Research Projects

Learn more about ACWA's ongoing projects

ACWA provides access for researchers from around the world to an exceptional, globally unique facility. The experimental streams, tertiary treatment modules, on-site analytical chemistry lab, plus associated on-campus labs, provides researchers with the opportunity to conduct research in ways that would be difficult or impossible anywhere else.

How can I do research at ACWA?

Contact the ACWA team to discuss your research needs. We will work with you to develop a plan for how the ACWA facility can best support your research.

Once the research scope is understood, we will provide an estimate of costs, schedule and start date. A project intake form will be reviewed by ACWA’s Research Approval Committee, and once approval has been granted, your team can access ACWA’s facilities.

Research overview

Review our research program and learn what our facilities have to offer.

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Access ACWA

ACWA offers facility access and services for researchers and industry. Contact us to learn how ACWA can support your projects. 

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ACWA researchers have published over 150 papers in scientific journals based on work conducted at our facilities. 

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ACWA researchers have conducted over 130 projects at our facilities since we opened in 2015.

Download our complete project list

Select ACWA projects

Public Health

UCalgary researchers from the Cumming School of Medicine, Faculty of Science, and Schulich School of Engineering; Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets (ACWA), The City of Calgary, and Alberta Health Services (AHS) have teamed up to test Calgary wastewater for early signs of COVID-19 cases. 

The group will be analyzing wastewater from The City of Calgary’s wastewater treatment plants as well as samples collected from various locations in the wastewater collection system to find areas where active cases of COVID-19 are beginning to appear.

Project lead: Tao Dong

The goal of this project is to characterize the antibiotic resistance profiles of Escherichia coli isolates obtained from wastewater treatment plants in Calgary, Alberta. A large number of E. coli are released into the Bow River everyday after the final stages of wastewater treatment by Calgary's three wastewater treatment facilities. We have found that a high percentage of these are resistant to one or more commonly used antibiotics. This study will determine the mechanism of antibiotic resistance in these bacteria and whether antibiotic resistance can be readily transferred to other bacteria in the environment.

As the increase and spread of antibiotic resistance in bacteria poses an important risk to public health it is important to understand the potential contribution of antibiotic resistant E. coli in wastewater towards the emergence of bacterial antibiotic resistance in other environments outside of wastewater treatment facilities.

This project is funded by NSERC and AIEES.

Project lead: City of Calgary (Water Services)

Partner(s): Lee Jackson

This project is a method development collaboration with the goal of producing a sensitive method for the analysis of endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs), including natural and synthetic estrogens and androgens, as well as industrial chemicals, in water and wastewater. Use of the LC-MS/MS system in the ACWA Laboratory will allow for simultaneous analysis of a broad range of compounds due to the polarity switching functionality of the instrument. It will also allow for ultra-sensitive detection of 17α-ethynylestradiol, which is needed to achieve a reporting level lower than the Alberta Environment and Parks Surface Water Quality Guideline for the Protection of Aquatic Life of 0.5 ng/L.

Tied to this work is the development of a multi-residue extraction method for emerging substances of concern, including the EDCs discussed above, as well as a number of pharmaceuticals and personal care products, in water and wastewater. By developing a common extraction procedure for both classes of compounds, efficiencies will be realized in terms of materials and supplies, as well as technician time and sampling demands.

This project is complete.

Wastewater Technology Research and Demonstration

Project lead: Gopal Achari

Partner(s): Joo-Hwa (Andrew) Tay [deceased]

HQP: Jordan Hollman (PhD), John Dominic (PDF)

The main intent of the proposed project is to advance the understanding on degradation of wide range of emerging contaminants including pharmaceuticals, personal care products and endocrine disruptors in wastewater at their levels of occurrence under various advanced oxidative processes (AOPs). The proposed parametric evaluation of various treatment parameters at ACWA will give insight into process kinetics, which will lead to the refinement of design parameters that are required to design a full-scale process to adequately remove pharmaceuticals from municipal wastewater. Target contaminants to be tracked during experiments includes 21 compounds in total aligning with the interest of the City of Calgary. Some of the main target compounds include metformin, carbamazepine, acetaminophen, erythromycin and venlafaxine.

This project is funded as part of the NSERC/City of Calgary Industrial Research Chair.

