Living next to the world’s largest freshwater lake, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is as fortunate.
Bailey Papes, a master’s student in Environmental Engineering, is completing a research project that started in summer 2021 through an internship at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility (BGNDRF) in Alamogordo, NM. The facility focuses on pilot-scale testing of innovative water treatment processes for the desalination of brackish and impaired groundwater. During the internship, Bailey conducted her own research project focusing on the removal of per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from brackish groundwater using different types of biochar produced from halophytes and cow bone. Biochar may be a sustainable alternative to powdered activated carbon (PAC) or granular activated carbon (GAC) for PFAS adsorption from aqueous solutions. The results of the experiments showed that PFAS do adsorb to biochars. However, compared to PAC, approximately ten times more biochar must be added to water to effectively remove PFAS, and a cost-benefit analysis is needed to determine if biochar is an economically viable option for PFAS adsorption.
The internship at BGNDRF exposed Bailey to a wide range of drinking water treatment technologies and gave her experience addressing PFAS contamination, which is a growing concern throughout the world. It also opened her eyes to how serious water scarcity issues are within the U.S. Prior to attending Michigan Tech, Bailey earned her undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from Western Michigan University. Subsequently, she served in the Peace Corps as an education volunteer in Sierra Leone, West Africa, where she taught chemistry, biology, and physics at the local high school. During her service, the well in her community dried up, and Bailey was forced to send a motorcycle five miles away to fetch drinking water. After experiencing water scarcity firsthand, she decided to pursue her master’s in environmental engineering. In addition to completing an internship at BGNDRF during her M.S. studies, Bailey worked with Dr. David Watkins to develop models of the wastewater collection systems in Houghton-Hancock that can be used in conjunction with SARS-CoV-2 concentrations to describe COVID-19 dynamics in these communities. She also is conducting research in the laboratory of Dr. Rebecca Ong (Chemical Engineering), and is completing graduate certificates in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Engineering Sustainability and Resilience. Dr. Jennifer Becker is Bailey’s graduate advisor. Upon graduation, Bailey will work for a water and wastewater engineering consulting firm to help ensure that everyone has access to clean and safe drinking water.