Nebraska Environmental Trust grant to support water remediation

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Nebraska Environmental Trust grant to support water remediation


A University of Nebraska–Lincoln project to remove nitrates from drinking water in small communities has been awarded more than $240,000 from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

The project is led by James Allen, research assistant professor of biochemistry.

Nitrate-N, also known as NO3-N, in drinking water is a health risk in rural Nebraska, where agricultural leaching can lead to well water quantities of the substance that are much higher than U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations allow. While reducing agricultural input is essential in addressing this problem for future generations, it will still take several decades of direct intervention to secure the water supply for many rural areas. Allen will be researching a biologically based option for groundwater remediation tailored to smaller rural communities unable to afford large-scale reverse osmosis systems. The project involves a public-private partnership with the startup company Vestal W2O.

The photo-bioreactors under development are helically arranged glass tube continuous flow systems housed in greenhouses. These optimized growth systems for green microalgae couple NO3-N removal with algae growth, remediating well water for further use by municipalities. The goal of the project is to build and operate two pilot-scale algae photo-bioreactors to assess the on-site removal of NO3-N in field conditions and the reuse of the captured nutrients as a soil amendment.

In partnership with the city of Hickman, Allen’s team is constructing a greenhouse housing photo-bioreactors at the site of a well with high levels of nitrates. Data from these systems will be mathematically modeled for life-cycle economic assessment and used to further refine the photo-bioreactors under field conditions.

The NET funding of $240,187 carries the potential of a second-year award of $216,775. The project is one of 118 receiving a total of $20 million from NET this year. Of these, 73 were new applications and 45 are carry-over projects.

The Nebraska Legislature created NET in 1992. Using revenue from the Nebraska Lottery, the trust has provided more than $328 million in grants to more than 2,300 projects across the state. Anyone – citizens, organizations, communities, farmers and businesses – can apply for funding to protect habitat, improve water quality and establish recycling programs in Nebraska. NET works to preserve, protect and restore the state’s natural resources for future generations.

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