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  Erik R. Coats, P.E., Ph.D.
  Associate Professor of Civil Engineering

 

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Curriculum Vitae

ecoats@uidaho.edu

208.885.7559

office: Buchanan Engineering Lab, rm. 129

My research group is focused on developing advanced technologies centered on leveraging the intrinsic capabilities of natural biological processes to ‘upcycle’ [1] organic-rich waste and to more effectively process and treat wastewater. As individuals and as a society, we generate large quantities of liquid and solid waste every day. In developed and undeveloped countries….urban and rural communities….industrial and agricultural – our activities inherently generate waste....and much of this waste contains significant quantities of high-value organic matter. Opportunities exist to recover and/or produce high value commodities from these organic-rich waste streams. Unfortunately, our current approach is largely based on ‘managing’ these waste streams....in other words, ‘disposing’ of the waste in a manner that theoretically has minimal impact to human activities (first) and the environment (second). At best we ‘downcycle’ [1] the high value raw material. And these activities are VERY energy intensive....for example, the simple act of reclaiming water from municipal wastewater for a city of 100,000 can consume enough electricity to power approximately 300 homes. While this may not seem all that significant, relatively speaking, perhaps most importantly is the fact that an opportunity is lost to maximize recovery of a valuable substrate. If we are going to commit this amount of power to reclaim water, at least we should generate more value in return.

My research group views waste streams and waste management practices through a different lens. We see opportunities….to recover high value compounds....to produce commodities that are of significant value to society – that can replace commodities that are otherwise produced from non-renewable raw materials….and perhaps most importantly, to not simply dispose of the waste for future generations to deal with, but to advance processes that can (optimally) lead to closed loop re-use and/or upcycling [1]. We also see opportunities to apply advanced molecular techniques to learn more about conventional biological WWT processes such that we can design and operate more efficient systems (both in terms of energy demand and nutrient capture). Our focus is to accomplish these objectives using naturally occurring bacteria.

So, what type of research are we currently conducting….

Ř  We are producing biodegradable thermoplastics using naturally occurring bacterial consortia fed wastewater derived from organic-rich waste streams….the plastic exhibits some very exciting material properties. Not only does the process sequester carbon that would otherwise be emitted as CO2, but the process can generate revenue for waste-producing industries.

 

Ř  We are investigating, at a macro and molecular level, natural bacterial processes to more efficiently remove soluble orthophosphate from wastewater. Excess phosphorus in natural surface water bodies can lead to advanced eutrophication (water body death), which reduces water quality and adversely affects aquatic organisms, drinking water potential, and recreation, among other beneficial uses.

 

Ř  We are advancing a new post-anoxic biological nutrient removal process designed to achieve near-complete nitrogen and phosphorus removal using mixed microbial consortia. The process is referred to as the BIOPHO-PX process (trademark in process).

 

Ř  We are investigating the ability to produce methane and reduce pathogens through a novel two-stage anaerobic digestion process that is processing dairy manure. The process readily integrates with other technologies to maximize resource recovery from manure.

 

Ř  We are investigating biological methods and the ability of existing wastewater processes to remove Cipro, Lipitor, and Carbamazepine from municipal wastewater. Our particular focus in on technologies currently in use at full-scale WWTPs.

 

Ř  We own and operate pilot-scale WWTPs. Not only do my students get important hands-on experience at an appropriate scale (which intrinsically makes them better engineers), we are able to conduct our studies at a scale that is relevant to full-scale systems. To learn more go to the Scale Model WWTPs tab.

 1.  McDonough, W. and M. Braungart, Cradle to cradle:  remaking the way we make things. 2002, New York: North Point Press. 193.

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Professionally I have over 20 years of experience as a consulting engineer, 10 of which were full-time, and have been a licensed Professional Civil Engineer since 1995.  I am currently licensed in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. I am also a licensed certified water right examiner in Oregon.

 

University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, 83844