2016 Research Projects 
Industrial Members voted to invest $650,000 in 14 projects


Coupled titanium dioxide photocatalysis and filtration for simultaneous reduction of organic matter, viruses, and estrogenic compounds 

Brooke Mayer, Assistant Professor - Marquette University

This is a continuation of a collaborative research project between two independent research centers to evaluate implementation of TiO2 photocatalysis prior to filtration.  Drs. Brooke Mayer, Patrick McNamara, Daniel Zitomer, Marquette University have teamed up with Dr. Morteza Abbaszadegan of Arizona State University.  The researchers anticipate that low energy photocatalysis can provide synergistic benefits to filtration processes by simultaneously breaking down organic matter, inactivating viruses, and reducing estrogenicity.  Operated ahead of filtration, this would address multiple water and wastewater treatment concerns by improving filter operation (hypothesized to increase granular activated carbon [GAC] bed life and reduce membrane fouling); increasing virus mitigation beyond membrane- or UV-only performance, particularly for UV-resistant microbes (i.e., adenovirus); and destroying persistent emerging contaminants such as estrogenic compounds.

The team will operate a laboratory-scale TiO2 photocatalysis reactor followed by filtration using either rapid small-scale GAC columns or membranes to determine the treatment efficiency of dissolved organic matter, viruses, and total estrogenicity. These results will be compared to results from operating the reactors individually to gauge the synergistic effects of sequential operation.

Micro thermal devices for flow, pressure, and temperature measurements

Chung Hoon Lee, Assistant Professor - Marquette University

In the first year of this project Dr. Chung Hoon Lee’s Marquette University research team designed and developed thermal flow meters.  During the second year, the team’s main focus will be to optimize the flowmeter based on recommended specifications from WEP industry members. The operating range, measurement speed, and power consumption will be updated via the series of proposed milestones.  After the flow meter is updated to reach the recommended specifications the system will be tested under real-world conditions in the Global Water Center flow lab. The investigation for extended functionalities will be the next step before finalizing the flowmeter. Measurements and data acquisition using electronic circuits will be updated to work with the developed system. The final step is to perform a cost analysis for laboratory-scale fabrication of finalized system.


Advanced High-Rate Wet-Weather Treatment Process - Phase 2

Daniel Zitomer, Professor - Marquette University

Sewer overflows during intense rainfall cause environmental and health risks. To solve the overflow challenge, Dr. Dan Zitomer, Marquette University, and his research team will continue to develop its rapid wet-weather treatment process. Chemically enhanced primary treatment (CEPT) before advanced oxidation processes (AOP) will result in rapid treatment. For 2016, the team will increase BOD5 removal rate using combined H2O2 (peroxide), ozone, and UV radiation. Real wet-weather flow will be treated in a continuous flow system.  The team will perform bench-top evaluation of chemically enhanced primary treatment with a combined UV/peroxide/ozone system. During Phase 1, oxidant dose and reaction time will be defined. During Phase 2, the team will construct and refine continuous flow CEPT-AOP process using synthetic wet-weather water. In Phase 3, the team will treat actual Milwaukee and Chicago wet-weather water using continuous flow CEPT-AOP process and refine operating parameters (oxidant dose, contact time).


System for Biomethane Production from Bioplastics II

Daniel Zitomer, Professor - Marquette University

Most plastic waste is non-biodegradable and causes environmental problems. One potential solution is biodegradable plastics. One scenario involves anaerobic digesters in which bioplastic may be converted to biomethane (CH4).  Dr. Dan Zitomer’s research team from Marquette University is researching a new process to convert bioplastics to CH4 for renewable energy.  They will develop a new microbial product that, when added to digesters, increases methane production from bioplastic.  
In 2015 they determined that heat and chemical pretreatment is necessary to render some bioplastics more amenable to digestion, but not others. Also, microbes experienced variable acclimatization periods before producing appreciable amounts of biomethane. This year, they intend to identify the most efficient bioplastic degrading microbes in order to produce a microbial product that can be added to digesters to increase bioplastic degradation and biomethane production.


Reducing chloride discharges to area waterways; a menu of options for policymakers

David A. Strifling, Director, Water Law and Policy Initiative - Marquette University
Greater environmental protections and increased public safety are often believed to be synonymous, or at least to go hand-in-hand. Professor David Strifling of Marquette University intends to create and evaluate a menu of options for policymakers when those two goals are arguably in tension; here, where the excess application of salt for winter deicing, in combination with other sources, causes high chloride concentrations in area waterways. This specific problem will serve as a lens to examine several potential responsive policy options, including legislation or regulation to impose mandatory compliance measures or a “salt tax,” green infrastructure, integrated watershed management, and self-governance at the community or individual levels incentivized by regulators or demanded by customers and the public. This has the potential to serve as a policy template for responding to similar issues in the future.


Modeling the transport and fate of Phosphorus from a point source in a Lake Michigan nearshore zone 

Hector Bravo, Professor - UW-Milwaukee 

Nutrient loading into Lake Michigan can produce algal blooms, hypoxia, beach closures, clogging of water intakes, and reduced water quality. Drs. Hector Bravo and Harvey Bootsma, UW-Milwaukee are leading a team of researchers on a project with two primary goals: 

  1.  To scientifically contribute to the management of the problems resulting from excessive nutrients.  
  2.  To develop a local model that can calculate wastewater discharge effluent limits for municipalities and industries, and simulate the effects of this discharge on nearshore environmental conditions, including nuisance algae. The proposed research will develop a novel, localized model that will be a first step to a comprehensive whole-lake effort through assessment of necessary modeling criteria.

The team will quantify point source phosphorus transport and assimilation separately from offshore sources by completing the link between a high resolution hydrodynamic nearshore model with a biogeochemical model, including Cladophora and dreissenid mussel components. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources supports studying locations where effluents are discharged openly to the lake.


Self-Cleaning Coating By Creating A Novel 3D Nano-Structured ‘Lotus Leaf’

Junjie Niu, Assistant Professor - UW-Milwaukee 

Dr. Junjie Niu and his research team from UW-Milwaukee is developing a 3D ‘lotus leaf’ self-cleaning coating using cheap nanomaterials to save energy in water transportation.  Pipeline renewal through self-cleaning tech. can reduce hydrodynamic drag during locomotion as well as enhance anti-corrosion and biofilm removal properties. First, the desired superhydrophobic coating can be employed on flexible substrates, enabling wide applications in industry. The team will study the water contact angle dependence on surface roughness and the lifetime of the self-cleaning coating, which is considered for the measure of potential commercialization. It is known higher level of heavy metal ions concentration in water is considered as health hazard and may cause damage to human body due to accumulation. The further research will focus on synthesizing a super coating with multifunctions including heavy metal ions removal under the umbrella of water-energy nexus.


A Comprehensive, Quantitative Decision-Making Tool for Evaluating and Improving the Reliability, Cybersecurity, and Resiliency of Water and Wastewater Infrastructures

Lingfeng Wang, Associate Professor - UW-Milwaukee

Considering the aging infrastructure and higher integration of cyber technologies, the water sector is facing increasing uncertainties which may impact the reliability, cybersecurity and resiliency of modern water and wastewater infrastructures. Dr. Lingfeng Wang , UW-Milwaukee is developing a powerful decision-making tool for evaluating and optimizing the planning and operations of water facilities in this evolving sector including:

  1. The reliability of water distribution systems considering the cybersecurity of the associated supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system will be modeled and assessed.
  2. The resiliency of water distribution systems will be evaluated quantitatively.  The cybersecurity risk of wastewater systems due to its SCADA will be evaluated. 
  3. The mitigation schemes to enhance the reliability, cybersecurity and resilience will be proposed.  
  4. A software package will be developed and a wide variety of systems and scenarios will be tested.  
  5. The tool will be implemented on cloud as a cost-effective visual data analytics.


Engineered Macroporous Material for the Removal of Emerging Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) from Water

Marcia Silva, Researcher & Facility Manager - UW-Milwaukee Water Technology Accelerator

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are toxic chemicals that have long-range transport ability, persist for long periods of time in the environment, including living organisms, causing detrimental impacts on humans and ecosystems. Drs. Marcia Silva and David Garman, UW-Milwaukee have already demonstrated proof-of-concept that particles based on natural zeolite functionalized with graphene-based products have great adsorption capacity for the removal of model organic compounds. These particles can be used as stand-alone products or they can also be used as additives to existing water purification products.  The team is now researching how their engineered porous particles can remove emerging POPs (Em-POPs) found in drinking water sources.  Current wastewater treatment processes, including those using activated carbon, have been ineffective in removing EM-POPS, which are now being found in drinking water. The researchers’ goal is to increase removal efficiency of Em-POPs, broaden selectivity, assuring low-cost (US$2.00 to$5.00 per kilogram) and regeneration ability.


Surface texturing, alloying and compositing during manufacturing of components for improving the corrosion resistance of water industry components

Pradeep Rohatgi, Distinguished Professor - UW-Milwaukee

Corrosion damage costs the U.S. economy as much as $276 billion per year. Improving corrosion resistance over the long term will extend the life of the components used by WEP members. The water industry has relied on using expensive corrosion resistant alloys including brasses, stainless steels, and nickel base alloys. Alternatively, industry has focused on developing surface corrosion resistance through coatings on metallic surfaces. These have included coatings of polymeric materials or galvanizing of lower cost materials like cast iron or steel. While there have been satisfactory results so far, there are a number of concerns including the durability, the difficulty of coating on complex geometries and the inside surfaces, cost, and problems with damage to coatings. The research team of Distinguished Professor Pradeep Rohatgi will develop low cost, easy to apply surface alloying, texturing and compositing treatments to improve the corrosion performance of components made from low cost materials including cast iron, mild steel, chromium steels and some brasses. These treatments will improve corrosion resistance by adding selected elements, particles, or roughness patterns to the surface during the manufacturing process itself (e.g. casting) to change the surface microstructure and thereby enhance corrosion resistance only on the surface where it is most needed. A specific target would be enriching the surfaces of low-cost cast iron, brass and mild steels castings, with nickel, copper, and chromium during the casting process itself, to enhance corrosion resistance equivalent to stainless steel.

