CAREER: Solving a Global Water Crisis in a Local Watershed: A Comprehensive Analysis of Chitin as a Multifunctional Substrate for the Treatment of Acid Mine Drainage

Project: Research project

Project Details


Brennan, Rachel A.

Pennsylvania State University-University Park


CAREER: Solving a Global Water Crisis in a Local Watershed: A Comprehensive Analysis of Chitin as a Multifunctional Substrate for the Treatment of Acid Mine Drainage


The purpose of this research is to evaluate chitin, a waste product from the shellfish industry, as a multifunctional substrate for passive treatment of acid mine drainage (AMD). Integral to the project is the integration of education and outreach. Chitin is an attractive substrate because of its potential to decrease acidity, increase alkalinity, and remove metals and its availability and low costs. Sacrificial microcosm tests will be used in the initial stage to rapidly assess the ability of chitin to achieve remediation of AMD waters of varying acidity and heavy metals contents. To develop an inventory of water chemistry changes throughout the life of the project, duplicate sets of samples beyond what is required for the microcosms will also be collected from one site each fall semester by Penn State students enrolled in the field methods course that will be developed. One set will be processed and analyzed by the Penn State students and the second set will be subject to a simplified set of analyses in partner high schools located in the Beech Creek, PA, watershed, which will be the location of the sampling sites. The second stage will consist of column studies that will be conducted to quantify sulfate reduction rates, metal removal capacities, substrate longevity, and the development and distribution of the microbial community when chitin is used as a barrier material for AMD treatment. Sorption isotherms will be used to evaluate the capacity of chitin for metal uptake. Comparative metagenomics will be used to compare the populations of organisms upstream, within the multiple points of the barrier, and downstream of the barrier and correlate that to chemical conditions and the effectiveness of treatment. Graduate students in the PI's lab will conduct the laboratory studies. In the last stage a field demonstration of a chitin barrier for the treatment of AMD at a site in the Beech Creek Watershed, PA, with the aid of the Beech Creek Watershed Association. The laboratory and inventory of water chemistry will inform the design and location of the field demonstration. Labor for the project installation will be provided by the graduate students in the PI's laboratory, students in the field methods class, high school students in the outreach program, and volunteer members of the Beech Creek Watershed Association. After the completion of the project, the system would continue to be monitored and used as a hands-on experimental station for AMD treatment by the PI's laboratory for as long as resources allow.

The course to be developed will fill the need at Penn State for a field methods class for remediation design by offering 1-hour of classroom instruction and 3-hours of field laboratory each week of the fall semester, and will cover the topics necessary to evaluate the health of surface and groundwater systems (including stream velocity measurements, sediment sampling, water quality sampling, basic water chemistry testing, invertebrate sampling, fish identification, and habitat assessment). In addition, students will learn basic design principles for constructing passive AMD treatment systems, and design their own system for one of the AMD creeks in the watershed. Every fall semester throughout the duration of the project, grade 11 students and a teacher from one of the high schools in the Beech Creek Watershed will pair with Penn State students to participate in two of the field class laboratories. Each year, one high school student will have the opportunity to continue learning about AMD research and field methods during an 8-week Summer Internship in the PI's laboratory.

Effective start/end date2/15/071/31/14


  • National Science Foundation: $429,500.00


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