Project lead: Lee Jackson

HQP: Atakan Erdem

Partners: IBM Alberta

Intelligent Operations for Water (IOW) is a water collaboration and analytics framework development project. In collaboration with IBM Alberta based on MITACS agreement rules, IBM WOW (Water Operations for Waternamics) platform is customized and extended to acquire, analyze and visualize watershed, waste-water treatment, water level and stream data of Bow River.  Two essential targets of the platform are to serve advanced decision making capabilities and improve public awareness of water events. As the research goals, efficiencies that can be gained through use of a common collaboration platform, which we term Intelligent Operations for Water (IOW), and benefits and adoption of developed applications to allow use and engagement by the public are aimed to be determined.

Our partner, IBM, is co-developing  the water analytics framework and working with U of C to research platform performance and assess new business markets, which could include water-related activities such as connecting existing measurement locations in natural or urban watersheds, installing future water quality sensor networks, or industries like agriculture or oil and gas that are large water consumers and where groups of collaborators, including lay people, seek to acquire, visualize, analyze and share multiple sources of data to make smart decisions. 

This project is funded by Mitacs. 

Project lead: Gopal Achari

Partners: Joo-Hwa (Andrew) Tay [deceased]

HQP: Muhammad Faizan Khan (PhD), John Dominic (PDF)

An objective of this research project will focus on the removal of metformin from biologically treated (activated sludge) municipal wastewater at Pine Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant (PCWWTP) by implementing pilot scale Advanced Oxidation Processes (AOP) at ACWA facility. The initial tasks will include compilation of data from activated sludge treatment at PCWWTP to determine the performance of the system on metformin removal efficiency and metformin concentration level in effluents. The second task will include conducting pilot scale AOP treatments at ACWA to biologically treated wastewater spiked with metformin based on secondary effluent. Degradation kinetics, metformin percentage removal and mineralization will be determined and compared with lab scale data. The third task will focus on determining optimum AOP operational parameters at pilot scale such as retention time, oxidant dosage and wastewater flow rate. The fourth task will include evaluation of pilot scale and lab scale data on AOP as a post-biological treatment on metformin removal to provide useful information and recommendations for potential full-scale application.

This project is part of the NSERC/City of Calgary Industrial Research Chair.

Project lead: Susana Kimura-Hara

HQP: Alejandro Ortega (PhD)

This project compromises the development of analytical methods for the detection and quantification of water contaminants and disinfection by-products on various instrument platforms including liquid chromatography (LC) mass spectrometry (MS), inductively coupled plasma (ICP) mass spectrometry, and gas chromatography (GC) mass spectrometry. A MSc/PhD student, Alejandro Ortega, will become familiarize with the use of various analytical instruments and then develop analytical methods for unregulated and emerging contaminants and disinfection by-products. Additionally, wastewater effluents will also be sampled to validate the developed analytical methods at ACWA and determine the formation potential for emerging DBPs from disinfected wastewater effluents. Also, we would like to familiarize with the MPP software program available at ACWA, that will enable to design appropriate experiments and aid mass spectrometry data analysis.

Project lead: Joo-Hwa (Andrew) Tay [deceased]

HQP: Rania Hamaza (PhD)

This research combines innovative technologies with naturally occurring microorganisms to develop a new wastewater treatment system that provides a cost-effective and eco-friendly solution for the Canadian industry. Industrial wastewater, typically referred to as high-strength wastewater, is a major concern due to its elevated organic content and toxic nature when compared to municipal wastewater. Industrial wastewater contributes more than 80% of the total wastewater. Conventional biological treatment systems such as activated sludge is not suitable for the treatment of high-strength wastewater. In addition, anaerobic processes suffer from low growth rate of the microorganisms, high sensitivity to toxins loadings and fluctuations in environmental conditions, and require post treatment to bring the water quality within regulations.

This project aims at developing an integrated anaerobic-aerobic granular bioreactor (IA2GBR) combining the benefit of anaerobic digestion (i.e., biogas production) with the benefit of aerobic treatment (i.e., better removal of organics). A novel technology of biogranulation is employed in an up-flow bioreactor, where granules are formed by the self-immobilization of microorganisms. These granules are dense microbial communities packed with different bacterial species, and typically contain millions of organisms per gram biomass. Interactions within the resident species can achieve high tolerance to toxicity and rapid treatment for high volumes of wastewater in a smaller footprint when compared to conventional biomass.

