Biosolids SPOTLIGHT: A focus on the people of biosolids who work in our region

SPOTLIGHT on Sustainable Environment Research Laboratory

Had the coronavirus pandemic not torpedoed the WEF Residuals and Biosolids Conference early April, many of us would have witnessed the outpouring of great research of the Sustainable Environment Research Laboratory (SERL), Virginia Tech’s northern campus. SERL is closely working with utilities and consulting firms to develop innovative environmental technologies and prepare a quality workforce capable of solving real world problems. With some luck, WEF will offered again these SERL papers:

  • “Anaerobic digestion process intensification using temperature-phased anaerobic digestion and thermal hydrolysis”
  • “Effect of thermal hydrolysis pretreatment on recalcitrant dissolved organic nitrogen contents quantified after anaerobic and aerobic treatment”
  • “A comprehensive examination of the dewaterability of aerobic granular sludge cultivated in continuous flow bioreactors fed with real domestic wastewater”
  • “Identification of Source and Cause of the Biosolids Odor Emission in Western Branch Water Resource Recovery Facility of Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission”
  • “A comprehensive examination of the dewaterability of aerobic granular sludge cultivated in continuous flow bioreactors fed with real domestic wastewater”
  • “Effect of THP and Anaerobic Digestion on the Dewatering Behavior of WAS and Primary Biosolids”

Leading the amazing work at SERL is Dr. Zhiwu (Drew) Wang, Ph.D., P.E., Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 9408 Prince William St. Manassas, VA 20110-5670, Phone: (703) 361-5606 Ext. 119,: [email protected].  Dr. Wang’s research portfolio focuses on the development of advanced municipal sludge management technologies for intensifying anaerobic digester capacity1,2, mitigating biosolids odors3,4, enhancing cake dewaterability3,5-7, recovering nutrients5,6, mitigating emerging contaminants8,9, etc. His studies provide insight into engineered processes specifically designed for wastewater treatment10,11 and value-added bioproducts recovery12,13. Most importantly, Dr. Wang is seeding our profession with many new scientists. 

Here are the several new biosolids researchers:

Dr. Dian Zhang ([email protected]) joined Dr. Wang’s team back in 2017. He just successfully defended his Ph.D. dissertation titled “Effects of process intensification techniques on biosolids management“ in March and will join Stantec’s Fairfax office as a civil engineer in June. During his Ph.D. study, Dr. Zhang worked with Arlington Water Pollution Control Plant, Alexandria Renew Enterprises, and Upper Occoquan Service Authority (UOSA) to investigate: Effect of solids retention time, shear force, and storage time on the polymer consumption, odor emission, and sludge dewaterability3; Recalcitrant dissolved organic nitrogen formation in thermal hydrolysis pretreatment8; Using cerium chloride to control soluble orthophosphate concentration and improve the dewaterability of sludge5,6and Kinetic modeling of the anaerobic digestion4

Dr. Yewei Sun ([email protected]) joined Dr. Wang’s team back in 2016.  He just successfully defended his Ph.D. dissertation titled “Advanced Biofilm and Aerobic Granulation Technologies for Water and Wastewater Treatment” in March and will join Hazen & Sawyer’s Fairfax office as Scientist in June. Dr. Sun performed his Ph.D. research in Upper Occoquan Service Authority (UOSA) on the topic of aerobic granular sludge which holds promise to revolutionize the wastewater and biosolids industry for its advantageous settleability10 and dewaterability7 over the traditional activated sludge.


Mr. Jeffrey Nicholson ([email protected]) joined Dr. Wang's team as a PhD student in 2019. He received his B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Virginia Tech. Jeff is working with both the Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) and Matt Higgins at Bucknell University. His research is focused on identifying the parameters and fundamental mechanisms that control the dewatering and polymer demand of biosolids with respect to the effects of biological phosphorus removal, thermal hydrolysis pretreatment and anaerobic digestion.

Mr. Hao Luo ([email protected]) joined Dr. Wang’s team as a Ph.D. student in Spring 2019.  He received his B.S. in Environmental Science from Kunming University of Science & Technology in 2014 and his M.S. in Science & Technology from Southeastern Louisiana University in 2017. Hao has been working with Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) on the research to identify the source and cause of the biosolids odor emission in the Western Branch Water Resource Recovery Facility. He is also working on a project funded by Virginia Tech Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science on the topic of biomass phosphorus recovery and immobilization to be used as slow-releasing fertilizer.

