Aich part of $450,000 grant to address major pollution concern for coastal areas

By Peter Murphy

Published November 29, 2021

Nirupam Aich, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering is part of a $450,000 grant to address concerns on harmful algal bloom (HAB) in lakes and oceans. 

Fighting pollution in our lakes and oceans


Eutrophication, or HAB, is a major polluter of coastal areas including the Great Lakes. Nutrient runoff, particularly, nitrogen and phosphorus, from agricultural fields flow into lakes and oceans. The higher the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in the nutrient runoff, the more likely it is that HAB will develop. According to Aich, HAB creates many problems for aquatic organisms in affected areas.

“The surface water gets covered with blue-green algae, which uses sunlight for making food and their own growth. This prevents sunlight from going into the deep water making it difficult for other aquatic organisms to survive,” Aich says. “These algae also release a type of toxin – microcystin – that can kill fish and other aquatic species and can also end up in our drinking water.”

The US Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture-funded project is led by principal investigator and Florida Institute of Technology assistant professor Toufiq Reza who will create novel biosorbents from agricultural waste. Aich and his research group will use the biosorbents, or pollutant removal media solid carbon materials, known as hydrochar, as a stormwater biofilter system to test how the HAB pollution can be prevented and/or its effects can be minimized. 

Nirupam Aich.

“We are going to test how these carbon materials can remove both nutrients and microcystin from the water. We are going to develop filtration columns with the hydrochars, and grow bacterial biofilm on them. This is known as biofiltration system or biofilter,” Aich says. “We will then flow nutrient or microcystin containing water through these biofilters.”

Aich’s group will test to see if the biofilters, with or without the bacterial biofilms, can retain the nutrients and microcystin from the water. The water that then flows out of the column or biofilter would then be clean. Aich was awarded $135,000 of the grant to complete this work.