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Application of biotechnology in

waste management for

sustainable development
An overview
A.J. Englande
Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Tulane University,
New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, and
Guang Jin
Department of Health Sciences, Illinois State University,
Normal, Illinois, USA
Purpose The purpose of this paper covers a perspective as related to sustainable development of
natural resources with a focus on application of biotechnology in waste management.
Design/methodology/approach The paper presents an overall view of industrial waste
management practices as pertaining to substantiality of resources with emphasis on biodegradation of
industrial pollutants. Methodologies employing biotechnology and striving towards the goal of
sustainable development/production are discussed in this regard and particular attention is given to:
regulatory consideration and trends; characterization of toxics for resource reuse; ecotoxicological
assessment evaluations; treatment trends and innovative techniques, residual management.
Findings Biotechnology is an important component needed to successfully achieve the goal of
sustainability. Value-added products from by-products/waste and novel technologies employing
biotechnical principles represent areas where signicant opportunities exist.
Practical implications The approach described here not only applies to water resource
management but also includes multi-media and multi-disciplinary consideration.
Originality/value The information presented herein hopefully will stimulate discussion and act as
a catalyst for future direction. It perhaps may also serve as a point of reference for future evaluations
of accomplishment.
Keywords Biotechnology, Waste management, Sustainable development
Paper type Viewpoint
The goal of sustainable development may be dened as the ability to satisfy the basic
needs of society today without compromise of those for future generations. In terms of
waste management it may be considered as the management of natural resources so
that present and future benecial uses are not impaired. To be effective, the approach
towards achieving this goal must be holistic, multi-media, integrated, cost-effective
and focused on public health and environmental protection. In this context, waste
management is evolving from a cradle to grave to a cradle to cradle philosophy.
With an increasing world population expected to reach nearly ten billion by the year
2050 from approximately six billion currently, signicant additional stress will be
placed on available resources. It is therefore, imperative that progress be made towards
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Application of
Management of Environmental
Quality: An International Journal
Vol. 17 No. 4, 2006
pp. 467-477
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/14777830610670526
a better understanding of the relationships between society, economy and the
environment and the terms waste management and resource management become
synonymous. Holistic waste/resource management will in many cases result in
signicant costs savings (economic and social) and minimize public health and
environmental impacts.
This paper covers a perspective as related to sustainable development of natural
resources with a focus on the status, priorities and future direction of waste
management. Its objective is to present an overall view of industrial waste
management practices as pertaining to sustainability of resources with emphasis on
biodegradation of industrial pollutants where appropriate. Water resources is the
primary focus of this paper; however, the approach described will include multimedia
and multi-disciplinary considerations.
Effective sustainable development practice requires that a comprehensive and
site-specic best practical environmental control option. The design and operation of
waste treatment facilities must be consistent with the objectives of maximizing resource
reuse/recovery and producing a clean sludge (i.e. nontoxic, etc.). Generally the most
cost-effective and environmentally compatible approach includes bioconversion
technologies. Another important component is the environmental management
system selected which must be compatible with the goal of sustainable development
and often includes public participation/education. Ecosystemstructure and function (i.e.
eco-integrity) must also be maintained throughout the processing, reclamation andreuse
of treated water and residuals produced. The preceding will require holistic waste
management. Factors to be considered for such an approach are presented below:
integrated public health and environmental protection br multi-media br volume/
toxicity reduction and waste minimization br ecotoxicological assessment br
resource management/value added product opportunities br safety/industrial
hygiene issues;
input into policy formation; consider legislation trends;
consider use, reuse and liabilities of raw materials, manufactured products,
by-products and residuals;
effective management approaches;
environmental audits/life-cycle analysis;
public health, environmental and economic impact assessments;
risk assessment/management/communication;
enhanced cooperation between engineers, scientists and other professionals; and
international cooperation.
Sustainable development will only be met if attention is given to dening
comprehensive best practical environmental options designed with this goal as
priority. These options will vary depending on individual country or region
circumstances including resources, culture, history, perceived risks, extent of
development, etc. One measure of progress towards sustainable development,
however, is a healthy ecosystem or the eco-integrity of the water resources of each
area. Eco-integrity may be dened as the maintenance of ecosystem structure and
function and is unique for each given reach of waterway.
