A professor from Arizona State University is recognized for his efforts to turn bacteria and algae into biodiesel. ASU announced that Professor Bruce Rittmann received the first presentation of the International Society of Microbial Ecology (ISME)/International Water Association (IWA) Bio Cluster Award in Lisbon, Portugal, for his work to promote research between the microbial ecology and the water and wastewater treatment fields.
Rittmann’s research focuses on the scientific and engineering fundamentals needed to manage microbial communities to provide services to society.
“It’s individual organisms comprising a community that’s working together,” said Rittmann. “And now we have a chance to really manage that community to get the right organisms doing the right job.”
His research team developed the membrane biofilm reactor, a technology now being commercialized to destroy a wide range of pollutants found in waters and wastewaters. This technology can remove harmful contaminants such as perchlorate, nitrates, and arsenate from water and soils – problems that are vital to the future of the Southwest, where Colorado River water is used by seven states. Rittmann is also part of an ASU research team using two innovative approaches to renewable bioenergy: harnessing anaerobic microbes to convert biomass to useful energy forms, such as methane, hydrogen, or electricity; and using photosynthetic bacteria or algae to capture sunlight and produce new biomass that can be turned into liquid fuels, like biodiesel.
Rittmann and his colleagues are the first to link the modern tools of molecular microbial ecology to understanding and improving the performance of microorganism-based water technologies.