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Engineering Team Collaborates with US Foundry and EVOQUA to Scale Up Their Phosphorus-Removing Reactor to Compete for $10 Million

The excess of nutrients, namely nitrogen and phosphorus, in freshwater bodies creates uncontrolled algae growth, destroying freshwater ecosystems. This process – eutrophication – has detrimental ecological effects: decreased biodiversity, depleted oxygen levels, toxicity effects, and changes in species composition and dominance.

In March, a team of researchers led by Sung Hee Joo, an assistant professor at the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, developed a technology that removes phosphorus from surface waters, completing the first stage of the George Barley Water Prize as one of 15 teams in consideration for a $10 million award.

The George Barley Water Prize, presented by The Everglades Foundation, will award $10 million to the researcher or team who develops a cost-effective process for recovering phosphorus while yielding clean water from natural water bodies – on a globally applicable scale. The competition is structured in four parts: Stage 1, Stage 2, Pilot Prize and Grand Challenge. Technologies advancing through the stages will grow in scientific accomplishment and complexity throughout the four-year competition term, with cash prizes awarded along the way.

Now in the second stage, Joo’s team must demonstrate that their solution can be further improved and “scaled up” at later stages of the competition. The function of the second stage is to test the applicant’s technologies, to help gain a better understanding of their technology, and to judge, select and reward promising technologies in later rounds of the prize.

As part of Stage 2, Joo’s team has paired up with EVOQUA, a global leader in helping municipalities and industrial customers protect and improve water resources, and US Foundry, one of America’s premier producers of municipal castings. US Foundry has provided Joo’s team with a $2,000 endowment for the materials and sample analyses needed to scale up the phosphorus-removing technology.

“By scaling up the experimental design from different angles to accommodate the pilot study applications, we believe that our reactor is the most environmentally friendly and cost-effective method of treating phosphorus,” Joo explains. “Our preliminary results indicate a significant removal of phosphorus as we begin the main experiment with the reactor and design parameter.”

The reactor consists of a passive system with three tiers using recycled iron waste (in the form of shot-blast) to help remove the phosphorus in the water. A by-product from shot peening and blasting operations, used shot-blast is very difficult to recycle. “The design incorporates a conventional waste product into an innovative reactor, reducing manufacturing waste while improving cost efficiency in our design,” says Joo.

If Joo’s team succeeds in the Pilot Prize stage, they will be one of four teams to compete against each other in the final Grand Challenge stage, having 14 months to develop the best, most cost effective, sustainable, and scalable technology to win the $10 million prize. The final stage will take place in the Greater Everglades to validate whether the groups’ technologies can remove phosphorous from the Kissimmee River or a comparable water body under real conditions at significantly lower cost than currently possible.

To read more on the competition and Joo’s reactor, please click here.

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