The Board of Directors of the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) announced the award of six scholarships to master’s and doctoral students across North America pursuing education in solid waste management.
Meet the 2019 EREF Scholars:
Oregon State University, Ph.D.
Evergreen Surety Bond Scholar 2019
Berninghaus’ work focuses on improving a process that is already occurring at some wastewater treatment plants across the country. This process—anaerobic digestion—typically serves as the final step in wastewater treatment. The anaerobic digester is where all the sludge and solids are sent to be broken down by microorganisms in the absence of oxygen. Fats, oils and greases (FOG) can be used to enhance biogas production in anaerobic digestion, but this process is fairly sensitive to changes in feedstocks. Berninghaus’ research looks at how to optimize the system by altering the microbial community that exists in a digester. She is doing this by stressing the system and overfeeding it fats, oils and grease so that, ideally, the weaker microbes, or those that are not attuned to dealing with fats, die out and those that are better at handling fats make up a larger portion of the population. These results can be used to help operators better adapt their systems to the digestion of fats, oils, and greases and will hopefully allow for existing systems to increase their loading rates, allowing for more food waste to be diverted from landfills in the future.
Florida State University, Ph.D.
Robert J. Riethmiller/PTR Baler and Compactor Scholar 2019
Higman’s project examines local government strategies to manage waste collection challenges in the wake of natural disasters such as flooding, hurricanes or wildfires. Following these kinds of events, the sheer volume and haphazard distribution of waste materials can pose significant collection burdens as well as threats to public safety. This project evaluates the use of particular contracting strategies to reduce the costs and administrative burden affiliated with this special kind of waste collection. Altogether, this project seeks to identify dimensions of effective, efficient special waste collection across a variety of local governments and disaster types to guide decision-makers, improve service delivery and advance recovery efforts in post-disaster waste collection scenarios.
Montana State University, MS
GMI Scholar 2019
Kane’s project looks to develop novel composite materials by combining biochar from food waste with recycled or biodegradable plastics. Biochar is a carbon-based material produced by heating biomass in a low oxygen environment. From a waste reduction perspective, it is not desirable to add fillers to plastics that may be recycled, as recycling of composite materials is not widespread and is economically expensive. For this reason, recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and a biodegradable plastic, polylactic acid (PLA), will be examined. When added as a filler material to plastics, biochar from agricultural residues has been shown to increase the strength of plastics and decrease the weight. This analysis will identify potential areas in which these composites could replace neat plastics (pure compounds).
Rice University, Ph.D.
Waste Industries Scholarship Honoring Lonnie C. Poole Jr. 2019
Food waste is a vastly underutilized resource that contains large amounts of bioavailable nutrients and resources. Acid fermenters are microbially based platforms that can break down food waste into volatile fatty acids. Additional biological or chemical processes can turn these volatile fatty acids into many different organic chemicals. As such, volatile fatty acids are a potential chemical production platform to replace the petroleum and oil-based platform that is used to produce a wide range of products today. One of the goals of LaTurner’s research is to elucidate how different functional groups of microorganisms in acid fermenters break complex organic matter down into simple volatile fatty acids. This knowledge will help determine how the variability in the incoming organic waste stream affects the composition of the effluent stream. Additionally, a fundamental understanding of the interactions will give us greater control over the function of the microbial community.
North Carolina State University, MS
Carl J. Apicella Scholar 2019
As solid waste anaerobically decomposes in a landfill, methane gas is produced and often captured. It is generally accepted that landfills operate optimally at mesophilic temperatures (moderate, around 37°C/98.6°F). In addition to threatening the infrastructure of a landfill, elevated temperatures are presumed to inhibit methane generation. However, there is evidence that microbial communities present in waste are able to adapt and sustain methanogenesis (formation of methane by microbes) as temperatures rise in landfills. Schupp’s research project aims to evaluate the temperature range for methane production in landfills exhibiting elevated temperatures. In concurrence, this work will elucidate the microbial ecology of solid waste in elevated temperature landfills.
The Pennsylvania State University, MS
Robert P. Stearns/SCS Engineers Scholar 2019
In the United States, solid waste is being disposed of in landfills at a rate of 50 to 60 percent due to a lack of existing recycling infrastructure. Solid waste is processed through municipal solid waste incinerator plants, where it is burnt into ash to significantly reduce its volume. 80 to 90 percent of this ash is sent to landfills, which is an unsustainable practice due to decreasing land availability. In addition, landfill disposal of raw ash costs $30 to $40 per ton. Alternatively, in recent years a recycling process has been developed to refine solid waste ash into a sand-like material known as reclaimed sands. Soliman’s research investigates the utilization of reclaimed sands as lightweight, fine aggregates in concrete masonry units (CMU).
EREF scholarships recognize graduate students pursuing excellence in solid waste management research and education. Recipients are chosen based on credentials and potential contributions to the solid waste industry and its scientific community.
EREF scholarship applications for the 2020-2021 school year are due late spring 2020. At the time of application, students must be, or will be in 2020, a full-time master’s or doctoral student and have a clearly demonstrated interest in solid waste management research.