"Environment" research area

Electromagnetic Enhancement of Microbial Processes to Improve Water Quality

Primary Investigator - Chan Lan ChunPrimary Investigator Chan Lan Chun
Co-InvestigatorsEric Sangsaas
Industry Partners InVironmental Integrity, Inc.
Award Type: Seed Grant - Graduate Research Scholar 

Problem: Drainage from agricultural activity carries nitrate and excess nutrients which contribute to human health issues, like blue baby syndrome, and oxygen deficiency in aquatic ecosystems. Saturated land buffers containing wetland vegetation are built between agricultural fields and waterways to reduce nutrient runoff. Soil microorganisms in the vegetative buffer help remove the excess nutrients, but do so slowly, reducing the effectiveness of the buffers. 

Solution: The Chun lab designed a system that integrates an electromagnetic field into the saturated buffer system. The electromagnetic fields stimulate the growth and metabolism of soil microbes capable of removing nitrate. Researchers will develop a lab-scale system to optimize the electromagnetic field conditions for increased nitrate consumption. The system will then be tested in a simulated environment using agriculture runoff from Minnesota farms, and ultimately can be deployed either in a bioreactor system or in the buffer itself.

Impact: Excess nutrients in the buffer will be removed more efficiently and minimize the area of buffer interacting with drainage flow, maximizing the water quality. Furthermore, the system could potentially suppress unwanted greenhouse gases produced as a byproduct of microbial processes and enhance the removal of nitrogen by the bacteria.