Wastewater research wins award
A wish to find a way to help the local Bendigo wastewater treatment plant deal with the overgrowth of a microorganism has won La Trobe University postgraduate scientist Lachlan Speirs first place in an international competition in Denmark.
The Bendigo-based scientist took out the honour for his research that describes for the first time a problematic microorganism known as Type 0092.
‘Type 0092 is common wastewater bacterium, but becomes a pest species when large amounts of it are present. This contributes to poor activated sludge structure and reduces the settling efficiency of the activated sludge from effluent. Effective separation of these is a vital step in wastewater treatment,’ said Mr Speirs.
‘This bacterium is a real problem for us here in Bendigo as there is an extremely large amount of it present, as well as other problem bacteria, in the wastewater treatment facility. The amount of Type 0092 present here has given us a great opportunity to study it.’
His poster, describing his breakthrough, was judged on scientific merit from a field of over 50 at the 5th International Specialist Conference on Activated Sludge Population Dynamics, held in Aalborg, Denmark.
‘It was a great award to win. I didn’t believe it when I first heard; I thought someone was having a joke. To have your research recognised in this way by experts in the field is a great compliment to the project, the people I work with and myself.’ said Mr Speirs.
Mr Speirs says current trends in the global wastewater industry point towards the recycling of wastewater, after cleaning and sterilisation, back into the water supply, and it’s important that the treatment process is as effective as possible. He is hopeful that finding out how and why the microorganisms involved in these processes survive and operate will further improve wastewater treatment.
‘Treating water can be very expensive, in part because very little is known about many of the microorganisms involved - especially problematic ones such as Type 0092. At the moment control is achieved using chemicals such as chlorine, salts and other additives, but this approach can cause problems such as increasing salinity and killing off good bacteria.’
The next phase of Mr Speirs PhD will be to understand more about how Type 0092 operates in a bid to come up with a strategy to control it. He will also study other activated sludge bacteria.
Mr Speirs went to primary and high school in Eaglehawk and Bendigo. He completed his Bachelor of Applied Science at La Trobe University in 2008 and is now undertaking a postgraduate degree with the La Trobe University’s Biotechnology Research Centre.
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