April 14, 2014

Developing the next wave of wastewater treatment

Schulich School of Engineering professor receives funding to test new bioagents in real scale

Joo Hwa (Andrew) Tay, a civil engineering professor at the Schulich School of Engineering has received a $1,400,000 Canada Research Chair (CRC) to take an innovative biotechnological approach for wastewater treatment from his lab to real-scale testing at the Pine Creek Wastewater Treatment Centre, part of the ACWA research facility.

ACWA, Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets, is an innovative partnership between the University of Calgary and The City of Calgary to research how to improve wastewater treatment and remove existing and emerging chemical compounds and pathogens, thereby improving human health and the environment.

Process will save time, space and money
Tay researches an aerobic granulation process which speeds up the separation of microorganisms from domestic and industrial wastewater. Aerobic granules—dense collections of microorganisms—are compact and highly efficient at degrading toxic compounds. The process can substantially reduce sludge generation, land space requirements and post-treatment operational costs.

"Due to its unique features, the application of aerobic granulation is perceived as one of the most promising wastewater treatment technologies in this century and we are taking the lead in the fundamental understanding of the whole process," says Tay. "We're using this biotechnology as a means to stimulate and grow bacteria to speed up the whole waste water process. The technology will eventually replace the current biological technology."

But so far, it's only been tested in the lab. The CRC will see the aerobic granulation process tested at Pine Creek, a full-scale facility along the banks of the Bow River in Calgary. The ACWA lab lets researchers perform the full range of organic and inorganic analyses. "We are not going to reinvent the wheel," says Tay. "Rather were going to speed up the whole natural process in a confined environment where we are able to engineer it as well as control it."

Full-scale study of performance
The full-scale testing at Pine Creek will look at the effects of different operational and environmental factors, address potential questions of process performance and explore granule stability and disintegration in a long-term operation, factors which can be "major technical problems for industrial application of this technology."

Tay was selected as a Tier 1 chair in Wastewater Engineering, which grants him seven years in his role. Tier 1 chairs are selected based on their international stature, the impact of their research, and the value of their published work. "I feel very proud to be a water researcher in Canada," he says.