ACWA's experimental streams offer unprecedented research opportunities

2014

The streams have been dressed, the labs are furnished, the water is flowing, and the research opportunities abound. These were just a few of the key takeaways delivered to the 18 representatives who attended the Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets (ACWA) industry day on Jan. 23 at ACWA’s facilities, located at The City of Calgary's Pine Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

ACWA’s aim is to develop technologies that will remove pharmaceuticals and other contaminants from wastewater, improving ecosystem and human health. It is a place where researchers, practitioners and industry can work together to solve important problems facing cities everywhere.

The $38-million, one-of-a-kind project consists of 12 outdoor experimental streams, a sophisticated wastewater treatment plant, as well as an on-site lab. On campus, the ACWA project includes an aquatic lab for examining the impact of chemicals on organisms, a stable isotope lab for isotopic tracing of contaminants and a microbiology lab to study emerging disease-causing contaminants and develop novel microchip technologies to monitor them.

Collaboration opportunities explained at outreach event

Industry experts who attended the outreach event and toured the facility represented nationally and internationally recognized wastewater management and technology companies—from sensor and mass spectrometer manufacturers to software providers.

In addition to their site visit, the business leaders attended presentations by ACWA researchers Matt Vijayan and Andrew Tay, who showcased just a few of the many research themes and collaboration opportunities offered to industry through the project.

“By running my experiments within the context of a real wastewater plant, I hope to contribute novel understanding on how the aquatic biota, as well as humans, may be affected by the chemicals that are discharged into our waterways and help determine what steps need to be taken to remedy the situation,” explained Vijayan, a Canadian Research Chair in Environmental Physiology and Toxicology and professor in the Department of Biological Sciences.

Accelerating the innovation curve

Tay, a professor from the Department of Civil Engineering in the Schulich School of Engineering, has spent the last 30 years working in Singapore to improve local wastewater treatment infrastructure.

“The innovative bacteria-eating system I developed could be a game changer for the industry of wastewater management and I look forward to testing my hypothesis as part of the ACWA project,” says Tay, who believes his technology could significantly reduce the wastewater infrastructure footprint and treatment time.

In both cases, the researchers insisted that industry partnerships, whether in cash or in kind, would accelerate the innovation curve. MITACSstudentships and government matching research grants were also suggested as avenues for contributing to the research effort.

“Through unique and flexible partnership models, we hope to create win-win opportunities whereby industry partners can gain access to full-scale water research facilities, highly skilled expertise and in-depth analytics,” explained Leland Jackson, director of ACWA and a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in the Faculty of Science. “In return, the ACWA project will be able to leverage increased in-kind and cash support to expand research capacity,” he added.

Companies already on board

ACWA has already initiated discussion with companies that participated in the process to supply wastewater treatment equipment to the city’s plant, including Trojan Technologies, GE Water and Xylem.

IBM has provided funding—matched by the Faculty of Science—to hire four students to work on designing and building an intelligent operations centre that would gather data, analyze it “on the fly” and present it in visualized format.

Ken Barker, dean of the Faculty of Science, attended the event and also commented on the facility’s outstanding potential.

“To attain the university’s Eyes High target of being a top five research institution by 2016, we must have ambitious research agendas, teams of innovative thinkers and provide our scientists with the best possible tools,” he said. “ACWA is a prime example of all these elements coming together and it’s exciting to see industry wanting to leverage this tremendous opportunity.”

Funding partners

ACWA involves major partnerships between the University of Calgary and The City of Calgary, through the partners’ Urban Alliance program.

Major funding for ACWA was provided by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Government of Alberta, Western Economic Diversification, The City of Calgary and the University of Calgary.

Originally posted in UToday, Jan. 27, 2014