Sponsored Research into Technology that Removes Nitrogen from Urban Stormwater Advances to Phase II

Columns in field to demonstrate innovative stormwater technology

Over the past year, Center researchers have demonstrated that novel passive filtration materials, when used in combination with existing treatment methods, can reduce nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in stormwater. Encouraged by the results, Oldcastle Infrastructure, A CRH Company, sponsor of Phase I of the research, is funding Phase II in which the novel materials are being piloted at a demonstration site outside of the lab. 

Nutrient pollution is a widespread and challenging problem in urban stormwater management. Stormwater runoff carries nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer, pet waste and other sources to creeks, rivers, and lakes, where these nutrients can contribute to algal blooms. Algal blooms can be toxic to humans and aquatic life and are exacerbated by climate change.

During Phase I, researchers at the Center for WaSH-AID developed a novel inorganic/organic material that shows strong performance for both nitrogen and phosphorus removal in laboratory tests. This non-biological media is active immediately upon installation. The media is adaptable to use in stand-alone filter cartridges as well as mixed-media beds and can be easily retrofitted into existing bioretention or filtration systems. 

In Phase II, researchers have teamed up with Tate Rogers and his team at Triangle Environmental for their expertise in the design and construction of engineering systems for water management. Triangle Environmental designed, built and installed the pilot. The team also includes Scott Wolter, associate professor and chair of the Department of Engineering at Elon University, and his students who are testing the novel organic/inorganic composite materials with stormwater in the field. 

“Elon University is committed to transformative research and innovation as demonstrated by nearly 2,500 square feet of new laboratory space and state-of-the-art instrumentation devoted to water research,” says Wolter. “We are thrilled to be supporting efforts by Oldcastle Infrastructure and Duke WaSH-AID to reduce the burden of poor water quality.”

The team chose a site that features impermeable surfaces and agricultural sources emptying into a catchment area near a creek. The novel filtration materials will be packed into columns placed at the site and over the next several months, samples will be taken to inform ongoing research to optimize the materials. 

The work, led by research scientist Julia Darcy, exemplifies the Center’s mission to move research quickly out of the lab.

“Rapidly de-risking technologies from concept to commercialization is critical to environmental technology innovation,” says Darcy. “Partnering with Oldcastle Infrastructure and Elon has been an exciting opportunity to get scientific advancements out of the lab and into the field.”

With a global footprint, Oldcastle Infrastructure has an opportunity and responsibility to provide water management solutions that will support sustainable communities of the future. Sponsoring important, innovative research focused on reducing nutrient pollution aligns with the company’s commitment to protect precious ecosystems.

“We are excited to continue our partnership with leading academic institutions to further innovative solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing our communities,” says Jeffrey Johnson, Innovation Manager at Oldcastle Infrastructure. “This collaboration not only signifies transformational innovation in sustainable water management but also exemplifies how industry and academia can come together to create impactful, real-world solutions.”

Our thanks to Halo, a partnering platform where scientists and startups from around the world connect directly with companies for research collaborations.