakeholders can use to implement RTC of stormwater infrastructure. IAB members will have direct access to the findings to implement within their own governance structure or to guide and contextualize their development of RTC technologies.

  • University: MU
  • Research Area: Water Policy
  • Investigators: Walter McDonald