#EveryDropMatters: Five ways U of T engineering research is enhancing water sustainability

Amy Bilton, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and graduate student Ahmed Mahmoud examine a model of a passive aerator for fish farms that they are designing (photo by Roberta Baker)
Posted on August 16, 2017 | Originally Appeared on U of T News by: Tyler Irving

 New exhibit brings water research and innovation to Canadian National Exhibition

 Fresh water, salt water, wastewater, industrial water, drinking water: all water on Earth is part of the same cycle – and every drop matters. Yet around the world, water supply and quality is under increasing pressure from growing populations, industrial development and climate change.

Researchers at U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering are leading the way in addressing these pressing global challenges. Professors and students are working together to use UV light to destroy chemical contaminants, develop low-cost solutions for sanitation and effectively control and mitigate pollution by studying and deploying ancient organisms.

During the 2017 Canadian National Exhibition, U of T engineering students will showcase the innovative and multidisciplinary solutions being developed in the faculty. At this interactive exhibit, CNE attendees can test their awareness of water consumption and conservation topics with a short quiz, share on social media and win a reusable water bottle.

Here are five ways that U of T engineering researchers are addressing pressing water challenges, across Canada and around the world:

Purifying drinking water


Zhjie Nie takes a sample at a Toronto-area drinking water treatment plant for her project on using activated carbon to remove contaminants (photo by Ron Hofmann)

From caffeine to birth control pills, most of the drugs we take pass through our bodies into wastewater and eventually into lakes and rivers. To keep our drinking water clean, we need new strategies to remove these pollutants.

In partnership with a number of municipalities, Robert Andrews, a professor of civil engineering, and Ron Hofmann, an associate professor of civil engineering, are testing a set of new approaches known as advanced oxidation. They blast water with everything from ultraviolet light to ozone, breaking down chemical compounds and leading to safer and cleaner drinking water.

Learn more about Andrews’ and Hofmann’s research

Restoring contaminated groundwater

photo of sleeping lab
Brent Sleep oversees the establishment of the Remediation Education Network, which researches new technologies to decontaminate soil and groundwater (photo by Roberta Baker)

Across North America, thousands of sites have been contaminated with industrial compounds. These contaminants can be degraded by bacteria, but the process is slow.

Brent Sleepa professor of civil engineering, and his team are tackling the challenge through a project called Innovative Technologies for Groundwater Remediation (INTEGRATE). The INTEGRATE team is accelerating the process by pre-treating soil and inserting custom communities of more efficient bacteria that break down contaminants more quickly.

Elizabeth Edwards, a professor of chemical engineering, also pursues this approach and has developed a commercial product that is particularly good at degrading chlorinated compounds, formerly used in dry cleaning facilities: a community of microbes called KB-1. More recently, she’s developed a new microbial community that can degrade benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes – collectively known as BTEX – in soil and groundwater.

Learn more about Sleep’s research

Learn more about Edwards’ research

Sustainable sanitation


A team of U of T engineers has been hard at work building a better toilet for the 2.5 billion people who lack access to safe sanitation (photo by Centre for Global Engineering)

Worldwide, about 2.5 billion people – a third of the global population – have no access to safe sanitation. This lack of hygiene is linked to the spread of many preventable diseases, such as diarrheal diseases that kill more than 500,000 children under the age of five every year.

A team led by chemical engineering professor and director of the Centre for Global Engineering, Yu-Ling Cheng, is developing a waterless toilet that can disinfect human waste without connections to water, sewer or grid power. With a total cost of less than five U.S. cents per person per day, it is designed for users in the developing world.

Learn more about Cheng’s research

Designing for stormwater


Jennifer Drake and her students research ways to design our urban infrastructure to be resilient to storm surges, including this catchbasin shield that can capture sediments from stormwater runoff (photo by Pavneet Brar)

Buildings and roadways are designed to get rid of water as quickly as possible – but that can be a disaster during heavy rains, when it often leads to urban flooding.

Jennifer Drake, a professor of civil engineering, is using technologies such as water-permeable pavement to restore natural flow systems, which allow groundwater deposits to recharge more slowly and encourage river-like flows of runoff. She is also optimizing the design and cost-effectiveness of green roofs, which can reduce peak stormwater flows.

Learn more about Drake’s research

Rethinking resource extraction remediation

Lesley Warren (standing, at right) and her colleagues are mining the genomes of microbes that thrive in wastewater generated by the resource extraction industry (photo courtesy of Lesley Warren)

The mining and resource extraction industries generate millions of litres of contaminated wastewater annually, the chemistry of which is controlled by ancient microorganisms that breathe minerals in order to survive. An academic-industrial collaboration led by Lesley Warren, a professor of civil engineering and director of the Lassonde Institute of Mining, is studying the genomes of these organisms, gaining insight that could help both clean up contaminated water and prevent pollutants from forming in the first place.

Learn more about Warren’s research

Nine Engineering professors and alumni inducted into the Canadian Academy of Engineering

Nine Engineering professors and alumni inducted into the Canadian Academy of Engineering

Professor Robert Andrews’ work has lead him to solve real-world problems for drinking water safety.

