Prof. Chandran Joins Stockholm Water Committee

Kartik Chandran, associate professor of earth and environmental engineering, has been appointed to the Stockholm Water Prize Nominating Committee, the governing body that nominates leading scientists in the water sector for the prestigious international prize. It honors individuals, institutions, or organizations whose work contributes broadly to the conservation and protection of water resources and to the improved health of the planet’s inhabitants and ecosystem.
 
“It is truly an honor for me to be appointed to this committee,” said Chandran, at left. “I heartily look forward to contributing to its august reputation.”
 
Highly regarded as a leader in the biological wastewater treatment field and for “re-engineering” the microbial nitrogen cycle, Chandran is focused on sustainable engineering design of biological processes to treat and recover resources from human waste at scale and around the world. Chandran’s group was one of the first to quantify using a systematic approach for the emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than CO2, from wastewater treatment plants. As part of this work, Chandran developed a protocol that has transformed the wastewater and sanitation practice by providing a consistent platform to measure the carbon and greenhouse gas footprint of water, sanitation, and wastewater treatment operations, One of the highlights of this global research effort is the finding that approaches to clean water do not impair air quality, that water quality and air quality go hand in hand.
 
Working with researchers from the Environmental Defense Fund, Chandran recently co-developed—for the first time—a greenhouse gas credits scheme for biological wastewater treatment plants, specifically focused on N2O and showing that by improving treated wastewater quality, public utilities could also reduce their N2O footprint, thereby transforming wastewater treatment into a source of revenue, to the tune of $10 million to $600 million per year in the U.S. alone. 
 
Chandran is also re-shaping the way the worldviews waste and wastewater. “In fact, the term ‘wastewater’ is not appropriate at all,” said Chandran. “What we term ‘wastewater’ is highly enriched in chemicals, nutrients, and energy. Instead of trying to remove these, we should really be looking to recover them.”
 
Indeed, Chandran is developing and employing novel bioprocess technologies that are being implemented across the globe and aimed to not only provide sanitation and improve human health, but to do so using resource recovery as a central theme. One such technology involves conversion of organic streams such as food waste and fecal sludge into valuable end products such as biodiesel, oil and methane or methanol. This project is being supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
 
Chandran will serve a three-year term on the Stockholm Water Prize Nominating Committee, working with fellow members to review award nominees and choose the top three candidates for the prize. The board of the Stockholm Water Foundation then appoints the laureate for the year. Chandran was recommended by the board of the Stockholm International Water Institute and approved by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
 
In 2010, he received another major award in the realm of water quality research, the Paul Busch Award, bestowed by the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF). The foundation recognized Chandran for his outstanding research that attempts to overcome current limitations in the use of methane present in anaerobic digester gas by converting it microbially to methanol, a liquid fuel and energy source.
 
Chandran has served as a member of the WERF since 1999 and currently sits on its Board of Trustees. A native of New Delhi, Chandran moved to the U.S. to get his Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut. He studied chemical engineering as an undergraduate at the Indian Institute of Technology (Roorkee). Prior to joining Columbia in 2005, Chandran worked as a research associate at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and served as the technical lead of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection’s Biological Nutrient Removal Applied Research Program.
 
At Columbia, he also directs the University’s Biomolecular Environmental Sciences Program. He is the recipient of the National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2009).


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