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August 2018

Immersing wastewater treatment in digital models

At a glance
The intern

Nathalia Soares Covre from Instituto Federal de Educação, Ciência e Tecnologia do Espírito Santo- IFES, Brazil

Hosted by

Dr. Peter Vanrolleghem in the Civil and Water Engineering Department at Université Laval 

The research

Pilot model of a wastewater treatment plant 

Canada is known for its environment: fresh air, mountains and a multitude of lakes and rivers. Our natural resources are an important part of our national identity. Protecting the quality of our water is crucial to supporting our urban infrastructure and the caring for the environment around us. That’s why Université Laval’s modelEAU research team are searching for ways to optimize urban wastewater treatment to reduce its impact on surrounding bodies of water.

This summer, Nathalia Soares Covre, a Mitacs intern from Brazil, is helping the modelEAU team develop a digital model of an innovative wastewater treatment process. This new process reduces the discharge of nitrogen into lakes and rivers so that plant operators can work to reduce the impact of urban wastewater on local ecosystems.

Nathalia’s host professor, Dr. Peter Vanrolleghem, explains that an excess of nitrogen and other nutrients in the water can upset the delicate balance of the ecosystem, and threaten the survival of flora and fauna that rely on these bodies of water. When nutrients make their way into the water and increase in concentration beyond natural levels, it causes an imbalance that can lead to invasive species taking over. If that happens, plants and animals may no longer be able to live in the ecosystem at all. The lake or river becomes what environmental researchers call a ‘dead zone’.

The team’s advanced computer model allows them to manipulate treatment conditions and simulate how they would improve efficiency within the modelled facility. The pilot system is configured like many common wastewater treatment plants, meaning that the team’s resulting research could be easily transferred to treatment plants across the country.

Nathalia is studying sanitary and environmental engineering at her university in Brazil but says that her project this summer has shown her that she enjoys learning about experimentation from people rather than paper.

“Working in the field has cemented my desire to continue down this career path. I hope to continue my collaboration with the modelEAU team in the future.”

Nathalia’s supervisor, Dr. Vanrolleghem, has hosted a few Mitacs interns over the years and enjoys the collaborations.

“My interns have told me that they appreciate the opportunity for hands-on learning. The knowledge that their work is a part of something bigger— something that will have real world applications down the road— is a great motivator for them.”

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec for their support of the Globalink research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Globalink research internship program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Saskatchewan, and Research Manitoba.

In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with the following international partners to support the Globalink research internship program: Universities Australia; Brazil's Unidersidade de Sao Paulo; the China Scholarship Council; Campus France; the German Academic Exchange Service; Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education and Tecnológico de Monterrey; Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education; Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and Mission Universitaire de Tunisie en Amerique du Nord; and the Ukrainian-Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko.

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