The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $390,261 to Zhen “Jason” He, professor of energy, environmental & chemical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis’ McKelvey School of Engineering.

He is working to create a more economically viable, sustainable waste conversion technology to recoup resources from wastewater. He is developing a new approach to restructure anaerobic digesters — current conversion technology — so that they provide a byproduct more valuable than their current byproduct: biogas.

He’s team will do this by inhibiting the formation of methane, which leads to the accumulation of volatile fatty acids (VFAs). This will allow for the collection of the valuable VFAs from existing anaerobic digesters without the need for entirely new systems.

Beyond the science, He plans to use his discoveries to guide technological development. This will allow researchers to quickly scale up the system they develop, allowing them to identify additional problems more quickly. In turn, this should speed up the transition from lab prototypes to real-world wastewater resource recovery systems.

The McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis promotes independent inquiry and education with an emphasis on scientific excellence, innovation and collaboration without boundaries. McKelvey Engineering has top-ranked research and graduate programs across departments, particularly in biomedical engineering, environmental engineering and computing, and has one of the most selective undergraduate programs in the country. With 165 full-time faculty, 1,420 undergraduate students, 1,614 graduate students and 21,000 living alumni, we are working to solve some of society’s greatest challenges; to prepare students to become leaders and innovate throughout their careers; and to be a catalyst of economic development for the St. Louis region and beyond.

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