Regulatory/legal considerations
As shown in Figure 1, the impetus and direction of research and abatement activities
are directly related to policy decisions and consequent legal and regulatory
considerations. To be effective in meeting the goal of holistic wastewater management
it is important that future emphasis be placed on increased contributions and
cooperation between engineers, scientists and other disciplines on a global basis.
Some of the considerations and trends, which are expected to be of future focus,
more stringent limits for selected pollutants/mixtures;
establishment of standards beyond technology-based (ecotoxicological impacts,
water quality-based standards);
ecosystem protection with targeting of critical eco-system;
risk based assessment approaches for standards setting;
multimedia approach;
clean technology prevention instead of remediation;
product life cycle considerations; and
global/regional criteria/standards.
The role of biotechnology is crucial to compliance with the preceding. It offers potential
opportunities for rethinking waste treatment/management approaches to include
Value-added products from by-products and wastes and novel technologies
employing biotechnological principles to address sustainability issues. The remainder
of this paper will consider areas where biotechnology offers opportunities for signicant
advances towards the goal of sustainable development/production. These include:
toxicity/reuse characterization;
ecotoxicological assessment evaluations;
innovative treatment techniques; and
residuals management.
Applications of biotechnology in waste management approaches
Toxicity/reuse characterizations
Analytical/biological methodologies for toxicity characterization attempt to dene
what is toxic intoxic amounts. While methodologies have improved, questions
concerning results interpretation remain. Toxicity plays a signicant role in the
determination of water quality-based standards and impacts on biological treatment
plants. Effective analytical/biological methodologies for water reuse applications are
critical in sustainability considerations. Much remains to be done in terms of analytical
evaluations, research and application especially as it applies to process and system
monitoring. Further developments in this area are needed. The trend towards human
health concerns for specic chemicals and chemical mixtures lends complexity to the
Figure 1.
Application of
issue. Development of enzyme biomarkers, endocrine disruptors research
(environmental estrogens) and potential carcinogen screening procedures employing
sh and other non-mammalian species are all areas of recent emphasis which will
continue and expand in the future. Some of this research is being conducted within the
Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and is briey
described in the following.
A yeast strain that contains the human dioxin receptor and a reporter gene that is
activated by the receptor when polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are present
has been developed. This strain may be used to mediate the toxic responses to dioxin,
polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), benzopyrene, hexachlorobenzene, and other PAHs.
The strain can also be used in applications such as monitoring PAHs and dioxin (or
dioxin-like) compounds in environmental samples. Investigators at the University of
Tennessee are currently using it to monitor bioremediation efforts (Miller et al., 2004).
The study of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) or xenobiotics with hormone
activity has emerged over the last ten years as specic disciplines intoxicology and
environmental science. Studies by Bolger, et al. (1998) of EDC molecular mechanisms
have resulted in the development of semi-high-throughput in vitro assays that can be
easily applied to evaluate the hormone activity of environmental samples, chemicals or
residues. In collaborations with Dr A. J. Englande (Department of Environmental
Health Sciences, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine) and
Dr A. Wayne Garrison (US Environmental Protection Agency, National Environmental
Research Laboratory), in vitro estrogen and androgen assays have been utilized to
evaluate the potential hormone activity of soluble methyl tertiary butyl ether microbial
degradation products and chiral pesticide residues, respectively. Primary estrogen
assays include measures of: MCF-7 cell (human breast cancer cell) proliferation,
estrogen receptor regulated reporter gene (luciferase) activity and estrogen receptor (a
and b) binding. Androgen assays include androgen receptor regulated reporter gene
(luciferase) activity and androgen receptor binding.
The goal of an aquatic pathobiology research program is to explore the use of sh
and other non-mammals in basic risk assessment research as environmental and
biomedical models for carcinogenesis and reproductive/developmental effects. The US
Environmental Protection Agency supports research on the use of the Japanese
medaka (Oryzias latipes) as a biomedical model for the assessment the carcinogenic
and developmental effects of mixtures of hydrocarbons. The US Department of
Defense supports research on the use of the Japanese medaka as a biomedical for
screening munitions chemicals for reproductive and developmental effects. The US
Department of Energy also supports research on wild sh as biomarkers of exposure to
multiple chemical contaminants in swamps typical of the Mississippi River Basin
(Hartley, 2005).
