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

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. 


SPOTLIGHT November 2020 - Biosolids Scientists

This issue of MABA SPOTLIGHT features some of our region's scientists. Those of us who were at work at the birth of the nation's national regulatory system recall vividly the key role of the scientific community in shaping the Part 503 standards and parallel state regulations.  But many of these scientists are retired. We are welcoming a new generation of scientists on the scene, filling slots from our retiring science colleagues and addressing new categories of concern. This SPOTLIGHT includes the array of scientific disciplines and place on their career arc.

Elliott Portrait


Herschel (Chip) Elliott, Pennsylvania State University, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, 814-863-2062, [email protected]  For over 40 years, Chip has been involved in teaching, researching, and consulting in the areas of fate and transport of pollutants in aquatic and soil systems, and the evaluation and design of land-based waste disposal systems.  He has been actively engaged in the national debate on land-based recycling of biosolids and he assisted regulatory agencies nationally and internationally in developing regulatory policies for land application of biosolids and water treatment residuals.  Chip is a registered professional engineer in Pennsylvania and Delaware.  Although he is formally retiring after this academic year, he hopes to stay partially engaged as an emeritus faculty member. In retirement he plans to spend more time, along with his wife Marcia, focused on his family, sensing an urgency to be a countercultural influence in the lives of his 4 children, their spouses, and his 12 grandchildren. 

Matthew Higgins


Matthew (Matt) Higgins, Bucknell University, Department of Civil and Engineering, 570-577-1972, [email protected]  His university bio is here.   Matt Higgins is a Professor and Claire W. Carlson Chair in Environmental Engineering at Bucknell University.  Dr. Higgins’ work has focused on both water and wastewater treatment. His main research interests are in the area of solids management and he has focused on processes upstream and downstream of anaerobic digestion including solids pretreatment with Thermal Hydrolysis, anaerobic digestion optimization, co-digestion, and conditioning and dewatering.  He has worked in many of the challenge areas, such as rapid rise foaming in anaerobic digesters, dewaterability of BioP sludges, pathogen reactivation and regrowth in dewatered cake, odorant production, and optimization of thermal hydrolysis. Matt also works on stream restoration and water quality issues with a focus on using wetlands to mitigate agricultural runoff to improve stream water quality.  He's addicted to fly fishing and has recently started a new course at Bucknell entitled "Stream Ecology and Restoration and the Science of Fly Fishing" as a way to further integrate his teaching, research, and personal interests.  When not working or out on the stream doing 'class preparation and research', you can often find him puttering around his homestead, splitting firewood, tending his fruit trees, making maple syrup, and hanging out with his wife and his younger son who is a senior in high school.  Their older son graduated from college last spring with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and is working for GM doing research and development for their EV program just outside of Detroit.

Joshua Cheng


Zhongqi (Joshua) Cheng, Brooklyn College of CUNY, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, (718)951-5416, [email protected]. His bio is here.   Dr. Cheng is a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Director of Environmental Sciences Analytical Center (including the Urban Soils Lab) at Brooklyn College. He is an associate editor for the Journal of Environmental Quality. Dr. Cheng is co-founder of the NYC Urban Soils Institute, a member of the W4170 group, Research Advisory Committee for WRF, Healthy Soils Healthy Communities Project, and the Legacy Lead Coalition. His research uses ecological and sustainable approaches to solve environmental problems. He is a fan of both biosolids and The Ohio State Buckeyes football.  At the MABA Annual Meeting, Dr. Cheng was elected to serve on the Board of Trustees.



Alba Torrents, University of Maryland, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, (301) 405-1979,  [email protected].  Dr.Torrents is a professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, at the University of Maryland, with an expertise in Applied Environmental Organic Chemistry.  She has more than 30 years of research assessing the fate and transport of pollutants in the environment and the use of soil amendments to mitigate risks.  For the past ten years, Professor Torrents's group has focused their research on assessing the fate of endocrine disruptor chemicals and looking at wastewater effluents as nutrient, water, and energy resources.   On biosolids, she has assessed the long-term fate of different organic pollutants upon the land application of biosolids at commercial farms and has evaluated the use of biosolids and compost for in-situ remediation at two Superfund sites.  In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, hiking, gardening, and cooking, and can occasionally combine her interests, as when she explored sustainable agricultural and water management practices by the Incan civilization of Peru.

 Pruden PhotoAmy Pruden, Virginia Tech, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, (540) 231-6635, [email protected].  Dr Pruden established the Pruden Laboratory.  This is Dr. Pruden’s bio. She says of her research on wastewater: “my lab’s work has focused on better understanding the effects of conventional wastewater treatment on the dissemination and mitigation of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs), microbial contaminants, and other contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) on a local, national, and international scale.” When there is not a pandemic in effect, Dr. Pruden enjoys having her husband, 13-year old son, and 11-year old daughter tag along with her for scientific conferences.  Instead of a family vacation in South Africa, where she would have been attending the International Society for Microbial Ecology conference in August 2020, she and her children stayed at home devoting attention to their vegetable garden and to their cats.  Unfortunately, cats apparently don't like vegetables much, so they ventured out to the grocery store occasionally as well to make sure that everyone was taken care of.  If all goes well, they'll have another shot at South Africa in 2022.  Dr. Pruden's uncle served for decades in the Monroe County drain commissioner's office in Michigan, and she credits her interest in environmental engineering to him. 

Sharp Photo


Robert Sharp, Manhattan College, School of Engineering, (718) 862-7169, [email protected].  Robert Sharp is the Donald J. O'Connor Chair of Environmental Engineering at Manhattan College and a process consultant for Hazen & Sawyer Engineers.   Robert has over 25 years of experience teaching and running an active environmental engineering research lab.   In Dr. Sharp’s laboratory, both graduate and undergraduate research assistants carry out fundamental and applied research in the areas of biological nutrient removal and recovery, anaerobic digestion, bioenergy production, resource recovery, and pathogen disinfection and regrowth in water systems. His research results are detailed in more than 40 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, and he has presented over 75 papers at national and international environmental engineering conferences. He is a Licensed Professional Engineer in New York State and is an active member of the Water Research Foundation, the Water Environment Federation, and the Met Chapter of the New York Water Environment Association. In 2019, Robert was named a Fellow of the Water Environment Federation. Weekends invariably find Robert in a pack of cyclists exploring long-distance routes in northern New Jersey, cycling has become his “go-to” sport after decades of knee-banging basketball. With COVID-19 interrupting his normal diet of live music attendance, Robert spends his evenings reading, or better yet with his two night-owl, college-aged children watching the best of online streaming.

<< first < Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Next > last >>

Page 8 of 8