 Mr. Jiefu Wang ([email protected]) joined Dr. Wang’s team as a Ph.D. student in Fall 2019. He received his B.E. in Environmental Engineering from Beijing University of Chemical Technology in 2017 and M.E. in Water, Waste & Environmental Engineering from University College Dublin in 2018.  He is continuing Dr. Dian Zhang’s effort on the topics of process intensification of anaerobic digestion through temperature phased anaerobic digestion and/or thermal hydrolysis pretreatment in collaboration with Arlington Water Pollution Control Plant and Alexandria Renew Enterprises. Meanwhile, Jiefu is also making effort to understand the effect of cationic polymer on the performance of microbial communities in anaerobic digesters as a result of thermal hydrolysis pretreatment. 

Mr. Zhaohui An ([email protected]) joined Dr. Wang’s team as a Ph.D. student in Fall 2018. He received his B.E. in Environmental Engineering from Tongji University in 2017 and M.S. in Civil Engineering from University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign in 2018. Zhaohui is working with Loudoun Water to understand the potential impact of the recalcitrant dissolved organic nitrogen formation as a result of the thermal hydrolysis on the Loudoun Water reclamation plant operation.



1. Xu, F., Wang, Z.-W., Tang, L., and Li, Y., 2014. A mass diffusion-based interpretation of the effect of total solids content on solid-state anaerobic digestion of cellulosic biomass. Bioresource technology, 167: 178-185

2. Xu, F.Q., Li, Y.B., and Wang, Z.W., 2015. Mathematical modeling of solid-state anaerobic digestion. Progress in Energy and Combustion Science, 51: 49-66

3. Zhang, D., Strawn, M., Broderick, T., Novak, J., and Wang, Z.D., 2020. Effects of anaerobic digester solids retention time on odor emission and dewaterability of biosolids subjected to various shear intensity, polymer doses, and storage duration. Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology:

4. Zhang, D., Strawn, M., Novak, J.T., and Wang, Z.W., 2018. Kinetic modeling of the effect of solids retention time on methanethiol dynamics in anaerobic digestion. Water Research, 138: 301-311

5. Zhang, D., Angelotti, B., Schlosser, E., Novak, J.T., and Wang, Z.W., 2019. Using cerium chloride to control soluble orthophosphate concentration and improve the dewaterability of sludge: Part II. A case study. Water Environment Research: 92 (3): 331-337

6. Zhang, D., Angelotti, B., Schlosser, E., Novak, J.T., and Wang, Z.W., 2019. Using cerium chloride to control soluble orthophosphate concentration and improve the dewaterability of sludge: Part I. Mechanistic understanding. water Environment Research: 92 (3): 320-330

7. Zhang D., Sun Y.W., Angelotti B., and Z.W., W., 2020. Understanding the dewaterability of aerobic granular sludge formed in continuous flow bioreactors treating real domestic wastewater: is it really better than that of the activated sludge? . Journal of Water Process Engineering (Accepted)

8. Zhang, D., Feng, Y., Huang, H., Khunjar, W., and Wang, Z.-W., 2020. Recalcitrant dissolved organic nitrogen formation in thermal hydrolysis pretreatment of municipal sludge. Environment International, 138: 105629

9. Sun, Y., Angelotti, B., Brooks, M., Dowbiggin, B., Evans, P.J., Devins, B., and Wang, Z.W., 2018. A pilot-scale investigation of disinfection by-product precursors and trace organic removal mechanisms in ozone-biologically activated carbon treatment for potable reuse. Chemosphere, 210: 539-549

10. Sun, Y., Angelotti, B., and Wang, Z., 2019. Continuous-flow aerobic granulation in plug-flow bioreactors fed with real domestic wastewater. The Science of the total environment, 688: 762-770

11. Sun, Y., Vaidya, R., Khunjar, W.O., Rosenfeldt, E.J., Selbes, M., Wilson, C., Bott, C.B., Titcomb, M., and Wang, Z.-W., 2019. Mathematical modeling of biologically active filtration (BAF) for potable water production applications. Water research, 167: 115128