Other more generic areas of focus necessary for assessing toxicity include:
identication and quantication of inuent/efuent toxicity;
methodologies useful for cost-effective selection of alternatives for toxicity
evaluation of effects of toxics on treatment systems;
assessment of impacts on biological integrity and ecological function of receiving
environmental and human health risk assessments; and
bioassays specic for residuals reuse.
Ecotoxicity assessment evaluations
For sustainable development to become reality eco-integrity of the system must be
maintained. Therefore, ecotoxicological evaluations are becoming more common for
industry. If sustainability is measured by ecological integrity and ecosystem
structure/function; then, it is important that adequate measurement methods be available.
Evaluation of toxicity both acute and chronic, direct and indirect, short and
long-term is critical to the establishment of water quality-based standards. Fate and
behavior of contaminants in the environment, risk assessment and risk management
are important components of the evaluations. Comprehensive ecological laboratory
proles on waste and products to help determine fate and impact will become the
future norm. In this regard, BASF Ludwigshafen, Germany employs more than 18
analytical tests to dene biodegradability, bacterial toxicity and ecotoxicological
characteristics (Strotmann and Weisbrodt, 1994).
Additional reliable, meaningful and cost-effective methods for the assessment of
impacts on the biological integrity and ecological function of receiving waters, however,
are needed. As indicated above ecotoxicity assessment evaluations are crucial to the
establishment of applicable water quality-based standards. Contaminant emission,
behavior and fate and effects on living organisms (individuals and communities) must
be considered. Research and implementation needs include those items bulleted in the
preceding toxicity/reuse characterization section. Other needs include: pretreatment
innovations; operation modications/facility upgrading to reduce impacts; and, the
development/implementation of appropriate geographical information systems (GIS).
Treatment trends/innovative treatment techniques
To reduce ecotoxicological impacts on receiving waters it is necessary that persistent
organics and toxic constituents of the wastewater be reduced to acceptable levels. Not
only must treatment technology evaluations include consideration of gross parameters
and specic compounds but equally important is the efciency of alternative
technologies for toxicity reduction. Source control is employed for these types of
wastewater streams. Applicable technologies are shown in Figure 2. These
technologies may be considered to remove problem components and/or render waste
streams more amendable for biotechnology application.
Ecological integrity of receiving waters is compromised by contaminants, which are
not effectively removed by best conventional technology. These may include high
strength wastewaters; persistent compounds; volatile organic chemicals (VOCs);
priority pollutants; toxics; and nutrients. Solid separation and process control are other
areas of concern. Biological treatment typically offers the most cost-effective
conversion and/or stabilization of wastewaters; however, modications must be
employed in design and operation to provide satisfactory treatment.
Methodologies which may be employed to enhance biological treatment in the
chemical/petrochemical industry include: pretreatment by chemical and/or advanced
oxidation methods to reduce toxicity and improve biodegradability; multi-stage
treatment for high strength wastewaters, enhanced specic contaminant removal and
reduced shock loadings; VOCs reduction by acclimation of biomass and implementation
Application of
of biolters for off-gas treatment; selector designs to reduce sludge bulking; and process
control optimization by employing the immediate maximumspecic oxygen uptake rate
(SOUR) (Eckenfelder and Englande, 1998). The immediate maximum SOUR (SOUR
has been found to be a better measure of microbial response to transient loadings and
toxic/inhibitory inputs (Shamas and Englande, 1992). The test is essentially the same as
that for SOUR except that the substrate limitation is removed by the addition of a
non-toxic, non-limiting amount of substrate and the oxygen uptake is immediately
recorded. Upon removal of substrate restriction, the biomass immediately increases its
oxygen uptake rate to a maximumlevel dependent on culture history and physiological
characteristics. This sudden increase is termed the immediate maximumSOUR and can
be correlated to the health and quality of the biomass. A strong relationship was found
between SOUR
and RNA precursor for protein synthesis and chemical oxygen
demand (COD) variation over time for a batch system treating organic chemical
wastewater. No correlations were found using the conventional SOUR method.
Consequently, SOUR
may better estimate biomass response to varying inputs and
hence better suited for process control. It is expected that future developments will focus
on inuent/efuent and process variability concerns including process control
strategies for non-steady state/transient impacts.
Effectiveness of biological treatment, to a large extent, is mediated by quantity and
variety of microbial communities in the wastewater reactor. A better understanding of
the microbial diversity and quantication of viable biomass would provide insight into
the mechanics of this wastewater treatment unit and ultimately assist to optimize the
Figure 2.
