LAWRENCE — A unique research project designed to remove potentially harmful nutrients from wastewater while creating an alternative fuel source has earned national recognition for a faculty member at the University of Kansas School of Engineering.
Belinda Sturm, assistant professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering, is the winner of a 2012 Excellence in Environmental Engineering Award from the Academy of Environmental Engineers. Sturm earned an Honor Award in the University Research category for a project at the Lawrence Wastewater Treatment plant that utilizes algae to remove nitrogen and phosphorous from wastewater – while at the same time creating biomass that can be turned into fuel.
"It's great to receive this type of recognition. It's kind of neat to have a group of highly qualified professional engineers judge your work as something that should be rewarded," Sturm said. "It's really for KU for the efforts of the Feedstock to Tailpipe initiative." Feedstock to Tailpipe is sponsored by KU's Transportation Research Institute and funded through separate grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Research and Innovative Technology Administration and the Department of Education.
Bob Honea, director of KU's Transportation Research Institute, said Sturm is certainly deserving of the accolades.
"Her work on developing efficient ways to use wastewater effluents to grow algae is critical to the success of our overall biofuels and bio-crude research program in KU TRI," Honea said. "Her research is producing critical information on finding the best path to maximize the algae yield as a feedstock to produce sustainable bioenergy sources."
Academy of Environmental Engineers member Stacey Lamer nominated Sturm for the award. Lamer worked in Sturm's laboratory before graduating with a master's degree in environmental engineering from KU in 2011. She's now a professional engineer with CH2M Hill.
The Excellence in Environmental Engineering Competition exists to identify and reward the best of today's environmental engineering. Its criteria define what it takes to be the best in environmental engineering practice: a holistic environmental perspective, innovation, proven performance and customer satisfaction, and contribution to an improved quality of life and economic efficiency.
Sturm received the award at an honors luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington in late April. She said it was a thrill to be included with other outstanding projects from around the globe.
"It was humbling to be in that room and hear about all the projects. There was a lot of variety in the award winners," Sturm said. "It was really inspiring to see all this awesome work that's being done in the environmental engineering field."
There was a group from South Africa that won an award for installing energy efficient homes to replace shantytowns and another group from Singapore that was recognized for developing an extensive waterway for an ecofriendly region of the densely populated city-state.