12. Yu, D., Sun, Y., Wang, W., O’Keefe, S.F., Neilson, A.P., Feng, H., Wang, Z., and Huang, H., 2020. Recovery of protein hydrolysates from brewer’s spent grain using enzyme and ultrasonication. International Journal of Food Science & Technology:

13. Wang, Z.-W., Hamilton-Brehm, S.D., Lochner, A., Elkins, J.G., and Morrell-Falvey, J.L., 2011. Mathematical modeling of hydrolysate diffusion and utilization in cellulolytic biofilms of the extreme thermophile Caldicellulosiruptor obsidiansis. Bioresource technology, 102(3): 3155-3162


Spotlight August 2020 - Biosolids Agency Producers

This month’s SPOTLIGHT is on public agencies that have built and maintained their own biosolids utilization program, in which the lead public employee arranges biosolids deliveries directly with the users. The programs are imaginative, flexible, and responsive to the “customer,” providing a tangible connection between town and farm. While no cost comparisons have been made, a reasonable inference is that these programs are cost-effective. Here are the public employees who make this happen.

Dan Reed -

Dan Reed Biosolids ProducerDan Reed, Site Manager at Landis Sewerage Authority ([email protected]).  The Landis Sewerage Authority (LSA), a uniquely “zero-discharge” WRRF in Vineland, New Jersey, developed in 1987 its publicly owned, 387-acre Agricultural Facility for biosolids recycling, and Dan Reed has been for the entire time. Dan studied chemistry at Stockton University in the mid-’80s, and while working as a student under Mike Wardell (formerly a biosolids consultant to LSA and for a time MABA’s executive director) was present for the birth of the LSA farm.  Dan typically manages a single-year rotation each of corn and small grains, followed by a 3- to 5- year sequence of cool and warm-season grasses. Dan also operates an Agroforestry Facility, with 108 acres of pine trees interspersed with strips of sorghum-sudan and teff, and a 26-acre Atlantic City Electric easement planted to small grain and teff – all biosolids fertilized. Within the pine grove, a Bobwhite Quail Habitat has been installed in collaboration with public and private organizations, to which biosolids will be applied in the future.  Dan enjoys saltwater fishing and golfing, and he has two adult children: his son is an engineering student at Arizona State University and his daughter is a registered nurse coordinating services to the disabled. 


Jeff Heimbaugh -

Jeff Heimbaugh Biosolids ProducerJeff Heimbaugh, Biosolids / Pretreatment Program Supervisor at Carlisle Borough Sewer System Authority - [email protected]. Jeff Heimbaugh has been the Biosolids Supervisor at the Carlisle Region Water Pollution Control Facility for the Borough of Carlisle, PA since 1999.  He writes: “I started at the Borough as a laboratory technician in 1991 before moving to my current position.  Little did I know that my background as a dairy farmer’s son would be such a blessing in my municipal government's professional career.  Over the past 21 years, I’ve worked with many farmers to help supplement their fertilizer needs with our Class B lime-stabilized biosolids.  Working with a staff of three full-time biosolids operators, Carlisle Region WPCF produces and land applies approximately 7,000,000 gallons of liquid biosolids and 700 tons of dewatered biosolids a year.  Our staff is responsible for hauling and applying all biosolids produced at our plant.  It can be quite challenging to meet the requests for biosolids applications from ten farmers before the spring planting each year.  Our biosolids program has 28 farms, with 2,730 acres approved by PA DEP for biosolids applications.  It has been gratifying to see the benefits of increased crop production in fields receiving our biosolids and knowing we have helped many farmers reduce their fertilizer costs each year.” Jeff explains that he spends the little spare time he has coaching high school football, running, biking, assisting his elementary art-teaching wife, and supplying Penn State funds for his two sons’ continuing education.


Jay Snyder -

Jay Snyder Biosolids Producer

Jay Snyder, Environmental Resource Manager at Borough of Ephrata - [email protected]. Jay Snyder has a balance of commitments to environmental stewardship, community, and collaboration that make a biosolids program work. Jay studied in the late 1970s under esteemed Penn State professor Charles Cole, gaining skills in principles of stewardship with a Water Resources Engineering Technology bachelor’s degree which he applied to the new and upgraded WRRFs in Ephrata Borough. Farmers in the community surrounding the borough became familiar with biosolids through the local high school’s Young Farmers Program. As a stable of good customers was built, the Annual Thank You Dinner honored the collaboration of borough and farmers, which on occasion attracted news media. Farmers were a partner in the complete sense, participating in the application, proactively dealing with concerns such as wet soils, designing equipment improvements, spreading the good word to neighbors, spacing out applications to deal with phosphorus, and providing feedback on the benefits of organic matter and nutrients on crop yields. Ephrata is a forward-looking community and has its eyes on a thermal technology for one of its plants that will produce biochar. Jay is particularly proud of having passed on to the next generation his passion for clean water and productive soil: “As my son Justin, an organic farmer for 20 over years says ‘Dad, healthier soil means healthier plants producing healthier nutrient-dense foods.’” 

