Feb. 23, 1999
Contact: Chris Curran

[plane deicing]

Cincinnati -- A bioremediation technique first studied by University of Cincinnati environmental engineer Makram Suidan more than 20 years ago is now finding widespread applications from commercial airports to the cleanup of wastes from U.S. Army weapons plants.

The technique combines the use of activated carbon with anaerobic bioreactors to treat the wastes. The combination is important, because it keeps the system working even when the flow of wastes spikes and plunges sporadically.

"Many biological systems cannot handle disruptions in flow rate," said Suidan. "The nice thing about this type of technology is the use of activated carbon where carbon will act like a buffer, absorbing the shock load. That seems to have a much better resilience to interrupted or intermittent flows."

The technology has matured to the point where it is now being used in the first full-scale treatment of aircraft deicing fluids, chemicals which can create environmental problems during periods of high usage. Bob Hickey, vice-president of EFX Systems, Inc. in Lansing, Michigan, developed the system which is now in use at the airport in Albany, New York. Hickey said the system at Albany can treat 30 million gallons of deicing fluid runoff a year.

Hickey's firm specializes in moving bioremediation technology from the university level and the bench-scale level to full-scale applications in the field. One recent collaboration with Suidan involved a demonstration project in Hungary on the bioremediation of chlorinated organic pollutants in a chemical plant effluent. That project was a result of the EPA's Environmental Technology Initiative and also included collaborators from the U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratory in Champaign, Illinois. A second project involved the treatment of munitions wastes.

Professor Suidan, meanwhile, continues to search for new applications for his bioremediation techniques. He is using his system to degrade toxic pentachlorophenols and polyaromatic hydrocarbons from contaminated soil. The system has successfully degraded wastes similar to those produced by resin manufacturers. And the list of potential uses keeps growing.

"I am using it to treat chemicals released during the production of Agent Orange. Now, I have a project funded by the U.S. Army where we are running several columns treating trinitrotoluene (TNT)," said Suidan.

One of his newest projects is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and involves the degradation of MTBE, a highly toxic compound associated with gasoline production. "That is a big problem. We are one of the few labs that have a major project looking at MTBE treatment," noted Suidan.

In addition to tackling some of the nation's biggest environmental problems, Suidan's lab has also brought in some of UC's biggest grants and contracts. In his nine years at UC, Suidan has received over $18 million in funding for his bioremediation research. He was recently awarded a contract from the U.S. EPA for up to $15.7 million.

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