Climate & Community Friendly Wastewater Treatment

EPA Grant Number: SU839268
Title: Climate & Community Friendly Wastewater Treatment
Investigators: Weber-Shirk, Monroe
Institution: Cornell University
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: January 1, 2018 through December 31, 2018
Project Amount: $15,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2017) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Sustainability , P3 Awards , P3 Challenge Area - Water


The goal of the Phase I research is to develop a novel pilot scale Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket (UASB) reactor that improves the accessibility of wastewater treatment for small communities. Without treatment, discharged wastewater can spread disease and cause eutrophication that hinders the aquatic ecosystem from supporting life. The goals of Phase II research are to implement the pilot scale UASB reactor at a local wastewater treatment facility and test the reactor performance in: 1) efficiency of biogas production, 2) concentration of sludge blanket via sludge weir, and 3) Biological Oxygen Demand and Chemical Oxygen Demand removal rates. Electricity-free hydraulic water treatment processes will be explored and analyzed as post treatment options that will be coupled with the pilot scale UASB reactor to further clarify the effluent.

The proposed design will be analyzed and evaluated by students in Cornell University’s AguaClara program as part of the RIDE (Research, Invent, Design and Engage) innovation system. Student teams collaborate with partner organizations to Research, Invent, and Design improved water treatment technologies and then Engage the end-user community to promote the sustainable management of wastewater.


Human wastewater is rich in organic matter and provides an ample opportunity for energy recovery during treatment given smart system designs. Up to 80 percent of wastewater is not treated globally and the contamination of ground and surface water sources by untreated wastewater is hazardous to environmental and public health (UN Water, 2014).


Currently in the United States, effective municipal wastewater treatment systems typically exist as large, centralized urban systems. These systems are not appropriate for applications in developing nations, as the high fixed cost of constructing these facilities make wastewater treatment unaffordable for smaller villages (Verbyla et al., 2013). Research and development of small-scale and decentralized wastewater treatment methods should be prioritized in order to make wastewater treatment accessible for all communities. In addition to clearing technological hurdles, we will work toward acceptance of UASBs in communities by relaying the positive benefit of offsetting cooking or heating fuel needs in the community itself.

Expected Results:

The primary deliverable of the Phase I research is a pilot scale UASB reactor. This project is at the very early stages where it is critical that the team explore a range of alternative solutions and compare economic and environmental costs as well as operation and maintenance challenges. Various reactor modifications and fabrication methods will be evaluated to determine the most efficient reactor design. The result will be improved UASB technologies with designs available on the AguaClara design server ( Given the high uncertainty involved at this stage of the design process it is not possible to know if this RIDE will require one year or multiple years to get to the stage of testing the new technologies in collaboration with partner organizations.

Supplemental Keywords:

Wastewater treatment, UASB, GLS separators, plate settlers, scalable, phase separator