Philip Grayson -  

Philip Grayson Biosolids Producer

Philip Grayson, Chief Operator, Wastewater at Village of Endicott (NY)  -[email protected].  Philip Grayson writes: “Seldom mentioned in a classroom about environmental science is that almost every community has a facility that every day protects public health and the environment, and is recycling water and potentially biosolids. When I began working at the Village of Endicott’s Water Pollution Control Plant as a Sanitary Laboratory Technician in 2001, I quickly saw that our facility, and all the other facilities across the world, did just that.”  The Endicott facility, which serves 50,000 people, is designed for 10 MGD and has anaerobic digesters, producing 100 dry metric tons annually. It began operations in 1966, but it was not until 1985 that the Village began composting biosolids with a Taulman-Weiss in-vessel system.  For the next 20 years, the Village used that system to create a Class A Biosolids Compost, and, when operational challenges arose, the Village added on the windrow method to ensure complete stabilization. The Village is now looking to replace the windrow method with a Gryphon biosolids dryer designed to achieve a Class A Biosolid Product, which would reduce costs and continue to produce a recyclable biosolids. Grayson concludes: “The Village’s commitment to biosolids recycling and all of the employees who have worked to ensure that we produce a safe and beneficial material for reuse is something that I am proud to say I have been and will continue to be a part of.” 

Shawn O'Toole -

Shawn O'Toole Biosolids ProducerShawn O’Toole, Land Application Supervisor,  Kent County Regional Wastewater Facility - [email protected].  Shawn has been at it a long time. Thirty-seven years ago when Shawn joined the Kent County Department of Public Utilities, he took on the “land option,” and became the employee in charge of the spreading of biosolids. In a program with some 100 farmers, Shawn worked with the farmers throughout the year on corn, soybean, hay, pastures, and winter wheat, doing what he could to meter out the facilities 3,000 dry tons to satisfy his customers.  Back in the day, that was liquid biosolids dredged from sludge lagoons, which involved small loads and time-consuming liquid injection.  Today, the product is partially dried and lime-amended, creating a Class A EQ product of about 50 percent moisture content that can be moved in the agency’s truck and applied with its spreader.  Kent County has plans for upgrading solids handling to increase dryness to 90 percent, which will eliminate the lime, and Shawn expects it to be in a granular form. But he rather doubts he will be the one working out the issues with handling and dust control. “After 33 years of working two jobs, I am ready to retire,” he says. As one of the MABA region’s longest-standing land appliers, Kent County and all of the MABA region owe Shawn a hearty “Thank you.”


SPOTLIGHT October 2020 - Biosolids Innovators

This month’s SPOTLIGHT is on those individuals and, interestingly, families that emerged in our industry with ideas that have brought innovative technologies and programs to the biosolids industry globally. Importantly, they are continuing to do so, and we are all the better for it.

Chris Komline and Family -

Komline and Family picture

Chris Komline, a MABA Board member ([email protected](908) 234-1000, x321), explains, when asked how long he has been in the dewatering and drying industry, that he has been at work since 18 months old. This is confirmed by this photo of Chris in the arms of his father and company founder, Tom, who had the vision and talent to be a step ahead from the start.  “Komline-Sanderson was founded with a vision decades ahead of its time: Our first design was a resource recovery facility generating energy for the community. In 1946!”  The Komline-Sanderson Coilfilter was the patented dewatering device that led the industry for 30 years and which gave birth, too, to the K-S Plunger Pump, with a global deployment. In 1989, Komline-Sanderson installed its first dryer for biological sludges.  With continual improvements for automation and ease of operation, the company has installed over 65 systems around the globe. Komline-Sanderson is a privately owned business, and continues as a family affair, with brother Russell at the helm, and Brian, the next generation, directing sales.  

