Researchers at WaSH-AID come from a variety of backgrounds, including materials science, chemistry, electrochemistry, and biology, as well electrical, mechanical and environmental engineering. Together, we work to apply this diverse expertise in creating and implementing new solutions for waste treatment that will improve both human and environmental health.
Electrochemistry has been applied in a number of contexts relevant to water and sanitation, including oxidation of pollutants and additive-free generation of chlorine for disinfection. Our research includes improved mechanistic understanding of peroxide generation by diamond electrodes, and application of this knowledge to improve the efficiency of electrochemical disinfection of blackwater. Other projects include using electrochemical manipulation to eliminate malodor associated with sanitation technologies, which often presents a significant barrier to user acceptance and adoption. Our team also investigates the use of electrochemistry as a non-destructive characterization tool for water filtration membranes.
In many areas of the world, intestinal parasites called helminths are endemic and responsible for malnutrition and stunted growth. They are transmitted through fecal contamination of the soil, and are especially difficult to eradicate from water supplies due to the tough outer layers of their eggs which protect them from disinfectant chemicals. Our team, together with researchers from Elon University and Virginia Tech, have developed an electroporation method which uses a high-intensity electric field to disrupt the outer shell of the egg, enabling disinfectants like chlorine to enter and inactivate it.
Novel Technologies for Nutrient Removal
Nitrogen and phosphorus are nutrients that are critical for plant growth, but uncontrolled release of them into watersheds can lead to algal blooms that negatively impact both human and environmental health. While agricultural runoff represents the largest source of this pollution, human waste is a source of increasing concern, especially in areas served by onsite waste treatment systems (OWTS) such as septic tanks that are close to sensitive watersheds. OWTS systems present a particular challenge because of their small scale: technologies for nutrient removal used in municipal wastewater treatment do not typically work at the household or community scale.
We are pursuing several technologies to help close this gap in onsite treatment, including novel applications of mineral-based ion exchange materials and development of new composite materials for nutrient sorption, and recently published research into the use and regeneration of Polonite and clinoptilolite. In partnership with Triangle Environmental, we have also demonstrated a new membrane-based system that removes nitrogen and phosphorus from OWTS effluent that has potential to meet even the most demanding discharge standards at a competitive cost.
Presentations on our recent research in nutrient removal include: