Environmental Protection

Missouri Professor Creates Self-contained Wastewater System

Jianmin Wang, Ph.D., a professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, has created a wastewater system "in a box."

Each system, built by re-purposing a shipping container, is low power, low maintenance and highly efficient. Built from weathering steel, these containers are designed to be tough and can be dropped on site by helicopter. The system could be deployed anywhere – from small, rural communities to forward operating bases, like those in Iraq or Afghanistan. With few mechanical parts and a small footprint, the system is ideal for military use, Wang says.

“Currently, human wastes are typically burned in burn pits, and the wastewater is usually hauled away and dumped by local contractors,” Wang explains. “This results in high costs, security issues, potential health risks, negative environmental impacts to the hosting country and a potential negative image.

“Moreover, almost all fresh water used in the camp – including water for drinking, bathing, showering, laundry, car washing and toilet flushing – is from outside sources in the form of bottled and surface water. A deployable and easy-to-use water reclamation station, which transforms wastewater into reusable water within the base, would improve the base environment, security, soldiers’ health, stewardship of foreign lands and concurrently reduce cost and fresh water demand from off-base sources.”

The process, a baffled bioreactor (BBR), uses microorganisms to break down the organic pollutants. It uses baffles to create a maintenance-free intermediate settling chamber for sludge return and off-the-shelf, low-tech parts to treat wastewater at a level that exceeds federal standards. The water can be used for non-contact applications, including toilet flushing and car washing.

Although this project is focused on military needs, Wang says the small, low-maintenance and low-power system makes sense for small communities, mobile home parks, motels and even facilities in remote areas, such as highway rest areas and camps.

The U.S. Army approved Wang’s request to demonstrate a full-scale, company-size water reclamation station for advanced wastewater and non-potable reuse. During this project, Wang will also explore the feasibility of producing potable water from wastewater in emergency situations.

“A lesson learned from Hurricane Katrina is that untreated sewage can cause many health and psychological problems for displaced people,” Wang adds. “The transportable, modular baffled reactor units could even be deployed to regions where natural disasters occur to quickly prevent untreated wastewater discharge and improve hygiene.”

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