April 2022 eNews

NMSU Student Receives Water Research Grant to Study Uses for the Byproducts of Hydrothermal Liquefaction

NMSU Student Receives Water Research Grant to Study Uses for the Byproducts of Hydrothermal Liquefaction

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Sr. Student Program Coordinator

Nitrate is one of the major pollutants of concern in New Mexico water. Ingesting high concentrations of nitrate can cause harmful effects in humans, including an increased risk of cancer. In recent years, increases in nitrate concentrations have been observed in the Rio Grande. These nitrates are likely from agricultural fertilizers and wastewater effluents from large cities like Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and El Paso. Current methods for nitrate removal are ion exchange, reverse osmosis, and electrodialysis, which can have high energy requirements and high costs. Hydrothermal liquefaction-char (HTL-char) is a promising adsorbent for the removal of lead and copper from wastewater*, but to evaluate HTL-char as an adsorbent for anions like nitrate, more information is needed on its ability to adsorb anions.

Fortunately, Hengameh Bayat, a PhD candidate at New Mexico State University’s Chemical and Material Engineering Department, is working on research evaluating nitrate removal from water using food waste HTL-char. NM WRRI has awarded Bayat a Student Water Research Grant for a project titled, Wastewater treatment and water recycling through the use of byproducts from hydrothermal liquefaction of food waste.

Hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) is a technology used to produce bio-crude oil from food waste. Byproducts of HTL are a nutrient-rich aqueous phase (HTL-AP), and char. HTL implementation has been limited by the lack of value of these byproducts. Therefore, Bayat’s research not only evaluates the use of HTL-char to remove nitrate from water, but also evaluates the use of HTL-AP to provide needed moisture and additional carbon and nutrients to compost.

Under the guidance of her Faculty Advisor, Dr. Catherine Brewer, Bayat’s project has four objectives: 1) Produce and characterize the surface properties and ion adsorption capacity of HTL-chars prepared through co-HTL of food waste and red mud; 2) Quantify the effects of water pH, contact time, and initial nitrate concentration on adsorption performance and mechanisms for nitrate adsorption; 3) Characterize food waste HTL-AP for compost-relevant properties, including pH, total carbon, total-N, ammonia-N, phosphorus, salinity, metals, and organics composition; and 4) Evaluate the feasibility of HTL-AP addition to compost in terms of microbial activity, nutrient availability (C/N ratio), moisture, and quality of the finished compost.

According to Bayat, using HTL-char produced from food waste would reduce nitrate removal energy use and costs while also helping to meet waste management and energy needs. The use of HTL-AP in compost systems will provide moisture, adjust the pH, and increase the amount of nutrients in compost while maintaining the advantages of compost as a fertilizer. Bayat presented her work at the 66th Annual New Mexico Water Conference and the 2021 AlChE annual meeting in Boston.

Originally from Iran, Bayat received her bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Arak University, and a master’s degree from the Material and Energy Research Center at the University of Tehran. Bayat plans to graduate with her PhD from NMSU in Chemical Engineering in 2022. After graduation, Bayat plans to pursue a career in academia. She is interested in converting waste materials to value-added products for water conservation and remediation.

* Bayat, H., et al., Removal of Heavy Metal Ions from Wastewater Using Food Waste Char. In 2020 ASABE Annual International Virtual Meeting, ASABE: St. Joseph, MI, 2020; p 1.

April 2022 eNews

Meet the Researcher, Brad Talon Newton, The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

Meet the Researcher, Brad Talon Newton, Hydrogeologist, The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

by Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month for Meet the Researcher, we are featuring Brad Talon Newton, a hydrogeologist at the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources (NMBGMR) at The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMT) in Socorro, New Mexico. He conducts hydrogeologic research, education and outreach, and student mentoring. According to Newton, the research component is highly important since water problems (both quality and quantity) are ubiquitous and require top-quality science solutions. He currently advises two master’s students in the Earth and Environmental Science Department at NMT and intends to co-teach karst hydrology in the future.

Newton has an extended work history with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI). He has been an essential contributor to the Statewide Water Assessment (2014-2017) and has produced several reports describing his research efforts. As described by the NM WRRI website, this project complements existing state agency water resource assessments and provides new, dynamic, spatially representative assessments of water budgets for the entirety of New Mexico. Newton has also advised several students in the development of the Python Recharge Assessment for New Mexico Aquifers (PyRANA) model, which estimates runoff and diffuse recharge. Newton’s interests include collaborating with NM WRRI to improve the PyRANA model with new data he obtained while participating in a study in the Salt Basin. By using the chloride mass balance method to calculate the proportion of runoff in watersheds that recharges the groundwater system, he believes this could enhance the PyRANA model to estimate focused recharge throughout New Mexico.

Newton has performed a wide variety of hydrogeologic research in New Mexico since his employment with NMBGMR in 2007. This research has ranged from regional-scale characterization to local hydrologic processes. One of his first extensive multidisciplinary studies took place in the Sacramento Mountains with the goal of improving knowledge of subsurface geology and the regional hydrogeology. Newton believes this research helped corroborate several other Roswell Artesian Basin studies by assisting in the development of a better hydrogeologic conceptual model. Newton has additionally led groundwater studies along the Animas River after the Gold King Mine Spill in 2015, with the objective of assessing spill impacts on the groundwater quality in New Mexico. By characterizing the hydrogeologic system, Newton and his team were able to identify interactions between shallow and deep aquifers that control the spatial variability of groundwater chemistry in the area.

According to Newton, one of the biggest issues facing New Mexico and the southwestern U.S. is the concern for future water availability. “As populations continue to grow, water demand increases. However, warmer temperatures associated with climate change will very likely result in a decrease in water supply for most communities in New Mexico,” Newton explains, “Therefore, in order to quantify the water balance under these new conditions resulting from climate change, it is necessary to understand the mechanisms by which precipitation in the high mountains makes its way into regional streams and aquifers.”

Newton received his BS in Geology (2001), and MS in Hydrology (2004) from NMT. He pursued his PhD in Civil Engineering (2013) from the School of Planning, Architecture, and Civil Engineering at Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland. Newton mentions that his desire to become a scientist originated early in life. His interests in rock climbing and cave exploration led him to pursue his degree in the earth sciences. He was drawn to the field of Hydrology due to its quantitative nature and the real-world impacts it has on the communities and people of New Mexico.

Newton intends to continue his hydrogeologic studies in New Mexico. He plans to expand his research areas to include more complex aqueous geochemistry modeling. This type of research would assist in determining the feasibility of aquifer storage and recovery (artificial recharge), which he feels is one of the best techniques to effectively increase community water supply. Lastly, Newton would also like to perform more karst hydrology projects in cave systems around New Mexico.