Environmental Biotechnology

 Environmental Biotechnology
In response to growing pressure on air, water and land resources, global attention has turned its focus on finding new technologies to sustain and manage the environment. Biotechnology is an essential tool in this aspect, because it provides new approaches to understanding, monitoring, preserving, and restoring the environment. Biotechnology can be used to assess the well-being of ecosystems, transform pollutants into benign substances, generate biodegradable materials from renewable sources, and develop environmentally safe products and disposal processes. Recent developments in molecular biology, ecology, and environmental engineering now offer opportunities to modify organisms so that their basic biological processes are more efficient and can degrade more complex chemicals and waste materials and produce valuable products.

While research in environmental biotechnology has unique national, regional and international aspects, it has a particularly tremendous potential for use in developing nations seeking low- cost solutions to environmental problems - such as municipal waste disposal, conversion of agricultural wastes to energy sources, and cleanup of polluted areas from different toxic chemicals and heavy metals. In the Galilee region, different agricultural wastes are produced annually, but fail to be utilized for the benefit of local communities. These wastes are considered environmental hazards, requiring intensive research and experimentation to convert them into non-toxic materials or even valuable products. Since 1995, researchers at the Galilee Society's Institute of Applied Research have been dealing with different projects that address this issue of waste management, in a way that benefits the local community as well as the regional and international interests.

Select Research Projects:
Persistent organic matter, endocrine disrupting chemicals and pathogens in treated waste-water and soils: Identification, monitoring, transport, effects, treatment, and removal for sustainable reuse
Water scarcity has become a pressing problem in arid and semi-arid regions of the world. Even in countries where water is plentiful, continuous increase in the size and activity of the human population is a matter of deep concern. The escalating and unprecedented need for freshwater, for both domestic use and agricultural irrigation is the subject of intensive research seeking to develop economically-feasible techniques to facilitate the use and reuse of existing water resources. Domestic, industrial and livestock agricultural wastewaters contain a wide spectrum of EDCs and pathogens, many of which originated in man-made pharmaceuticals, which are associated with several health and ecotoxicological risks. The same applies as far as crops, food and receiving water resources (e.g., water reservoirs, lakes, surface and ground waters, i.e., aquifers). The proposed research focuses on the removal from sewage influent --via advanced membrane technologies-- of selected anthropogenic persistent organic pollutants (POPs), endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), nonionic surfactants, alkylphenol etoxylates (APEOs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), selected anthropogenic hormones, pharmaceuticals and pathogens. In this context, the general objective of this research is to facilitate the sustainable, health-safe reuse of treated sewage effluents.

Researchers: Prof Uri Zoller (PI, coordinator) and Dr. Yoram Gershman, Oranim, Haifa University; Dr. Hassan Azaizeh and Dr. Jeries Jadoun, R&D Center, Galilee Society; Prof. Carlos Dosoretz, Dr. Shirra Gur-Reznik, Prof. Raphael Semiat, Technion; Haifa, Dr. Benny Chefets, Dr. Yitzhak Hadar, Dr. Zafrir Grinhut, Dr. Itamar Nadav, Dr. Chorchi Trchetzky and Prof. Yona Chen, Hebrew university; Dr. Dror Avisar, Prof. Abraham Katzir, Tel-Aviv University; Dr. Brian Berkowitz and Dr. Ishai Dror, Weizmann institute; Dr. Rami Pedahzur, Hadassah College; and Dr. Dror Mintz, Volcani center. The research project was submitted by Prof. Uri Zoller through the research authority of University of Haifa. Fund: Ministry of Science and Technology (infrastructure research).

Endocrine disrupting activity of steroid hormones and their bio degradation in treated domestic and swine waste-waters
Steroid hormones are biologically active compounds that are produced in the reproductive systems of humans, animals, birds and other species. Steroid hormones are vital for proper functioning of the reproductive system and body development. The natural steroid hormones include progesterones, glucocorticoids, mineral corticoids, androgens and estrogens. In addition to the theswe, synthetic steroids have been produced, such as 17α-ethinyleatradiol and mestranol, which are used by humans as contraceptives. Other synthetic steroid hormones include trenbolone acetate and melengestrol acetate, which are administered to cattle (in some countries including USA and Canada) to promote their growth, synchronize and/or induce their estrus, treat reproductive disorders and induction of abortion. Although steroid hormones are absorbed in the body, a significant portion of these compounds or their metabolites are secreted by humans and animals via the digestive or the urine system, and eventually reach the environment through discharge of domestic and animal wastes. Contamination of soil and water systems with natural and synthetic steroid hormones, and their metabolites has become a major concern in several parts of the world because of their endocrine-disrupting activity. The main objectives of this research are to determine the fate of synthetic steroid growth promoters in domestic and agriculture effluents in sewage treatment plants in Israel, and to identify the microbial population present in different sources of sludge and/or surface soil contaminated with swine wastes responsible for their bio-degradation process.

Researchers: Dr. Jeries Jadoun (PI) and Dr. Hassan Azaizeh, The Galilee Society R & D Center; Prof Uri Zoller, Oranim, Haifa University. Fund: Ministry of Science and Technology.

Decentralized Waste-water Treatment in Arid Regions: Up flow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket (UASB) and Intermittent Sand Filter (ISF)
The main goal of this research study is to develop, test and optimize the combination of UASB with Intermittent Sand Filter as a low cost wastewater treatment and simple to operate. The developed system will be tested for a high quality of effluent for safe reuse. The system is based on combing the UASB reactor with an appropriate physicochemical treatment in order to increase the COD, TSS and Nitrogen removal efficiency. Also, the goal of this study is to conduct several isotopic techniques in order to understand the mechanisms of nitrogen transformation in intermittent sand bio-filter (ISF) treating secondary effluent of small communities.

