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November 2016 - Issue 3
Welcome to the Battelle Environment Matters, a new quarterly publication from Battelle. We are putting this together as a service to our environmental services clients to keep you informed of the latest news from our researchers and the industry.
The Battelle Environmental Services team provides objective, scientifically sound solutions for commercial and government clients that balance environmental, human health and economic concerns. Battelle Environment Matters will keep you up-to-date on cutting-edge environmental research and innovations for environmental remediation, restoration, assessment, monitoring and characterization.
Mycoremediation—the use of fungi to break down contaminants in soil, sediments and wastewater—has demonstrated tremendous potential for remediating areas impacted by petroleum hydrocarbons and other persistent pollutants. However, using live fungal organisms has drawbacks. A new method that utilizes only fungal enzymes and encapsulates them in a biodegradable shell could provide a more targeted, effective and environmentally sound alternative.
Wood-rotting fungi use ligninocellulosic enzymes (including lignin peroxidase (LiP), manganese peroxidase (MnP) and laccase) to digest lignin, a complex plant polymer. These same enzymatic activities can be used to break down complex carbon-based chains found in heavy crude oils and other persistent environmental pollutants such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins. Mycoremediation can be used to accelerate degradation of crude oil wastes, textile effluents, organochloride agrochemicals, pulp effluents and other pollutants found in soil and wastewater.
Introducing live fungal cultures into the environment may cause a variety of challenges and raise questions from regulators. Moreover, fungal organisms need to be supplied with specific substrates and electron donors necessary for rapid growth and production of lignin-degrading enzymes. Moving away from introduction of fungal hyphae (the branching filaments that make up the living fungal mycelium) in bioremediation efforts and using just the enzymes presents an opportunity for more robust in situ treatment. However, due to the sensitive nature of protein molecules, fungal enzymes may degrade in the environment if unfavorable environmental conditions (pH of soil, temperature, UV light exposure) occur.
Battelle has solved this problem by encapsulating the enzymes in a biodegradable shell. Encapsulation technology protects enzyme molecules from physical (sheering) and chemical degradation when in the environment. The polymer shell, made of an environmentally friendly alginate, slowly releases molecules of enzymes into the environment and may attract compounds of interest within the vicinity of the shell. The shell design may be altered dependent on the contaminant of interest. The shell allows the enzyme to be kept in a stable formulation and provides necessary ions and activators for the enzyme to stay in the active state and reduce the potential for denaturation. Thus, instead of relying on unpredictable growth rates of live organisms, remediation teams will be able to deliver precisely measured doses of fungal enzymes to specific locations.
The production process of encapsulated enzyme molecules uses Battelle-proprietary methods and starts with fermenter growth of fungal cultures, collection and concentration of enzymes and, finally, their encapsulation. Battelle creates customized encapsulation technologies through its “Encapsulation by Design” program. Microbeads can be created to respond to a wide variety of environmental triggers such as temperature, pressure, dilution, pH level or the presence of specific chemicals. Other applications of Battelle’s encapsulation technology include the Battelle Smart Corrosion Detector® capsule and the Battelle Smart Laundry Capsule™ additive. The mycoremediation capsules can be modified to provide faster or slower release of the fungal enzymes into the environment.
Studies conducted at Battelle have demonstrated the efficacy of the encapsulated fungal enzymes for biodegradation of heavy weathered crude oil with alkane chains representing fractions higher than C35. The enzymes effectively break down the heavy hydrocarbon chains into shorter chains that can be more easily biodegraded by naturally occurring microbes. Using the encapsulated enzymes rather than live fungal organisms provided more effective degradation of contaminants. The patented technology, which has been in development since 2014, is now ready for use for remediation of sites contaminated by petroleum hydrocarbons. Battelle is currently conducting tests to demonstrate its efficacy for sites contaminated by agrochemicals, PCBs and munitions.
Encapsulation will make the use of mycoremediation more practical, predictable and effective. As the technology continues to evolve, Battelle scientists are looking for additional applications of this environmentally friendly remediation method.
Ecologists and climate scientists will soon have access to environmental data on an unprecedented scale. The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) is the most ambitious ecology project ever conceived, collecting detailed observations across the entire United States. Battelle is working with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to bring its vision to fruition.
NEON consists of 81 field observatory sites in 20 distinct ecological zones in the U.S., from Alaska to Puerto Rico. Each site is equipped with cutting-edge sensor technologies and will support collection of both instrument and observational data. NEON is the first ecological science project to be constructed solely with NSF Major Research and Equipment and Facilities Construction funding. This funding is used to build complex, cutting-edge research facilities, such as telescopes and particle accelerators, that advance the boundaries of scientific knowledge.
