USTAR awards industry partnership program grant to address wastewater issues

USTAR recently awarded an Industry Partnership Program (IPP) grant for a project that aims to solve wastewater issues with a technology that could also create bioenergy.

The grant, awarded to Professor Ronald Sims, Ph.D. and Utah State University (USU), supports a unique collaboration with the Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility (CVWRF) and WesTech Engineering, Inc.

The goal of the project is to remove nitrogen and phosphorus from municipal wastewater, which will assist treatment plants like CVWRF with meeting state nutrient standards.  An added value of the process will be the creation of biomethane and conversion of waste products into a much higher-value fertilizer source.

“That three separate entities could come together to address a major industrial and environmental issue is a testament to the spirit of cooperation that makes Utah such a great place to develop technologies” said Ivy Estabrooke, Ph.D., USTAR executive director. “We are excited to see IPP really gain steam as a vehicle for Industry/University collaboration in the state.”

The project will use plant algae to remove nutrients from the municipal wastewater in a rotating algae biofilm reactor (RABR) developed by WesTech Engineering.  The project builds on earlier USU research at an open-pond lagoon system at a treatment facility in Logan, Utah. 

According to Philip Heck, Ph.D., CVWRF Assistant General Manager, “This project, if successful, has the potential to reduce the large capital and operating expenses for our facility, create valuable resource streams, and help bring commercial application for algae removal to market.”

The RABR combines both algae cultivation and harvesting into one process, improving efficiency and reducing costs. Nutrients removed from the wastewater are used to grow algae which is then fed to anaerobic digesters to enhance the production of biomethane that is generated on-site to offset the facility’s energy needs. In addition, the nutrient containing microalgae can also be mixed in with the facility’s compost to create a higher-value fertilizer product.

“We want to contribute our process and equipment expertise and become a significant contributor to the field of algae use for nutrient removal,” said Rex Plaizier, CEO, WesTech Engineering, Inc. “Our company is committed to making the wastewater community economically self-sustaining on a long-term basis. That’s what is appealing to us about this project, along with the chance to work with our neighbors in Salt Lake City and Logan to make a positive impact in advancing this technology.”