Prof. Chandran Wins Gates Foundation Award

Kartik Chandran discusses the first large-scale survey of 12 wastewater plants across the U.S. that shows the magnitude of N2O emissions from these plants may be more variable and complex than previously thought. — Video produced by the Columbia Office of Communications and Public Affairs

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Kartik Chandran, an associate professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering at Columbia Engineering, has been awarded $1.5 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for his project to develop a revolutionary new model in water, sanitation, and energy.
 
Working with his partners Ashley Murray, founder and director of Waste Enterprisers, and Moses Mensah, a Chemical Engineering professor at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Chandran is developing an innovative technology to transform fecal sludge into biodiesel and create the “Next-Generation Urban Sanitation Facility” in Accra, Ghana.
 
“We are delighted to be awarded this project,” Chandran says. “And we are especially pleased that the Gates Foundation has recognized the critical importance of sustainable sanitation by investing in our pioneering project. Thus far, sanitation approaches have been extremely resource- and energy-intensive and therefore out of reach for some of the world’s poorest but also most at-need populations. This project will allow us to move forward and develop practical technologies that will be of great value around the world.” 
 
Chandran and his team aim to develop a bioprocess technology to convert the organic compounds present in fecal sludge to biodiesel and methane, two potent sources of energy, and thus convert a waste-processing facility into a biorefinery. The biorefinery will not only be an economical source of fuel, but, by minimizing discharge of fecal sludge into local water bodies, it will also contribute to improved human health and sanitation. Chandran says that potential outcomes of his work will also include integrating the bioprocess technology component into a social enterprise business model that will further promote widespread implementation of this approach and technology across the globe, especially in developing economies.
 
Chandran has been associated with Ghana for two years as the faculty advisor for the Columbia University Engineers without Borders Ghana team and expects to involve them in this project as well.
 
"This project also affords a new path in engineering education, both in the United States and Ghana," he says. "By training tomorrow’s engineers in sustainable approaches to ‘resource and energy recovery’ rather than ‘wastewater treatment,’ a sea-change can be achieved in the way we perceive of and manage human waste. In fact, the term ‘wastewater’ is already archaic. Wastewater is, after all, just water with a different chemical and biological composition."
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