Graduate Student Anndee Huff Loves Wastewater

Anndee Huff knew she wanted to get involved with the environment from very early on. She grew up in the Twin Cities and attended the School of Environmental Studies, affectionately known as “the Zoo School” because it is located on the grounds of the Minnesota Zoo. The alternative high school emphasizes awareness of the environment. She started college at Lewis & Clark in Oregon where she focused on Environmental Studies. After transferring to Portland State, she completed her degree in Environmental Engineering. She is now completing her Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota.

“After college, I worked as an engineering consultant for Black & Veatch. I got to explore water problems up and down the west coast, and really learned what water/wastewater engineers do. That is what brought me back to graduate school in August 2016.

“I was drawn to the University of Minnesota because Paige Novak offered me the opportunity to work on an interesting, relevant, and very applicable project—looking at removal of nitrogen from wastewater. We are targeting a microorganism that can remove nutrients more efficiently than traditional treatment processes can. Essentially, the current nitrogen removal process is a two-step process. Two zones are needed; one needs to be aerated, and one often needs carbon addition to make the nitrogen convert to harmless nitrogen gas that is released into atmosphere. The microorganism that we are working with can do it in one step, reduce (almost eliminate) the amount of air needed, eliminate the carbon, and save space. So that adds up to a great cost savings.

“Professor Novak and I, with some colleagues in the Chemical Engineering and Chemistry departments, are developing a new membrane technology that concentrates the ammonium form of nitrogen onto a membrane surface. We can also supply a very controlled amount of oxygen or air through that material. By doing that we can target the microorganisms needed for this anammox process.”

Huff has set up small batch experiments in the lab on the 7th floor of the Civil Engineering Building.

“At this stage I want to replicate this very new technology. In order to prove that it does do what we say, it is important to have replication and statistical validation. Right now, I am testing in little jars, verifying what is going on at this small scale. In the past we have used larger (liter size) reactors. In the future we will go back to larger reactors.

“Sometimes wastewater reactors are like black boxes. We put certain things in and we don’t entirely know all the processes that are happening. We are trying to pin down exactly how the organisms are behaving and interacting in our specific system. We have the microorganisms there and know, theoretically, how they should be interacting. The large goal will be to wrap up this current experiment and move to a larger scale to test how it could apply in industry.”