Nine members of the U of T Engineering community have been inducted as fellows of the Canadian Academy of Engineering (CAE). Professors Robert Andrews (CivE), Sanjeev Chandra (MIE), Tom Chau (IBBME), Heather MacLean (CivE) and Wei Yu (ECE), along with alumni Perry Adebar (CivE MASc 8T7, PhD 9T0), Mark Hundert (IndE 7T1), Christopher Pickles (MMS 7T4, MASc 7T5, PhD 7T7) and John Young (MMS 7T1, MIE MASc 7T4) are among the CAE’s 50 new fellows. The CAE is a national institution through which Canada’s most distinguished and experienced engineers provide strategic advice on matters of critical importance to Canada. The new CAE fellows were inducted on June 26 in Ottawa, as part of the Academy’s Annual General Meeting and Symposium.

“The Academy’s recognition of so many faculty and alumni attests to the tremendous contributions U of T Engineers are making in Canada and around the world,” said Dean Cristina Amon. “It also demonstrates their impact in all aspects of the engineering profession — from engineering education to fundamental research to technology transfer, commercialization and consulting.”

Robert Andrews holds the NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Drinking Water Research, working with industry partners who serve over four million people in Southern Ontario. His collaborations with municipalities have allowed him to solve real-world problems that have a direct impact on the safety of Canada’s drinking water supply. An expert in drinking water treatment, Andrews is a member of several decision-making committees and advisory councils in Canada and the United States. His work has been recognized with prestigious awards from the Engineering Institute of Canada, the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering, and the American Water Works Association, among others.

Sanjeev Chandra is co-founder of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Coating Technologies, one of the world’s leading research centres in the area of thermal spray coatings. He has collaborated with research groups and industrial partners around the world in the development of cutting-edge technology in this area. Chandra’s work has been applied in the fields of spray coating and forming, spray cooling, ink jet printing, agricultural spraying and forensic science. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the Canadian Society for Mechanical Engineering, and received the NSERC Brockhouse Prize.

Through his research at Holland Bloorview and U of T, Tom Chau has developed assistive technologies which give children and youth with severe physical limitations the ability to communicate independently. Chau created the award-winning Virtual Music Instrument, which allows individuals with disabilities to express themselves through music. Additionally, he has pioneered optical brain-computer interfaces which allow nonverbal individuals to communicate through thought alone. Chau is a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and the recipient of several awards. In 2011 he was named one of 25 Transformational Canadians by The Globe and Mail.

Heather MacLean is an internationally recognized leader in sustainable systems analysis, including life cycle assessment and its application to energy systems and vehicles. Her work has led to sustainability assessment and life cycle assessment being viewed as critical tools by industry, government and other organizations, and has guided regulations such as California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard. MacLean is an advisor to the World Bank/World Resources Institute for Sustainable Transportation. She is a fellow of the Engineering Institute of Canada and recipient of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Excellence in Education Award for Promotion of Sustainable Practices.

Wei Yu has made highly influential contributions to the field of information theory and communication engineering. His research addresses fundamental limits of information transmission in communication networks. Yu proposed dynamic spectrum management methods that have been used in millions of digital subscriber lines worldwide and also contributed significantly to the capacity analysis and optimization techniques for multiuser multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) wireless communication channels, which are widely used in cellular networks. Professor Yu is an IEEE fellow, recipient of the NSERC E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship, and a Thompson Reuters Highly Cited Researcher.

Perry Adebar has made important contributions to the profession and practice of engineering in Canada. An award-winning educator, he is known for presenting a strong connection between theory and engineering practice, and his views are highly respected by industry. He is head of UBC Civil Engineering, and was previously associate dean of Applied Science at UBC. His research has had a direct impact on the seismic design of high-rise concrete buildings in Canada. Professor Adebar has provided engineering advice to several consulting engineering firms. He is a director of the Structural Engineers of B.C. and a member of the Canada TF-1 HUSAR Team.

Mark Hundert is a pioneer in the application of industrial engineering and operations research practices in order to improve the delivery of health care in Canada. He has helped to introduce principles and methodologies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our hospitals and other health care organizations. Among his many contributions in this field, Hundert spearheaded the development of a national database benchmarking the efficiency and quality of care in Canadian hospitals, which has been an essential tool in identifying and addressing areas needing improvement in the Canadian health care system. He received the Ontario Professional Engineers Management Medal in 2008.

A leading authority on microwave heating for metallurgical applications, Christopher Pickles has been a pioneer in the development of microwaves for processing ores, precious metal residues, and waste materials. Other major contributions include the use of extended arc plasma reactors for the treatment of electric furnace dusts and generation of ferro-alloys. Professor Pickles has presented short courses for industry, mentored close to 70 researchers, published over 170 papers, coedited five conference volumes and coauthored a textbook on Chemical Metallurgy. He is a fellow of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum and has won national awards.

John Young has been eminently successful in the generation and application of new knowledge associated with primary steelmaking operations. He has provided exceptional engineering leadership in simulation modelling and commissioning of numerous steelmaking plants within Canada and abroad. He has coauthored a textbook entitled “Metallurgical Plant Design” and made significant contributions to the training of engineers in industry, as well as engineering students at both McGill and U of T, where he serves as an adjunct lecturer and instructor for MSE 450: Plant Design for Materials Process Industries. Throughout his career, Young has been an excellent ambassador for the engineering profession. He has received a number of high profile awards from AIME’s Iron and Steel Society.

Originally appeared on U of T Engineering News by Carolyn Farell | Posted on June 27th, 2017