American Society of Civil Engineers

Environmental Biotechnology in Water and Wastewater Treatment

by Bruce E. Rittmann, M.ASCE, (Regents’ Professor of Environmental Engineering and Director of the Center for Environmental Biotechnology, Biodesign Institute, Arizona State Univ., P.O. Box 875701, Tempe, AZ 85287-5701. E-mail:

Journal of Environmental Engineering, Vol. 136, No. 4, April 2010, pp. 348-353, (doi:

     Access full text
     Purchase Subscription
     Permissions for Reuse  

Document type: Journal Paper
Section Heading: Invited Paper
Abstract: Environmental biotechnology "manages microbial communities to provide services to society." The key services today include detoxifying contaminated water and soil to reclaim lost resources and converting diffuse energy in biomass to forms easily used by society. Two timely examples are the reduction of oxidized water contaminants (e.g., nitrate, perchlorate, selenate, and chlorinated solvents) and the production of methane, hydrogen, and electricity. The key science underlying environmental biotechnology is microbial ecology, which has advanced rapidly in the past 20 or so years through the proliferation of new genomics-based techniques to characterize the communities’ structure and function. The genomic methods provide detailed information that helps us understand what aspects of the microbial community need to be managed to ensure that it provides the desired service. Often, we achieve the management goals through partnering the microorganisms with modern materials and physical/chemical processes. The membrane biofilm reactor and microbial fuel cells offer excellent examples of exciting new technologies that come directly from this kind of partnering.

ASCE Subject Headings:
Biological processes
Water treatment
Wastewater management

Author Keywords:
Microbial ecology