The project will allow scientists to use data from across the country to study the effects of changes in climate, land use and invasive species on ecosystem processes. Data from the field sites are freely available to the research community from the NEON web portal. Scientists can also request access to NEON infrastructure including Mobile Deployment Platforms, sensor infrastructure, or observational sampling locations via the NEON Assignable Assets Program. To stay informed about NEON activities, please sign up for the NEON eNewsletter.
Battelle was selected by NSF earlier this year to assume management of NEON and oversee the final stages of construction. Approximately two-thirds of the field sites are partially or entirely completed and already generating data. Battelle is responsible for completing the construction of the sites including installing the infrastructure needed to gather data from the sites. In addition, Battelle will develop the processes necessary to provide the ecological data to the scientific community.
NEON will provide scientists with a treasure trove of data that will lead to new insights into climate change and resiliency. The data will allow researchers and policy makers to understand how ecosystems are responding to changes in climate and land use and inform environmental protection and development decisions. The observational network is expected to support scientific research for decades to come. NEON is scheduled to enter full operation in 2018.
Battelle was selected to oversee NEON based on a long history of successful management of large-scale scientific projects, including management of six national laboratories. Battelle also brings decades of experience and deep scientific expertise in environmental science and ecology. Battelle’s environmental services include:
NEON is not the first Battelle project aimed at understanding the impacts of climate change. Battelle teams collaborate across disciplines to apply a “climate lens” to understand risks, vulnerabilities and impacts across sectors, and devise and monitor solutions for government and private clients. Battelle conducts critical research to make the connection between environmental exposures, climate variability and change, infrastructure, and the health and safety of populations. This includes extensive work in environmental health and vulnerability assessment, including development of a conceptual methodology for climate change probabilistic risk assessment that incorporates hydrologic and hydraulic connectivity, sea level rise, evapotranspiration, and spatial and temporal patterns of rainfall, along with compounding non-climate stressors. Battelle also works with government agencies and organizations to build their capacity to conduct scientific research and development for climate adaptation and to apply this research to meet the needs of all stakeholders.
For nearly 40 years, scientists at Battelle have worked with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help prevent or reduce air, land and water pollution. A recent contract award by the EPA will continue that work.
Battelle was awarded the Scientific, Technical, Research, Engineering and Modeling Support III (STREAMS III) contract through U.S. EPA’s Office of Research and Development. The five-year contract is a follow-on to STREAMS II and will support the development and evaluation of technologies, processes and tools to prevent or reduce pollution and restore ecosystems. The multiple-award, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract has a ceiling value of $55 million and will run through August 2021.
The work for EPA includes a variety of test and evaluation services that address important topics such as drinking water, studying the country’s aging water infrastructure, greenhouse gas emissions from a variety of sources and the remediation of the thousands of EPA Superfund sites.
“At Battelle, we focus on using science for the benefit of all humanity,” said Amy Dindal, Program Manager for STREAMS III. “The work of serving as a trusted advisor for the EPA is important to us and our mission, and we take very seriously the task of helping to mitigate pollution.
STREAMS III will support the development and evaluation of technologies, processes and tools to prevent or reduce pollution of air, land and water, and to restore ecosystems. The work could involve developing and/or evaluating technical concepts, methods/procedures, process options and prototype systems in a research framework that permits and encourages changes in direction and mid-course corrections as needed and warranted. This could require a broad range of process development efforts such as proof-of-concept, laboratory-scale and bench-scale experiments, treatability studies and pilot-scale investigations, and/or field-scale evaluations.
The large-scale prime task orders will build on Battelle’s successful 30-year history in supporting the EPA. Battelle executed a broad scope of projects under STREAMS II. Examples include:
Battelle looks forward to continuing to support this work through STREAMS III.
Battelle and the U.S. Army are working together to promote STEM education for students from kindergarten through grad school. In late 2015, Battelle was selected to lead the Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP), an innovative initiative aimed at improving science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) literacy, awareness and interest among students at all levels.
Under the cooperative agreement, which could last up to 2025, Battelle will lead a team of educational partners and provide communication, program evaluation, outreach and program management support. The consortium, which includes Education First, Widmeyer Communications, MetriKs Amérique, Purdue University, the Academy of Applied Sciences, National Science Teachers Association, Technology Student Association and Tennessee Technological University, supports a variety of programs for students and educators. Current programs include STEM competitions, camps and other opportunities to participate in hands-on STEM activities, apprenticeships for high school and college students and scholarship programs for students entering STEM fields. Many of these programs are focused on building awareness and career pathways for students who are traditionally underserved and underrepresented in STEM fields.
