Primary Investigator: Timothy LaPara
Co-Investigators: Sebastian Behrens; Zhe Du (Postdoctoral Scholar)
Industry Partners: Brainerd Public Utilities; Barr Engineering
Award Type: Seed Grant – Postdoctoral Research Scholar

ProblemExcessive levels of nitrogen in rivers and streams can cause eutrophication of receiving water bodies. Wastewater that contains excess nitrogen is usually treated to remove nitrogenous compounds before being released, but the nitrification process is not effective during cold winter months common in Minnesota. The reason for this seasonal loss of performance is not well understood.

SolutionThe microbial community in activated wastewater treatment sludge is responsible for nitrifying the water. To understand the seasonal decrease in effective nitrification, the LaPara Lab will characterize how the microbial population and activity of the microbiome in wastewater sludge changes due to temperature. The data collected will then be applied to a predictive microbial community performance model.

Impact: The predictive model will help wastewater treatment plants optimize their process conditions to match seasonal changes. Improving nitrification performance, especially in winter months, will contribute to achieving Minnesota’s goal of reducing nitrogen loads to the Mississippi River by up to 40% in 2025.

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