Interdisciplinary Initiatives Program Round 10 - 2020

William Tarpeh, Chemical Engineering
Laura Dassama, Chemistry
Jim Swartz, Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering

Humans have drastically altered the global nitrogen cycle through industrial fertilizer production and inadequate wastewater treatment, leading to harmful algal blooms and water unfit for human consumption. Reimagining nitrogen pollutants as products can reduce the environmental impacts of these changes, but requires highly selective materials capable of extracting nitrogen from complex wastewaters. In this work, we take lessons from nature, and in particular Amt proteins that show higher selectivity for nitrogen as ammonia than any humanmade materials. The goal of this work is to design protein-loaded resin beads that can recover nitrogen from various wastewaters with high selectivity, transport rates, and stability. We integrate expertise from protein engineering, biochemistry, and environmental engineering to design and characterize materials that can capture nitrogen from wastewaters and then release it into pure water. This approach can facilitate recovery of ammonia, a critical component of fertilizer, coolants, and other industrial chemicals. By engineering proteins and support beads at the molecular scale, we aim to have global impact by addressing the grand challenge of reimagining the nitrogen cycle.