Application technologies
for source treatment of
design/operation. With the relative recent development of molecular microbial
identication techniques, the study of microbial diversity and quantity has been made
easier and more accurate. One powerful tool for quantifying viable biomass is the
phospholipids fatty acids (PLFA) technique. Phospholipids are part of every bacterial
membrane and maintain a relatively constant proportion of cell mass. Furthermore,
phospholipids are turned over fairly quickly after cellular death. Because of these two
features, the amount of phospholipids is a good measure of the living biomass present.
Moreover, the fatty acid composition of the phospholipids can give information as to
the kinds of microorganisms present. Eucaryotic microorganisms, for example, are
characterized by long-chain polyenoic fatty acids. The presence of such fatty acids is
therefore a direct indicator of the presence of eucaryotic microorganisms. Similarly,
anaerobic microorganisms form cis-vaccenic acids and therefore, indicate the relative
importance of anaerobic and aerobic metabolism in wastewater. However, research is
needed to make this technique more feasible for practical applications.
The 16-S ribosomal DNA polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a technique used to
geometrically increase concentrations of specic DNA fragments to provide enough
genetic material for identication by techniques such as gel electrophoresis.
Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) separates and distinguishes DNA
fragments by establishing a denaturing gradient that separates DNA into discrete
bands which can then be excised and sequenced for identication. PLFA and
PCR-DGGE techniques have been demonstrated to successfully measure both the
quantity of viable biomass and diversity of the microorganisms in marine (Gonzalez
and Moran, 1997; Zwart et al., 1998a, b), estuarine (Crump and Baross, 1998; Crump and
Berner, 1996), aquatic environments (Methe, et al., 1998; Hiorns et al., 1997) and deep
subsurface environments (Ringelberg et al., 1997).
Interms of process andreactor design, manyfuture installations of biological treatment
processes will be required to achieve maximum treatment efciency with minimal space
requirements and lowest possible energy consumption. An example of a design of
innovative biological treatment to accomplish these objectives is a Biohoch reactor
described by Trobisch (1992). The Biohoch reactors are found to operate with little noise,
noodor andrequire muchless air (67-95 percent less) withits radial owjet aerationunit,
space 71-85 percent less, and energy 34-73 percent less than conventional systems.
Biological uidized bed reactors are currently being investigated in several research
laboratories including Qinhua University, Beijing, China to effectively degrade industrial
wastewaters under combined aerobic/anoxic/anaerobic conditions within the column.
This technology offers advantages including low cost, space and energy savings and
reduced residuals. Work is also being conducted there and elsewhere employing
membranes as analternative tonal claricationandefuent polishing. Sequencingbatch
biological reactors have also been found to meet many of these objectives including
nutrient removal for selected industrial applications. Future bio-systems will offer
integrated unit processes, which will maximize sludge age, reduce hydraulic retention
times and provide efuent quality suitable for reuse applications.
Incineration and wet air oxidation are usually economically justied in only very
specic situations depending ontype andquantityof waste. It is anticipatedthat stringent
CODefuent requirements will become more common, hence there is a need for continued
work in the area of biorefractory organic treatment. Advanced oxidation processes are
currently receiving much attention worldwide in this regard. Anaerobic biological
Application of
systems are limited to a selection of organic substances under relatively stable conditions.
If these conditions are met, however, anaerobic treatment offers low capital cost, less
sludge generation, lowenergy requirements and a usable energy by-product as compared
to advanced oxidation processes. Application of anaerobic systems for
chemical/petrochemical wastewaters are expected to signicantly increase as
experience warrants. The upow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) reactor has been
found particularly effective for very high strength waste throughout the Pacic Rim
Residuals management
The role of residuals (or biosolids) management continues to gain priority in terms of
overall waste management and reuse sustainability strategy. Options must lead to
simple and safe disposal practices stressing reclamation and reuse. It is important that
constant updates be maintained with regards to advanced technologies, legislative
developments and public concern. Reuse criteria includes regulatory considerations
(non-hazardous/non-toxic, stable and non-infectious) as well as product end-use
In the US today the intent of biosolids treatment is to produce a desired product
consistently that is Class A stabilized and can be readily utilized for agriculture or any
other benecial end-use. The product must be aesthetically acceptable and competitive
with other similar products on the market. For a technology to be considered viable it
disinfect and stabilize the biosolids (achieving processes to further reduce
pathogens (PFRP) levels or 503 Class A disinfected product);
offer a short treatment time (short pathogen kill time or inactivation);
be inexpensive to operate;
be easy to maintain;
produce a consistent, viable and marketable end-use product;
produce a quality end-use product that is easy to handle and use; and
produce a value-added product at a competitive selling price.
