Solar-Bio-Nano Wastewater Treatment System


MSU working on wastewater system that generates energy, produces drinking water

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A Michigan State University research team is using a $1.92 million Department of Defense grant to develop a solar-bio-nano wastewater treatment system that generates energy and produces drinking water.

The project, which is being spearheaded by Wei Liao, an MSU associate professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering, could improve the military’s efficiency while providing a potential blueprint for the future of municipal/agricultural wastewater treatment systems. The project is fulfilled by a multi-disciplinary research team. The Co-PIs are Dr. Ilsoon Lee, an MSU associate professor of chemical engineering, and Dr. Abraham Engeda, an MSU professor of mechanical engineering.

 During military operations, shipping from port to bases on or near the front lines can push the cost of water up to nearly $60 per gallon and increase the cost of gasoline to $30 to $400 a gallon. A portable, self-sustaining system would allow the bases to be more nimble and cost-effective, Liao said.

“Bases on or near the front lines would be able to transport this small-scale system by semi-truck and will greatly reduce their demand for water and fuel,” he said. “The integrated system can serve about 600 people, is patentable and hopefully can be scaled up to serve larger populations.”

The integrated system comprises three major components. First, the solar unit uses new materials and employs a novel configuration that makes it up to 80 percent lighter than traditional solar units. Second, biological conversion processes break down wastewater and food scraps to produce methane, which can be used as fuel. Finally, a nano-filtration system then takes the effluent from the biological processes to provide drinking water.

If the project proves effective in military settings, it has great potential in a wide range of wastewater treatment systems, from agricultural operations to municipal wastewater treatment plants, he said.

“The short-term goal is to drive costs down and to allow the military to alleviate supply chains’ overarching control over its movements,” Liao said. “The long-term goal is to apply advanced and integrated technologies to transform agricultural and municipal  wastes from an environmental liability into a public and private asset.”

Contact:Layne Cameron, University Relations: (517) 353-8819,; Wei Liao, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering: (517) 432-7205,