Sustainable remediation of petroleum wastewater

EPA Grant Number: SU839298
Title: Sustainable remediation of petroleum wastewater
Investigators: Miller, Charles
Institution: Utah State University
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: February 1, 2018 through January 31, 2019
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


We propose nutrient recovery from a petroleum refinery wastewater via anaerobic digestion in a highly efficient upflow anaerobic sludge blanket reactor (UASB), polishing the effluent from UASB reactor with microalgal biofilms and conversion of produced biogas from anaerobic digestion into bioplastics. Microalgal biofilms will be cultivated in the Rotating Algae Biofilm Reactor (RABR), which is an innovative solution our group has developed and has demonstrated its potential for nitrogen and phosphorous uptake from various wastewaters. Biogas stream from anaerobic digestion of PRW will also be innovatively utilized by supplying it to a methanotrophic bacterial culture that produces polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). Thus, PRW will eventually be transformed into biodegradable plastics, to substitute for harmful petroleum-based products. The project of sustainable PRW management and production of bioplastic has numerous advantages for People, Prosperity and the Planet. With respect to People, proposed research is driven by societal needs that include public health and water reuse as a critical component for water resources management and sustainability, especially in Utah's desert environment for responsible development of Utah's natural resources. The research proposed will also address the Utah energy issue of using traditional fuels, including oil and natural gas, and generating additional benefit in protecting the environment, protecting public health, and reusing petroleum wastewater as a resource. These actions will also help society in the mitigation of adverse environmental and public health effects related to oil and gas extraction activities. With respect to Planet, proposed technology releases two environmental burdens: contamination of watersheds with petroleum refinery discharging compounds (including BTEX) and the decrease in accumulation of petroleum-based plastic products in the environment as a long-term goal. Finally, Prosperity is targeted by improved and industrially-scalable processes (new technology to treat PRW in UASB reactor) and a production cycle for transforming methane to PHAs. New technologies attract new specialists in the areas and new stakeholders. This leads to the prosperity of not only the industry itself, but also to the prosperity of theĀ  corresponding communities. The proposed project of will be used to educate students, established scientists and professionals. General understanding of sustainability will be addressed, in terms of creating a closed cycle of nutrient management using the example of PRW and conversion of the value added product, methane, into bioplastic. Specific educational goal is set towards students that will be working on the project. By working on the project of wastewater nutrient management, students will learn how to apply theoretical knowledge of microbiology, nutrient cycling, biochemistry and materials science to design and operate a real life scenario of treating PRW with sustainable nutrient management. The integration of science and engineering with sustainably to solve real problems is the essence of the proposed project.


The challenge of current environmental nutrient and waste management is its high cost, inefficient hazardous compound removal and low recovery of potentially valuable products. Industrial waste streams are of the highest need for an improved management scheme, since these streams are particularly high in concentrations of hazardous compounds (minerals, metals, organic compounds). One of the most hazardous wastewater streams is from petroleum refineries, with estimated worldwide discharge of 33.6 million barrels per day. To address this challenge, our project design aims to effectively treat petroleum refinery wastewater (PRW) and recover a broad spectrum of nutrients in an economically-feasible way, which is essential for the development of sustainable water management practices. The technology that our group will employ as a solution to this resource mining problem is the use of anaerobic digestion to convert the primary source of nutrients (PRW) into an array of further convertible and useful compounds. Among these useful compounds are microalgal biomass and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). The innovative aspect of the project lies in the design of the reactor to grow microalgal biomass and in the closed cycle of converting PRW into bioplastics. The objectives of our project include design, test and evaluation of the proposed system of wastewater conversion to bioplastics, with intermediate anaerobic digestion step, and growth of microalgal biomass.

Expected Results:

The major expected output of the current proposed project is a working system of sustainable petroleum refinery wastewater remediation, with production of value-added products such as microalgal biomass, biogas and biodegradable plastics. Major outcomes of the proposed project include promoting economic competitiveness of local industries by implementing a PRW sustainable management design and hiring competent specialists, educated and experienced in sustainable resource management. In terms of evaluating the technical aspects of the project, biodegradability of PRW will be evaluated in lab-scale UASB reactors. We will measure reduction in chemical oxygen demand, total organic carbon and amounts of BTEX compounds in the effluent from UASB reactors and the microalgae polishing units. We will also measure amounts of biogas produced and assess composition of biogas mixture. Production and purity of PHAs in the methanotrophic bacteria will be evaluated microscopically and quantitatively using gas chromatography. A group of undergraduate students will report daily to the graduate students, who in turn will provide weekly reports to the principal investigator. Demonstration of the final project will be performed at the local conferences, University Research day and finally at the P3 Expo in Washington DC.

Supplemental Keywords:

sustainable water management, biogas, closed loop recycling, hazardous waste remediation, environmentally benign substitute, waste to value