Prof. Chandran Wins Paul Busch Award

Professor Kartik Chandran is getting some attention for his research efforts to develop a new technology that transforms plant-generated methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the green fuel methanol.
An assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, Chandran has won the Paul Busch Award from the Water Environment Research Foundation for this green research, which aims to overcome current limitations in the use of methane present in anaerobic digester gas as a fuel and energy source. Chandran’s project will attempt to overcome these limitations using a novel application of mono-oxygenic pathways in autotrophic ammonia oxidizing bacteria.
The Paul L. Busch Award is presented each year by The WERF Endowment for Innovation in Applied Water Quality Research. Through this award, the Endowment recognizes outstanding individuals or teams whose ongoing efforts contribute significantly to water quality research and its practical application in the water environment.  2010 marks the tenth anniversary of the Paul L. Busch award.
Although anaerobic digestion is widely practiced to stabilized biosolids, foodwaste and even in engineered landfills, adequate utilization of the energy rich gas stream produced is still challenging. The main limitation to the widespread use of digester gas is the cost of extracting and purifying the methane gas present in it. Diggester gas commonly contains carbon dioxide, moisture and some pollutants such as siloxanes, which limit its direct utilization for energy or chemical conversion to a fuel. Chandran says one possible mechanism to overcome this is to biologically convert the methane present in digester gas to a more readily usable liquid-fuel such as methanol. He proposes to employ versatile ammonia oxidizing bacteria to biologically oxidize methane to methanol and not completely to CO2 (see image at right).
Chandran’s team will develop a bioreactor system to accomplish this. Additionally, using state-of-the-art techniques proteomics, genomics and transcriptomics, the mechanisms of autotrophic methane oxidation to methanol will be elucidated.Finally, mathematical models that describe autotrophic methane to methanol oxidation will be constructed and parameterized.
Chandran’s work in the biological wastewater treatment field has earned him another recent honor. He was appointed to the board of trustees at the Water Environment Federation, a not-for-profit association that provides technical education and training for thousands of water quality professionals who clean water and return it safely to the environment.
Prior to joining Columbia, Dr. Chandran served as the technical lead of the New York City DEP’s BNR Applied Research Program and was part of the Chief Engineer’s Research Group at Metcalf and Eddy. He also leads the multiagency supported Wastewater Treatment and Climate Change and the Columbia University Biomolecular Environmental Sciences (CUBES) programs.


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