Ted Merrell and Family - 

Ted Merrell and Family

Ted Merrell, Vice President and Co-Owner ([email protected], 800-663-8830) writes that ”Biosolids for the Merrell Bros. company really is a family affair.  Our roots run deep in livestock production so dealing with nutrient-rich by-products has been, in a way, a necessary fact of life.”  Founded by brothers Ted and Terry Merrell, the company now employs over 130 people dedicated to the biosolids management business throughout the United States.  In addition to the two founding brothers, three sons, one daughter, and two sons-in-law are also on the company team.  The newest technology, the Solar Drying/Pasteurization system called FloridaGreen, was launched in 2018 in Pasco County, Florida, and is now producing a marketable Class A biosolids. The family sees the applicability of Ted’s design to many other parts of the country.   


Mike Nicholson and Family - 

Mike Nicholson and Family

Mike Nicholson, Senior Vice President of Technology for Denali Water Solutions. LLC, ([email protected], 419-636-6374) has been in the biosolids business since his teen years, when his father Pat carted him around the country, before the dawn of Part 503 standards, to introduce to the wastewater industry the possibility of advanced alkaline soil products made from biosolids. Pat had a huge influence on the course of national regulations and on the paths of his sons, Mike and Tim. Pat's idea was to deploy a variety of low or no-cost, high-pH dust residuals in place of conventional lime, mostly from the cement industry, to stabilize biosolids with heat of reaction, ammonia release, drying, and high pH. He was able to show that he could confer to soils a variety of benefits from the targeted use of ash, such attributes as potassium, sulfur, and magnesium, as well as soil-like consistency. In Pat's mission to shape a new industry, he touched many people, companies, scientists, and regulators. And today, his sons carry that legacy, with Tim working with service companies and residuals suppliers in the mid-West and Mike working with technology companies and utilities mostly, but not exclusively, in the East. 

The Bonkoskis - 

The BonkoskisNick Bonkoski, MABA Board Member ([email protected], 484-459-3762), is an Environmental Engineer from Penn State and lives in West Chester, PA.  Nick is a Domain Leader with SUEZ Water Technologies and Solutions, developing anaerobic solutions for municipal biosolids, food waste, and industrial projects across North and Latin America.  Nick had his start in the industry as a college intern with Zenon Environmental in 2002, when his dad Bill Bonkoski was managing Zenon’s Industrial Water Division, and 3 years later Nick went full time. During his 48-year career, Bill has worked for EPA, Dorr-Oliver, Paques, Zenon Environmental, GE Water, and others, always with an eye to innovative technologies. Bill is currently developing the anaerobic digestion market in the US for SUEZ, working side by side with Nick for the past 6 years. Bill is planning retirement after 48 years in the water industry, heading to the sandy beaches of Lewes, DE, and to nearby golf courses.  There he will enjoy visits with 9 grandkids, (3 supplied by Nick,) and will continue to prod Nick toward advancing new water technologies. 

Valentino Villa -  

Valentino Villa

Valentino Villa, Co-Founder and COO of Bioforcetech Corporation ([email protected], 650-906-0193), can be correctly labeled a "young professional," but that does not alter the big impact his dogged pursuit of his thermal technologies has had. He earned the status of “Perito Industriale Capotecnico per l’Elettronica e le Telecomunicazioni,” an Italian professional designation for an industry expert in the field of engineering that is recognized as an industrial engineer outside of Italy. Since co-founding Bioforcetech, he and his team have been rethinking every step of biosolids management to prepare for a carbon-free future. Bioforcetech's patented BioDryer leverages the microbial activity of biosolids to dry the material with little to no external energy sources. Once dried, the material is put through Bioforcetech's pyrolysis machine. There, the volume is reduced by 90% of the original wet volume, PFAS and PFOA are eliminated completely, and the carbon content is fixed as a biochar.  Valentino says “our biochar is a resource, which is why we are investing in research and development to expand the applications for biochar far beyond soil amendment.”  The result is a “deeply carbon negative” system. He is now living in California with his wife, Rebecca, and their three-year-old son, Leonardo. In his off time, you can find Valentino cooking, practicing martial arts, and adding new vintages to his wine collection. We are also expecting that Valentino will be showing his son, Leonardo, the ropes with pyrolysis, so that he will one day join his dad in the business. 

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