On June 12th, 2017, the International Journal of Electrochemical Science published a study by  former ROUTES Scholars David Berroa, Savannah Gregor, and Sarah Elbakri on  nitrate removal from aqueous solution via electrochemical processes as well as the feasibility of these processes to minimize the production of ammonia during the nitrate reduction.

Nitrates are commonly found in groundwater at high levels due to intensive release from nitrogen fertilizers, industrial wastes, animal wastes, and septic systems, and their presence at high concentrations present a significant environmental problem. Higher levels of nitrates are found in private wells than in public water systems, in shallow wells than in deep wells, and in agricultural areas than in urban areas. About 16% of the U.S.  population uses private, unregulated water systems that are  usually  located  in  areas  considered  more  vulnerable  to nitrate contamination (i.e.,  rural  areas). From a groundwater remediation perspective, even low concentrations of nitrates can interfere with the removal of target contaminants.

The study evaluated the removal of nitrates from groundwater in an electrochemical reactor and tested the performance of various cost-effective cathode materials. The study proved that a special electrode arrangement (cathode followed by anode sequence) in the flow through electrochemical reactor can be used for nitrate reduction and control of ammonia generation through anodic oxidation.

Berroa, Gregor, and Elbakri took part in the first cohort for the ROUTES Scholars Program, a Northeastern University co-op which began in 2015. Since their co-op with ROUTES, the scholars, particularly Berroa and Gregor, have made many efforts to share what they learned while working in the PROTECT lab. Berroa and Gregor attended multiple symposia and conferences where they presented on their work regarding lab- and pilot-scale electrochemical treatment of groundwater. Findings gleaned from the scholars’ co-op were also presented at MIT Water Night, a research showcase which provides an energizing platform for individuals and research groups to present their latest achievements and work in water-related fields. Additionally, Gregor and Berroa presented their work at the Boston Public Schools Science Fair, the annual Research, Innovation and Scholarship Expo (RISE), and the New England Water Environment Association: NEWEA annual meeting.

David, Savannah, and Sarah