Processes which promote sustainability will become viable options for resource
management if conversion into a value added product can be realized. Value added
product implies that the value of the nal product should exceed the cost of processing.
Some potential products from properly treated biosolids may include: engineered soil,
ornamental horticultural fertilizer, turf grass, synthetic coal and activated carbon.
Existing markets for these products in the US are presented in Table I (Englande and
Product Projected consumption (million kg/year) Market value $ per dry ton
Engineered soils 900 150-200
Ornamental/horticultural soils 2,500 100-200
Synthetic coal 1,400 300-400
Turf grass 10,000 400-530
Activated carbons 200 800-4,400
Total consumption 15,000 100-4,400
Table I.
Existing US markets and
market values
Reimers, 2001). Before producing a value added product, the biosolids must be
stabilized/disinfected and of excellent quality with respect to metals.
As levels of contaminants in biosolids decrease, the applicability for reuse
applications will increase. In many cases it is envisioned that the product quality needs
for reuse application will determine the solids handling unit processes and in some
cases the liquid train processes selected for wastewater treatment.
To meet the demands of sustainable development/production, it is imperative that
residuals management be given a high priority. While much effort has been given in this
area, additional focus and innovative biotechnologies are needed. Areas of needed
research, development and implementation include: reduction in process and end-product
variability and enhanced quality control; better residuals characterization methods
includingecotoxicological considerations; innovative/integratedtechnologydevelopment;
value-added product development; life-cycle analysis; and proactive outreach and
environmental education activities. Residual management and resource recovery
strategies must be diversied and exible. They should be based on actual needs of the
affectedsocietyandcommunityandbe appropriate tothe conditions of the site inquestion.
Summary and conclusions
The third millennium offers both challenges and opportunities for progress towards
sustainability. Biotechnology is an important component needed to successfully
achieve this goal. Value-added products from by-products/waste and novel
technologies employing biotechnical principles represent areas where signicant
opportunities exist. The information presented herein hopefully will stimulate
discussion and act as a catalyst for future direction. It perhaps may serve as a point of
reference for future evaluations of accomplishment. It is important that we learn from
past experience and work together towards common objectives while maintaining a
holistic perspective. International cooperation and inter-disciplinary collaboration are
essential. It is also important to recognize the impact and need for public
education/participation as well as consistency in policy formation.
COD chemical oxygen demand
DGGE denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis
EDCs endocrine disrupting chemicals
GIS geographical information systems
PAHs polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
PCBs polychlorinated biphenyls
PCR polymerase chain reaction
PFRP process further reduce pathogens
PLFA phospholipids fatty acids
SOUR specic oxygen uptake rate
immediate maximum specic oxygen uptake rate
UASB upow anaerobic sludge blanket
VOCs volatile organic chemicals
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About the authors
A. J. Englande obtained his PhD in Environmental and Water Resources Engineering from
Vanderbilt University. He currently holds the position of Professor in the Department of
Environmental Health Sciences at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical
Medicine in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. Englande has published over 150 papers dealing with
water and wastewater treatment, kinetics of contaminant removal by biological systems, fate of
trace contaminants in the environment, and water quality. Contact information: Department of
Environmental Health Sciences, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical
Medicine, New Orleans, LA 70112, USA; Tel: 504-988-2765, Fax: 504-988-1726, E-mail:
Guang Jin was awarded a PhD in Environmental Health Science in 1996 with an emphasis in
Water Quality Management from Tulane University. Since, 1997, her teaching and research
interests have focused on the water quality monitoring, modeling and management with a focus
on using biotechnology. She currently teaches and conducts research as Associate Professor at
Environmental Health Program in the Department of Health Sciences at Illinois State University
in Normal, Illinois, USA. Contact information: Department of Health Sciences, Illinois State
University (ISU), Normal, IL 61790, USA; Tel: 309-438-8329, Fax: 309-438-2450. Guang Jin is the
corresponding author can be contacted at:
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