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University Engineering Team Collaborates on Wastewater Diversion Challenge

Cal State Bakersfield students work with a water treatment company as they apply their engineering studies in real life.

by John Cox, The Bakersfield Californian / March 11, 2016

(TNS) — A partnership between Cal State Bakersfield and a Los Angeles water treatment company is giving local engineering students real-life experience with one of Kern County's most intractable challenges: how to divert wastewater for economical reuse in agriculture.

During the past year, OriginClear has worked with CSUB to allow teams of students to test and even help develop the company's technology for cleaning up wastewater from dairies and oil fields.

Oil producers, in particular, have increased their efforts to find new uses for the "produced water" that comes up from the ground along with oil. Part of the reason is that farmers are interested in receiving more water, providing it meets quality requirements. Also, regulators have cracked down on the two most widely used disposal methods, injections and open pits, thereby creating incentives for oil companies to find alternatives.

Two teams of senior engineering students are currently at work testing OriginClear's three-part treatment process, which begins by coagulating dissolved solids, then uses gas to float them to the water's surface for easy removal, and concludes by introducing oxides that further clean the water.

Luis Cabrales, an assistant engineering professor at CSUB, said the program is great because the nine students, all in their senior year, not only receive training from the company but also receive "hands-on experience on real problems."

"They contribute a lot," he said. "They are the ones who do the experiment, actually."

For example, he said, the students use OriginClear's equipment in different ways. Instead of just using it for coagulation, he said, they try new ways of electro-oxidation, adding various chemicals that might make the process work better or more economically.

Cabrales said the resulting innovations could be useful beyond Kern County.

"If they do develop something to solve that problem here," he said, "it could be also part of a global solution."

OriginClear President Jean-Louis "JL" Kindler called the effort "mutually beneficial," saying the students get to experience the demands of state-of-the-art, private-sector technology, while the company gains access to very practical test results.

"We had the technology but not necessarily the science," he said.

The company probably could have worked with other universities just as easily. But Kindler said it chose to work with students in Kern County because they are generally aware of the tremendous need for cost-effective water treatment solutions in local industry.

"These students are tomorrow's engineers," he said. "They have direct access to reality and to what's happening in Kern County. They know what the issues are. They know what the challenges are."

©2016 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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