During the spring 2023 semester, six seniors in the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis prepared for the 33rd annual WERC Environmental Design Contest as a part of their environmental engineering capstone course. In mid-April, the team traveled to New Mexico State University to compete against four other teams in the task of “recovering ammonia from produced water for beneficial reuse,” where they won second place in the bench-scale competition.

The team’s task was to develop a novel approach to recovering ammonia from produced water, a byproduct of oil and gas production from underground sources. The students’ solution involved a three-stage batch process, including activated carbon adsorption and filtration to remove particulates, an electrolytic cell to isolate ammonia ions, and an air stripper to convert liquid ammonia ions into gaseous ammonia ions.

This is WashU’s first visit to the WERC competition and only the second year that the capstone course has been offered to environmental engineers in Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering. Faculty advisers Kristen Wyckoff, lecturer, and Zhen (Jason) He, professor, both in energy, environmental & chemical engineering, anticipate taking next year’s capstone class to the 2024 WERC competition.

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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