Carnegie Mellon University
May 06, 2013

CMU and Pitt Professors Share Prestigious Environmental Engineering Award

CMU and Pitt Professors Share Prestigious Environmental Engineering Award

CEE Professor David A. Dzombak and PITT Professor Radisav D. Vidic were recently recognized by the American Academy of Environmental Scientists and Engineers (AAEES) at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., for helping to address the global water shortage for use in power plant cooling systems.

Dzombak and Vidic received the 2013 Grand Prize in the University Research category of the AAEES Excellence in Environmental Engineering and Science competition for a project titled "Use of Treated Municipal Wastewater as Power Plant Cooling System Makeup Water."

"This is a wonderful honor for seven years of work, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, to develop an integrated approach for use of municipal wastewater for cooling systems in electric power plants," said Dzombak, the Walter J. Blenko, Sr. University Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and director of the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research at CMU.

"We need a great deal of water for electric power production to condense steam in the power plant steam cycle. Air cooling is possible but is more costly and less efficient. Water will continue to be the preferred coolant for new thermoelectric power plants," said Vidic, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor and chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering at Pitt.

The CMU-Pitt research shows that treated municipal wastewater is a common and widely available alternative source of cooling water for thermoelectric power plants across the U.S. However, the biodegradable organic matter, ammonia, carbonate and phosphates in the treated wastewater pose challenges, including fouling and corrosion issues. The researchers along with their graduate students from both CMU and Pitt investigated how to address these challenges.

Dzombak and Vidic noted that the results of their work show the need to evaluate the growing competition among the energy industry, farmers and residents for scarce water supplies. Every day, water-cooled thermoelectric power plants in the U.S. withdraw more than 200 billion gallons of fresh water from rivers, lakes, streams and aquifers. Freshwater withdrawals for cooling thermoelectric power production alone account for about 40 percent of all withdrawals, essentially the same amount taken for agricultural irrigation, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

"Our research shows that alternative sources of water are needed for new power production in regions without new sources of available freshwater," Dzombak said. "Our research will not only help promote the use of properly treated municipal wastewater at cooling plants, but help contribute to economic development."

For more information about the research project and topic investigated, see or


CIT Press Release