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Clemson Team Awarded PIRE Grant from the National Science Foundation

September 7, 2022

An anaerobic membrane bioreactor system used to treat wastewater and produce a nutrient-rich effluent to grow crops.

A team of researchers led by EEES Associate Professor David Ladner has been awarded a $1.5M grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a project entitled Climate-Resilient Sustainable Food Production: Controlled Environment Hydroponic Agriculture with Novel Wastewater Treatment & Reuse.  This grant is the first ever received by Clemson faculty from NSF’s Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) Program.  NSF established PIRE to support fundamental, international research and education in physical, living, human, and engineered systems. PIRE awards enable research at the leading edge of science and engineering by facilitating partnerships with others nationally and internationally, by educating and preparing a diverse, world-class STEM workforce, and by fostering institutional capacity for international collaboration.

The Clemson project will advance the development of a sustainable agriculture platform where irrigation water contains plant nutrients present in wastewater. An anaerobic membrane bioreactor (AnMBR) will be used to treat wastewater and produce methane-rich biogas. Recovered methane will offset the energy requirements of the system and can be converted to carbon dioxide to enrich the atmosphere of the greenhouse or modular container to enhance plant growth. The AnMBR system will use its membrane and ultraviolet disinfection to remove pathogens from the water, increasing consumer safety. Plants such as lettuce will be grown with a hydroponic (soil-less) nutrient film technique (NFT) that will be engineered to efficiently use the water and nutrients from the AnMBR. This is a way to simultaneously reduce water and fertilizer consumption.

A hydroponic system that uses nutrient-rich reclaimed wastewater to grow crops.

This project is a collaboration between investigators at Clemson and in the Republic of Korea at Gyeongsang National University and Korea University. Korea is a global leader in controlled environment agriculture. The international collaboration will allow a comparative assessment of different crops, climate conditions, and cultural perspectives, enabling concept exchange between the two distinct global regions.

In addition to Dr. Ladner, the Clemson team consists of Drs. Diana Vanegas (EEES Assistant Professor),  Gary Amy (EEES Dean’s Distinguished Professor), Jeff Adelberg (Professor of Horticulture), R. Karthikeyan (Professor of Agricultural Sciences), Kelly Best Lazar (Engineering & Science Education Assistant Professor), Mik Carbajales-Dale (EEES Associate Professor), and Sudeep Popat (EEES Associate Professor).