Water Cycle Newsletter-April 2015

The Water Cycle

April 2015

Making Microbes Work for Minnesota

Microorganisms are everywhere. They live in our mouths and digestive tracts and are ubiquitous in soils, streams, lakes and the ocean. They also occur in extreme and unusual environments, such as acidic hot springs, the middle of the Antarctic ice sheet, and deep in crustal fluids such as the brines that bubble up in the depths of the Soudan Mine near Ely, Minn.

Microorganisms have a powerful ability to impact the environment. In fact, many elemental cycles that we take for granted only proceed because microbes are involved. Microbes are responsible for most of the methane in the atmosphere and more than half of the oxygen we breathe. Much in the same way that humans eat sugar and breathe oxygen, certain microorganisms can make a living by “eating” and “breathing” diverse organic and inorganic compounds. In doing so, microbes can break down pollutants and even produce or consume rocks and minerals.

We can harness microbial activity for our benefit. Certain microbes can “breathe” pollutants such as nitrate, sulfate, arsenate and chlorinated solvents such as trichloroethylene, converting them into more innocuous forms in the process. Others can “eat” benzene, estrogens, hydrogen sulfide and ferrous iron. These are just some examples. Their ability to transform pollutants makes microorganisms potent catalysts for bioremediation, and we can leverage these biological processes to clean up contaminated lands and waters. Bioremediation is widely applied to treat municipal and industrial wastewaters, and many treatment systems involve microbial processes in some capacity.

There is a long history of bioremediation research at the University of Minnesota. The university is building on that history through investment in the MnDRIVE (Minnesota’s Discovery, Research, and InnoVation Economy) program (http://mndrive.umn.edu/). Some recent MnDRIVE-supported research includes the use of microorganisms to treat nitrate runoff from land, remove estrogens from our wastewater, reduce sulfate that is present as a result of certain industrial processes, and generate energy while desalting brines. In fact, biotreatment of waters associated with mining operations is attracting growing interest in Minnesota because such treatment should be inexpensive and sustainable long-term. Indeed, microorganisms can be used to immobilize metals, neutralize acid and remove sulfate from water.

While bioremediation presents many possible cost-effective solutions for waste and wastewater treatment of many kinds, more research is required and partnerships with industry needed to improve the efficiency, longevity and sustainability of biological treatment systems. Bioremediation is an exciting and a rapidly advancing field in the forefront of water technology.

Authors Daniel Jones, Paige Novak and Michael Sadowsky are in the BioTechnology Institute at the University of Minnesota, and Sadowsky and Novak co-direct the MnDRIVE initiative Advancing Industry, Conserving our Environment. In collaboration with Steve Riedel from Minnesota DEED, the BioTechnology Institute will be hosting a Listening Session focused on water treatment solutions for Minnesota’s mining operations (see Upcoming Events for additional details).

Upcoming Events

Frontiers in Water Technology

The University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment will sponsor Frontiers in Water Technology:  Practice, Research and Innovation on May 18. The all-day event will explore the latest on research challenges in water technology, as well as the university’s role in advancing the field. In addition to scholars from the U of M and neighboring states, speakers from Dow, Ecolab and Pentair will participate. The event is free, but preregistration is required. More details are here.

German Water Tech Delegation

A delegation from seven German water tech firms will visit Minnesota during the week of May 18. A highlight of the week will be a seminar on advanced technologies and best practices in Germany, scheduled for May 19.

The following firms are confirmed:

These firms are open to U.S. partnerships. Contact Corinna Jess of the German American Chamber to learn more or request an appointment.

WATEC Israel

Israel is a world leader in water reuse, water desalination and water conservation.  Explore the Israel market and meet potential Israeli partners at WATEC Israel in Tel Aviv on Oct. 13-15.  For information about a possible delegation, contact Harlan Jacobs of the local chapter of the American Israel Chamber.

Next Listening Session: Mine Water

The University of Minnesota will host the next Water Technology Listening Session on May 13, focusing on water treatment solutions for Minnesota’s mining operations. The event will feature presentations on technologies and mine water treatment challenges. There will be plenty of opportunities during this event to interact with private industry and U of M researchers. For questions or to discuss a possible presentation slot, contact Dr. Daniel Jones (dsjones@umn.edu) , Dr. Paige Novak (novak010@umn.edu) or Dr. Mike Sadowsky (sadowsky@umn.edu.  The event is free. Go here to register. 

Water Technology Business Summit

Last year’s first Water Technology Business Summit at Ecolab attracted 150 people. Mark your calendar for the second annual event on Sept. 11.  This year’s summit will be on the University of Minnesota campus. Watch future issues of Water Cycle for more details or check the Trade Office calendar of events.

Global Water Challenges and Minnesota Business

The University of St. Thomas Center for Ethical Business Cultures will sponsor Global Water Challenges and Minnesota Business: Values, Risks and Opportunities on April 29. This free event will feature high-level speakers from Ecolab and General Mills. The keynote speaker, Dr. Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, is a leading global expert on water. Gleick’s remarks will be followed by a Minnesota business panel. The full event will run from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m., with a networking reception to follow from 6:15 to 7 p.m.  To learn more and to register, go here or call the Center for Ethical Business Cultures at 651-962-4120.

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