Researchers: Dr. Wolfgang Hoell, research centre karlsruhe; Prof. Michael Green Technion’ Haifa, Faculty of Civil & Environmental Engineering; Dr. Issam Sabbah, the Galilee society R&D center, Shefa-Amr; Dr. Bassim Abassi Al-Balqua University, Al-Salt. Dr. Numan Mizyed An-Najah National University, Nablus. Dr. Heinrich Eisenmann National Research Center for Environment and Health (GSF), Munich, Institute for Ground water Ecology; Dr. Oliver Bederski Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Leipzig, Environmental- & Biotechnology Center. Fund: BMBF.

Low-Cost High Surface Area Carbonaceous Materials (HSACM) for Environmental Application: Contaminated sites remediation
Extensive contamination of soils and sediments by organic contaminants is an important worldwide problem. Affected solids include aquatic sediments, surface soils and subsurface geologic materials, all of which exist as complex and heterogeneous mixtures of inorganic and organic solid phases. Soils and sediments may also contain a fraction of high surface area carbonaceous materials (HSACM) – i.e., of char and soot that has been generated from the incomplete combustion of biomass and fossil fuel, in both modern and prehistoric times. There is a growing recognition that strong adsorption of organic contaminants on the HSACM may be a controlling factor in the soil contamination setting. HSACM is a strong adsorbent of organic contaminants, such that small quantities of it will have important implications for risk assessment and engineered remediation of contaminated soil. The most important impacts of HSACM (e.g., black carbon) are the modification of the contaminant's water/soil distribution and the HSACM influence in preventing the release of the organic contaminants back into the soil or groundwater. In some cases, it is possible to deliberately add a carbonaceous material into the soil as a remediation act for soil contaminated with hazardous organics, especially when the carbon material is available at low -or no- cost. One of these carbonaceous materials could be the char made from olive mills solid waste. This solid waste (called "Jift" in Arabic) is currently turned into a cheap, low-quality fuel for old-style stoves in the Galilee region, via a simple charring process. As the number of people using these old stoves decline every year, larger amounts of Jift are left behind un-utilized, in the solid waste stream. If char from Jift proves to be effective as a soil additive for the remediation of soil contaminated with organics, then two benefits will be achieved: 1) the Jift will be removed out of the waste stream, and 2) an effective and cheap remediation process for contaminated soil will be developed. In addition to studying the environmental application of Jift (as an HSACM), a fundamental element of this work will also be implemented. That is, we will attempt to fundamentally understand, using both experimental and modeling tools, the mechanism through which HSACM acts favorably as an adsorbent to immobilize hazardous organics in contaminated soils. This understanding will greatly improve our prediction capability on the ultimate fate and bio-availability of these organics in the contaminated soil. The overall goal of this proposal is to develop a new treatment technology that incorporate low cost charred Jift as a high-surface-area carbonaceous material (HSACM) into contaminated soil as an immobilizing agent for toxic chemicals.

Researchers: Dr. Isam Sabbah (PI), R&D Center, the Galilee Society. Fund: Ministry of Science and Technology.

Constructed Wetlands and UV Disinfection for Waste-water Treatment and Reuse in Small Communities
The utilization of treated waste-water for agricultural irrigation in arid/desert regions, such as the Middle East (ME), constitutes both a major opportunity and an issue of concern. In view of water shortage and scarcity in ME countries, the advantages of such water reuse is obvious, but also bring up the issue of chemical and microbial water contaminants. Advanced waste-water treatment plants (Reverse Osmosis, Ultra Filtration etc.) are very effective in removal of such contaminants but the high cost of constructing and maintenance as well as the need for highly trained personnel to operate and maintain these systems render them unpractical in rural areas where the population resides in small dispersed communities. This is the situation in many parts of north Israel, the PA and Jordan. There is an urgent regional need for small, local, low cost (construction and maintenance wise) waste-water treatment (WWT) solutions that can directly benefit local communities. Constructed Wetlands (CW) represent such a solution. Those systems not only offer low cost, low maintenance waste-water treatment solution equivalent to Activated Sludge Systems, but also offer potential income in by-products (such as animal feed, and/or Eco-tourism and wild life refuge). While those systems tend to be impractical in urban areas due to the need for large tracts of land, in rural areas this is not an issue. Although CW offer many advantages in the ME setting, especially in the rural areas of the Galilee (Israel), as well as parts of the PA and Jordan, to-date their use has been limited to primarily small scale research facilities, leaving many small villages without any WWT facilities. Here we intend to establish a collaboration between researchers from Israel, the PA, Jordan and the USA for studying the possibilities and needs for CW systems in the ME region to produce a stable effluent, safe for beneficial reuse.

Researchers: Dr. Azaizeh Hassan (PI), The R&D Center, the Galilee Society, Shefa-Amr, Israel; Dr. Gerchman Yoram, Haifa University in Oranim, Tivon, Israel; Dr. Kalbouneh Samer, Biodiversity & Environmental Research Center Til, Nablus, Palestinian authority; Dr. Tellawi Abdel-Muti, National Center for Agricultural Research and Extension, Amman, Jordan. Prof. Linden Karl G., Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering; University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO, USA. Fund: BARD/MARD.