A partnership between Orange City Council and the University of Sydney has the potential to improve the quality of the effluent released from the city’s sewage treatment plant.
University of Sydney engineering honours student Claudia Jerogin is conducting a six-month research project at Council as part of the university’s Major Industry Project Placement Scholarship scheme (MIPPS).
She said MIPPS involved placing students with ‘industry partners’ who have a problem they need solving.
“The university has a fantastic program where you can go and do a research project with an industry partner, instead of in a lab,” Miss Jerogin said.
“I really wanted to do that because I wanted to make sure the research I was doing was actually making a difference. I applied because I was interested in water management, I think it’s so important.”
The Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering student will attempt to lower the nitrogen level in the city’s effluent using a process called carbon dosing.
“The wastewater coming out of the plant must meet a certain level of nitrogen. Too much can have a negative impact on the environment and possibly even cause algal blooms,” she said.
“At the Orange waste water treatment plant they monitor it really carefully and they’ve noticed it’s been fluctuating for the last couple of years. My project aims to ensure it is consistently below acceptable levels.”
Orange Mayor Reg Kidd welcomed the partnership and looked forward to seeing the results of Miss Jerogin’s project.
“I’m pleased Council’s water treatment team is working with Claudia in this initiative. It’s a great opportunity to learn from her research while helping her kick-start her career,” Cr Kidd said.
“Anything we can do to improve our processes and reduce our potential impact on the environment is worth investing in.”
The method of carbon dosing Miss Jerogin has chosen involves adding two sugars (sucrose and glycerol) during the treatment process to speed up reactions in the bacteria that cause nitrogen to be removed from the wastewater.
“Some people call it giving the bacteria a sugar high,” she said.
“I put carbon, so that’s different sugar sources, into the wastewater stream, which encourages the bacteria to eat the nitrogen compounds and release them as nitrogen gas into the air. That prevents it from being dissolved in the wastewater stream that we release into the environment.
“I’m testing the feasibility of this form of carbon dosing as a more efficient method of nitrogen removal in wastewater, and to see if it is a safer way to remove nitrogen.”
She said there was a limited amount of research into this type of carbon dosing, which was why she chose to study it.
“More commonly they’re using alcohols such as methanol and ethanol, but we didn’t want to risk using materials that are flammable, you need a lot of safety protocols in place,” she said.
“Sucrose and glycerol, they’re food grade sugars, they’re not going to cause any harm if they’re spilled or there are issues with operational handling.”
Miss Jerogin said she had been dosing the wastewater with the first agent, sucrose, for about three weeks.
“Hopefully any day now we’ll start seeing some serious reduction in our nitrogen levels in the effluent,” she said.
At the completion of her project she will provide a report to Council detailing the results of her research, and present recommendations or avenues for further research.
“Ultimately we do want a long-term solution because this is quite a pressing issue,” she said.
As a MIPPS industry partner, Orange City Council provides funding towards Miss Jerogin’s scholarship and is providing accommodation for her while she is in Orange.
University of Sydney MIPPS coordinator David Hind visited Orange recently to check in on Miss Jerogin’s progress.
He said there were 14 students participating in the scheme this year and about half were conducting research in regional communities.
“The university is really pleased it can make a difference to regional communities and MIPPS is an ideal vehicle for that.
“The scheme has a 90 to 95 per cent success rate, so most of the time our industry partners will get the benefit they are hoping for.
“These students are all incredibly capable. Claudia’s research will be of great benefit to Orange City Council and its ratepayers.”
Hear more about Miss Jerogin’s research on The Orange Podcast