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Let the Bacteria Do the Dirty Work
Let the Bacteria Do the Dirty Work

Crossing the polluted Diyala River on his way to high school back in Baghdad, Bashar Al-Daomi became acutely aware of how untreated wastewater harms the environment and the community.

“Every time I crossed the river, I had to plug my nose to block the horrible smell coming from the water,” said the PSU environmental engineering student. “The pollution was so bad it was affecting the local economy. No one wanted to locate a business near the river. I knew there had to be a better way.”

The constant reminders of the impact of pollution on the river and everyday life for his fellow Iraqis inspired Al-Daomi, a Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science Ph.D. candidate, to study and develop environmentally friendly and inexpensive ways to treat wastewater. After going to college and working at a water treatment facility in Iraq, Al-Daomi came to the US to study wastewater treatment under the guidance of professor Bill Fish. Since arriving at PSU, Al-Daomi has developed a low-cost water treatment device he hopes will one day revolutionize wastewater processing.

“Wastewater treatment is a massive problem worldwide, especially in developing countries like my home in Iraq where communities cannot afford to build expensive municipal water systems,” Al-Daomi said.

Growing up in war-torn Iraq, Al-Daomi learned how to be scrappy, inventive, and resourceful in building the devices he needed to complete his research. The Bio CleanTech reactor—the wastewater treatment device that he helped create—is no exception. It was built at a fraction of the cost of comparable commercial wastewater treatment systems, making it a perfect wastewater treatment solution for communities without many resources.

Al-Daomi’s reactor purifies wastewater without using hash chemicals that can damage the environment. It removes phosphorus and nitrogen from water using bacteria. It’s a smart device with an array of sensors that can operate itself. Operators, meanwhile, can monitor and adjust its activity from a cellphone, which can reduce the cost of treatment.

The Bio CleanTech reactor was created in collaboration with Mohammad Osman, an engineer and designer at Murraysmith, a Portland engineering firm. Osman is also a PSU civil and environmental engineering alumnus.

Since their invention took first place at the 2018 PSU Cleantech Challenge in April, Al-Daomi and Osman have begun refining the Bio CleanTech reactor. In June the team competed in a statewide clean technology competition, InventOR.

Al-Daomi said there are immediate opportunities for the reactor design to be used in high schools and colleges as a low-cost way for students to learn the latest in wastewater treatment technology. Eventually, public utilities can use the reactor design to test new wastewater treatment approaches in their communities.

“My hope is that with new options for treating wastewater, future generations of Iraqi children crossing the Diyala River and children living near rivers around the world will have a much different experience than I did,” said Al-Daomi. “No child should have to live with wastewater in their backyard.”

By Kurt Bedell, University Communications