Enginuity 2011

Water and air quality

Engineering a cleaner world

Clean water and air are necessities, not options, for all living beings. C. Jerry Lin, a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, is critically aware of this fact and has made cleaning up the environment a major factor in his career.

C. Jerry Lin and studentLin and his team provided the initial engineering design of a portable wastewater treatment system called the Deployable Aerobic Aqueous Bioreactor (DAAB) System – a modular, rugged, flexible and deployable treatment system for municipal wastewater. “It was designed around a patented consortium of microorganisms that can be activated rapidly to degrade organic pollutants,” Lin said. “The system is capable of achieving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s wastewater discharge standard within 48 hours after deployment, as compared to two to three weeks of start-up time in conventional biological treatment systems, with low energy consumption and little waste-sludge production.” It can be housed in a standard 20-foot or 40-foot shipping container, depending on the desired flow-rate throughput. The system can address the needs of military and emergency-relief applications and several units have been sent to Afghanistan for military use.

The Texas Research Institute for Environmental Studies at Sam Houston State University along with Lamar University and Sul Ross University, all part of the Texas State University System, are leading the research and development. The $2 million project is funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is overseen by the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center.

The technology won the 2010 Texas Environmental Technology Award for Wastewater Treatment Breakthrough and was the runner up for a Wall Street Journal Environmental Technology award in the environment category. The system is manufactured by Active Water Sciences LLC and marketed as The Water Phoenix.

R. Gavin Jones, director of research for PCDworks, a sister company of Active Water Sciences, noted that Lin has been an integral partner with the DAAB technology. Jones’ work has primarily focused on the design of custom biofilms for the remediation of water and soil and he holds three patents related to the DAAB technology. According to Jones, Lin complimented the applied science and provided an engineering framework to allow the microbial biofilm Jones designed to perform at its optimal level. “Dr. Lin has provided a reasonable engineering approach but has not been bound by conventional wisdom of what is believed to be possible,” Jones said. “He is a uniquely qualified engineer who believes in innovation and delivers credibility to Lamar University and the projects he supervises.”

Lin, the 2008 University Scholar Award recipient, also established two research laboratories at Lamar. The Water Characterization and Research Laboratory develops water and wastewater treatment technologies that address the challenges of fresh-water availability and waste-stream disposal. The lab particularly specializes in physicochemical and biological treatments, membrane filtration, desalination and enhanced coagulation. In addition to quantifying water-quality parameters pertinent to meeting drinking-water standards and wastewater-discharge requirements, the lab is equipped with a wide array of research instruments including high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), ion chromatography (IC), a flow injection analyzer, a UV-VIS spectrophotometer, a total organic analyzer, an inverted microscope, fluorescence microscopy, a cryostat micro-slicing machine, as well as bioreactors for microbial-growth kinetic studies.

The Air Quality Modeling Laboratory specializes in advanced atmospheric modeling for investigating the effectiveness of emission reduction for air quality improvement, intercontinental transport of air pollutants, fate and cycling of atmospheric mercury and air pollution processes for ozone and aerosols. “We perform first-principle air simulations using comprehensive meteorological and photochemical models at urban, regional and hemispheric sites to investigate the fate of air emissions from both anthropogenic and natural sources,” Lin said. The lab has two high-performance computational (HPC) Linux clusters (32-bit and 64-bit) with 120 CPUs and a random-access memory (RAM) capacity of 90 gigabytes (GB), more than 20 terabytes (TB) of network data storage and 12 workstations for data analysis and visualization.

Both labs are actively carrying out research funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Defense, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Air Research Center and the Texas Hazardous Waste Research Center. According to Lin, the average funding level in the past five years is about $500,000 per year.

Currently, Lin’s team is engaged in microbial fuel cell (MFC) research. MFCs degrade the waste stream while producing energy in the form of electricity. “We are collaborating with the Army's Engineer Research and Development Center and the University of Notre Dame for this exciting research,” he said. “It addresses both environmental sustainability and future energy needs.”

Lin is also collaborating with the Chinese Academy of Science to use mercury isotopes to track the global air and water cycling of mercury, a highly toxic metal that enters the food chain in the aquatic environment. The research will show the sources of the pollutant as well as its contamination pathways.

Another project involves the paper mill industry. Lin is working with Matthew Hoch in the Department of Biology and a regional paper company to use the waste effluent for growing algae for energy production. “This not only improves the water quality of waste streams,” Lin said, “but also reduces the carbon footprint while producing useful biomass for generating biogas.”