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Pinto Awarded NSF Grant for Biofilter Operation

May 8, 2019

CEE Assistant Professor Ameet Pinto was awarded a $340K NSF grant, in collaboration with Tanju Karanfil from Clemson University and Jess Brown from Carollo Engineers, for "Developing an Eco-Genomic Framework for Biofilter Operation".

Abstract Source: NSF

Biofilters use naturally-occurring microorganisms to filter and remove pollutants in drinking water without the need for disinfectant chemicals. Adoption of biofiltration is hindered by concerns that undesirable microorganisms will be released into the drinking water. Overcoming this concern would help pave the way for wide-scale adoption of this technology. The goal of this project is to develop a novel framework to control the biofilter microbial community. Such control will allow management of biofilter performance. To achieve this goal, the research team will perform laboratory and pilot-scale experiments using state-of-the-art genomic techniques to enrich beneficial microorganisms. The project team includes experts in drinking water treatment, biofiltration, and microbial ecology. The academic and industrial collaboration will help speed the transition of research to full-scale industrial implementation.

Biofilter operation is guided by chemical and microbiological endpoints, yet current biofilter control approaches lack the nuance necessary for managing microbial communities. Considering this lack of control, it is no surprise that there is little to no knowledge of how biofilter microbes contribute to biofilter performance. This knowledge gap coupled with concerns about the seeding of the water distribution system with biofilter microbes has been a major stumbling block for the wide-scale industrial adoption of this technology. To overcome this barrier, this project will develop the novel Eco-Genomic Framework (EGF) for controlling the biofilter microbial community. This project focusses on using the EGF to tailor the biofilter microbial community to enhance post-filtration disinfection efficacy while maintaining biofilter performance. Preliminary EGF research results suggest that microbial disinfection resistance is associated with nitrogen species availability and resultant genetic stress response in biofilter microorganisms. This project will experimentally test EGF predictions 1) to establish a relationship between nitrogen species availability and nitrogen stress response exerted by biofilter microbes, 2) quantitatively link nitrogen stress response and disinfection resistance, and 3) optimize nitrogen species availability in the biofilter to maximize disinfection efficacy while minimizing potential deleterious impacts. These objectives will be accomplished through laboratory- and pilot-scale experiments coupled with state-of-the-art molecular, bioinformatics, and statistical approaches. The outcomes of this project will serve as proof of concept for the utility of the novel EGF for biofilter operation led by academic and industrial researchers with a track record of productive collaboration, thus increasing the likelihood of successful EGF development and industrial deployment.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.