Across 2016, the new consortium:
Battelle and the U.S. Army share an interest in and commitment to developing STEM literacy among the population at large and interest in STEM careers among today’s students. The DoD requires a scientifically and technically literate force in order to fulfill its mission. Battelle also has an interest in developing new STEM talent to support our many research programs.
Battelle has a long history of supporting STEM education initiatives, including the Ohio STEM Learning Network, the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network, STEMx and innovative schools such as Metro Early College High School, a STEM-focused school in Columbus, Ohio. David Burns, Battelle’s Director of STEM Innovation Networks and the Program Manager for AEOP, says, “Our education initiatives started with a single high school 10 years ago that impacted fewer than 100 students. Since then, we’ve grown our outreach initiatives and now run three STEM education networks reaching thousands of kids. The U.S. Army’s AEOP initiative will allow us to expand our reach to tens of thousands more students of all ages.”
AEOP currently reaches more than 36,000 participants. Under Battelle’s leadership, the program aims to grow to 47,000 participants within three years and 68,000 participants by 2025. This short video provides more information about Battelle’s involvement in AEOP.
Current programs supported by AEOP include:
The year 1982 is known for the release of the Commodore 64 computer, the first CD player by Sony and the movie ET. It was also the year that Battelle was awarded its first task order contract to provide statistical and technical support to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Toxic Substances. Since then, personal computers have become small enough to fit in your pocket, CD players have been replaced by music streaming services and the cast of ET are all grown up. One thing that hasn’t changed? Battelle continues to do work for the EPA, with several employees supporting the organization for more than 25 years. In fact, the team recently won a contract worth $16.9 million over the next five years, the most recent rebid of the task order contract that Battelle has held, with no interruptions, since 1982.
The EPA’s Office of Toxic Substances is now the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT). Battelle Health Analytics scientists and researchers from the Health & Consumer Solutions business unit continue to provide statistical and technical support to OPPT, primarily to fulfill a key mission of characterizing the risks of existing chemicals to human health and the environment as required by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
Since the initial contract, Battelle has held approximately 60 task order contracts with EPA.
“In the last three decades, Battelle has established a very strong relationship with the EPA,” said Bruce Buxton, Research Leader and Project Manager. “Over the years, we have consistently delivered high quality research, demonstrated the breadth and depth of our capabilities and built a reputation for success. All of which contributed to winning this contract and opportunity to work with the agency for another five years.”
Throughout the life of the contract with the OPPT, the Battelle team has conducted research across a number of different areas including lead poisoning protection, high priority chemicals and water contamination, among others.
After Congress enacted major amendments to the Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act in 1987, Battelle began conducting research to assess the impact of exposure by young children to lead-based paint hazards, how lead moves around the environment, and the adverse health impacts of lead exposure to those under a certain age. Battelle’s findings provided the OPPT with the scientific basis needed to develop regulation on lead levels in paint, dust, and soil, as well as guidance on minimizing lead-based paint hazards when performing renovation, remodeling, and painting activities. Since then, the team has conducted community outreach and education for the general public, contractors and home buyers, and continued to conduct studies that inform updated policies and procedures.
In addition to the work done in the lead poisoning prevention space, the team has also focused on exposures and health effects associated with high priority chemicals, including formaldehyde that is released from some composite wood products. They have worked to reach the manufacturers and distributors of these wood products and to educate them on the dangers associated with exposure.
Currently, they are focused on conducting statistical trend analysis on water quality measures in the New York/New Jersey Harbor System to assess the environmental impact of Superstorm Sandy that hit the East Coast in 2012.
Keeping a contract with the same government agency for more than three decades does not happen by accident. It is the direct result of the importance of nurturing relationships, providing outstanding service and quality work, time and time again.
“It has been extremely rewarding to work alongside this team on such a wide variety of projects for that have the potential to do so much good for society,” said Bruce. “We are all excited to see what we can accomplish with another five years.”
Engineering News Record (ENR) ranked Battelle number 15 among firms providing environmental services. Battelle ranked 5th in firms serving federal clients and 7th for environmental program management.
Battelle has a long history of environmental research, restoration and program management. The Battelle Environmental Services team applies cross-disciplinary expertise to today’s most pressing environmental challenges, from climate change adaptation to natural resource assessment and monitoring. For decades, federal clients including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Defense have relied on Battelle for accurate, objective data and analysis in order to make effective decisions for resource management, environmental restoration and public policy. Battelle also provides environmental services to commercial clients across a wide range of industries, including the oil & gas and energy sectors.
ENR provides an annual ranking of the top 200 environmental services firms by revenue. The complete list can be found here.
For Tom Gulbransen, better decisions start with better data. A Senior Research Scientist on the Battelle Environmental Services Team, Tom has devoted his 33-year career to advancing the science of ecosystem informatics. Read More