The combined system will overcome the limitations of both anaerobic and aerobic systems, such as long treatment duration and low stability due to rapid bacterial growth, respectively. This system reduces costs by a factor of eight when compared with aerobic treatment alone, removes nitrogen compounds, and biodegrades recalcitrant organics. The effect of sequential anaerobic-aerobic mode will be investigated. Afterwards, an integrated anaerobic-aerobic reactor will be used. The developed system will be further tested using real wastewater at ACWA (Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets) facility.

This project is funded by NSERC. 

Receiving Environment and Watershed Health

Project lead: Bernhard Mayer

HQP: Véronique Fau

Stable isotope techniques are an excellent tool to identify the sources and the fate of nutrients in watershed, provided that the isotopic composition of nutrient end-members are well characterized and isotopically distinct. The ACWA facility provides and excellent opportunity to characterize the temporal variability of the isotopic composition of nitrate and phosphate in waste water effluents and to assess how this isotopic composition changes along the experimental streams under baseline conditions (no experimental manipulation). 

This project is funded by NSERC. 

Project lead: Hamid Habibi

HQP: Ava Zare (PhD), Cassandra Kinch (PhD), Muthu Lakshmi (PhD)

Contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) enter our environment mainly due to failure of municipal wastewater treatment plants as well as agricultural runoffs, industrial operation and mining activity in most parts of the world.  CECs are known to pose health risk to animals and humans. However, insufficient information is available about the mechanisms by which these compounds cause adverse physiological and pathological effects.  A number of CECs are known to exert adverse health effects in humans and animals by disrupting endocrine system and affecting components of brain-pituitary and gonadal axis in adults and developing species. Our previous field studies provided evidence for the presence of a number of contaminants in the Oldman River, Canada. These contaminants were linked to significant female bias (approximately 90%) in wild fish population downstream of municipal wastewater treatment plants. Our findings suggested severe endocrine disruption of gonadal development likely due to presence of compounds with estrogen-like activity.

To investigate the adverse effects of contaminants, we performed controlled laboratory experiments in which adult and embryonic fish were exposed to low environmentally relevant concentrations of a selected number of chemicals detected in the river system, individually and as mixtures. We used physiological, morphometric, transcriptomics and metabolomics approach to investigate the mechanisms by which these compounds disrupt reproduction and development in fish. The experiments were designed to provide information on the effect of chemicals individually and in complex mixture which is important for more accurate risk characterization.

This project is funded by NSERC. 

Project lead: Matt Vijayan

The overarching goal is to link changes in embryo and larval behaviour as an early warning tool for potential long-term effects associated with emerging contaminants on fish growth, stress and reproductive performances. Our hypothesis is that altered behaviour is a powerful indicator of neurotoxicity and will reflect changes to brain function critical for ecologically relevant markers of fitness, including growth, reproduction and survival. Zebrafish (Danio rerio) and fathead minnow (FHM; Pimphales promelas) will be used for developing the behavioural assays.

Project lead: Matt Vijayan

Partners: Lee Jackson, Hamid Habibi, JJ Harrison, Brendan McConkey (UofWaterloo), City of Calgary (Water Services)

HQP: Bastien Sadoul (PhD), Francisco Mora (PhD), Analisa Lazaro-Cote (PhD), Vaidehi Patel (MSc), Chris Hooey (MSc)

The study uses quantitative techniques to measure global gene, protein, metabolite and epigenetic changes to construct biological networks in fathead minnow liver as a model for long-term and generational impacts due to MWWE exposure in the Bow River. Our exposure effects-based model will be further complemented by measurement of phenotypic changes, including stress and reproductive performances of native fish across multiple generations.

This detailed appraisal of pharmaceutical footprints, performance-based phenotypes and construction of biological network models in native fish will provide critical baseline information on MWWE impact and the mode of action of emerging contaminants. This mechanism-based approach will assist industries and governmental agencies to make informed decisions about the impact and develop solutions to protect and preserve the water resources and aquatic ecosystem health, especially given that very little is known regarding the effect of emerging contaminants on non-target organisms.

This project is funded by NSERC. 

Project title: Development of an Adaptive Monitoring and Management Framework for Environmental Substances of Concern (ESOCs) in Wastewater

Project Lead: Dr. Kelly Munkittrick