Study to Reduce Cavitation Damage in Hydro-Turbines

Ryo Samuel Amano, Professor - UW-Milwaukee 

One of the most challenging problems occurring in hydraulic turbine operations is the cavitation phenomenon. Cavitation may cause noise pollution, erosion of the blade surface and the wall of the turbine, and, thus, contributes to a decrease in the water turbine efficiency. Through the computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis and experimentation, the research team of Dr. Ryo Amano, UW-Milwaukee will identify the critical conditions that cause cavitation in hydro turbines and propose a remedy. The research team will conduct the investigation of both inertial and non-inertial cavitation effect for a hydro turbine. While the inertial cavitation is detrimental, the non-inertial cavitation can be useful for fouling cleaning on turbine runner blade surfaces. The outcome of this research can contribute not only hydro powers but also for other applications such as pumps, sewage piping systems, and many others.


Low-cost electrochemical phosphate sensor

Woo Jin Chang, Assistant Professor - UW-Milwaukee 

The research team of Dr. Woo Jin-Chang, UW-Milwaukee is developing a low-cost electrochemical phosphate sensors using surface modified screen printed electrode (SPE) and electrochemical treatment and sensing methods. The appropriate coating material and deposition condition on the surface of carbon electrode will be determined for the selective detection of phosphate. The team will test the effect of additional modifications to improve the electron tunneling, conductivity, surface area, and stability of the developed sensor.
Primarily, the team will develop Co deposited SPE sensor, and test the sensitivity, lower detection limit, and selectivity. Also, the effect of polypyrrole and graphene oxide coated in addition to Co will be tested in terms of sensitivity, lower detection limit, selectivity, and stability of the developed sensor. Alternatively, Co will be replaced with other material known to selective for phosphate will be tested. The candidate molecules include Molybdate and Tin. The appropriate electrochemical methods will be developed for the deposition of the materials, as well as potentiometric and amperometric detection of phosphate.


Improved Design of Silica-Based Adsorbents for Water Purification Application 

Yin Wang, Assistant Professor - UW-Milwaukee 

Improved Design of Silica-Based Adsorbents for Water Purification Application:  Dr. Yin Wang, UW-Milwaukee is improving the design of functionalized mesoporous silica adsorbents to enhance their feasibility in water treatment and purification applications. The adsorbents will be fabricated using low-cost and environmentally friendly precursors. The synthesis approach will also be optimized to further decrease the preparation cost. The ordered mesoporous structure will provide a large surface area while minimizing the mass transfer of the contaminants to the surface sites, and thus enhance the overall adsorption performance. The functionalized adsorbents will be applied to target the removal of both heavy metals and organic micropollutants in real water matrices.
Two specific tasks are proposed to develop and evaluate the performance of the functionalized mesoporous silica adsorbents.

  1. Focus on the preparation of the adsorbents from low-cost soluble silicate precursors via a surfactant-templating approach. Two processes will be applied for material functionalization: a two-step post-grafting method and a one-step co-condensation method.
  2. The performance of the adsorbents will be determined using a variety of real water samples (Milwaukee tap water, Lake Michigan water, and groundwater) spiked with target heavy metals and organic micropollutants.


Phosphate-Free Inorganic Inhibitors for Water Supplies to Mitigate Lead Release and Corrosion

Yin Wang, Assistant Professor - UW-Milwaukee 

Dr. Yin Wang, UW-Milwaukee is systematically investigating the capability of a suite of low-cost, environmentally friendly, and phosphate-free inorganic inhibitors in mitigating lead release from aged metallic lead materials under conditions relevant to Chicago and Milwaukee drinking water distribution. Three classes of inorganic compounds will be evaluated, including (1) metal sulfate: SnSO4 and ZnSO4, (2) sodium oxyanion: Na2SiO3, Na2Si3O7, and Na2B4O7 and (3) pH/alkalinity adjusting agents: NaOH and NaOH/Na2CO3 (1:1 molar ratio).
The performance of the three classes of inorganic inhibitors on lead release prevention will be evaluated in completely mixed batch reactors using aged metallic lead rod coupons. Synthetic tap water will be prepared and used to simulate the chemistry of both Chicago and Milwaukee distribution systems. The impact of disinfectant type and inhibitor concentration will be quantified to determine the optimum inhibitor formulations. The mechanism that governs the interaction of the lead surface and the optimum inhibitors will be elucidated through a combination of coupon surface characterization and lead corrosion product dissolution rate measurement.