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    What a Villanova Professor Can Teach You About Sustainability

    Professor Interview Series: Dr. Metin Duran, Environmental Engineering

    Driving home from Phillies games, I would watch the lights of the city race by in the backseat of my dad’s car. Along what seemed like an endless stretch of highway, I always knew we were close to home when I spotted the ever burning flame. About 10 years and half a civil engineering education later, I finally learned why there was a constant flame burning in an industrial park next to I-95. This is how the Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant (NEWPCP) used to handle the majority of methane generated from its wastewater treatment operations, a process called flaring.

    Thanks partly to a number of studies performed by Villanova University’s Environmental Microbiology and Biotechnology Laboratory (a group within the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department), the Philadelphia Water Department can now generate 5.6 MW at the methane co-generation plant constructed at the NEWPCP. This is equivalent to powering 85% of the electrical requirements for plant operations.

    I sat down with one of the professors from Villanova, Dr. Metin Duran, who has worked with Philadelphia Water on a number of project that collectively played a key role in moving to generate electricity from wastewater biosolids. We discussed his path through academia that eventually led him to Villanova and how his field of study inherently incorporates sustainable practice. Dr. Duran has had a very interesting career and offered a unique outlook on sustainability from the academic world of environmental engineering.

    The below conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

    Where did you begin your academic career?

    Dr. Metin Duran: I studied Civil and Environmental Engineering at Istanbul Technical University in Turkey (ITU). ITU is the university in the world, and at the time, was one of seventeen universities in Turkey. The University was considered a working class school, with a hands on learning focus. Given the school’s competitive nature, there was definitely a survival of the fittest mentality.

    Why did you come to the United States of America?

    Dr. Metin Duran: I came to America in the early 90s to obtain my PhD in environmental engineering from Vanderbilt University. My thesis focused on process maximization aspects of anaerobic digestion within the wastewater treatment field. It was a new technology being developed in response to the Clean Water Act.

    There were, however, some limitations to my research. No one considered the possibility of cogeneration because energy was so cheap.

    Where did life take you after Vanderbilt?

    Dr. Metin Duran: I returned to Turkey and taught Environmental Engineering for a few years, but I decided to come back to America to further my career and build a family. After returning to America, I worked as a post doc for Bucknell doing a feasibility study on a nearby landfill.

    We were trying to determine whether or not the landfill owners could economically extract biogas, but the project never ended up getting funding. After finishing my post doc, I came to work at Villanova University.

    How long have you been teaching at Villanova?

    Dr. Metin Duran: 14 years. I really enjoy the interface between teaching and research Villanova encourages. Villanova has strong infrastructure for environmental engineering research, which makes the school attractive to sponsoring agencies.

    In your own words, how would you define sustainability?

    Dr. Metin Duran: This is not ours, resource is limited.

    Shale gas is not ours, so we have to be careful about how we use our resources so future generations are not disadvantaged. We can achieve the necessary savings for future generations by making simple choices.

    Why is sustainability important to you, both professionally and personally?

    Dr. Metin Duran: Professionally, it’s what I do. Environmental Engineering deals with maintaining the well-being of society.

    Personally, I am a big sucker for kids. The next generation deserves a chance. I don’t like to think of sustainability as saving the Earth, the Earth has been around for billions of years and it’s not going anywhere.

    Instead, sustainability is about saving the future of the human race.

    What is your current research focused on?

    Dr. Metin Duran: I am still working on anaerobic digestion, but I have some new ideas that focus on water and energy.

    Dr. Wenqing Xu, my fellow Environmental Engineering professor, and I are currently working on biochar filters that would be used to clean biogas. Biogas is very expensive to clean with present technology and these filters would make the process more affordable. I am also investigating biological processes that would reduce the energy required to remove nitrogen from wastewater.

    Do you ever collaborate with other academic departments for your research?

    Dr. Metin Duran: If you’re going to change anything, it must come from fundamental science. Thus, I often work with both the Chemistry and Biology departments. I have also recently been in touch with a professor at the Law School, Joseph Dellapenna, with regard to water laws.

    Do you incorporate sustainability in the courses you teach?

    Dr. Metin Duran: Calling any of the topics I teach “sustainable” wouldn’t change much about the material itself. Instead, I like to emphasize the big picture of why water treatment is important and how wastewater is a resource in of itself. This goes hand in hand with the concepts behind sustainability.

    If you could create any course, what would it be?

    Dr. Metin Duran: I would like to turn my water-wastewater treatment topic into a project course. Students would each be given a town and be tasked with designing water treatment infrastructure within the population constraints.

    Instead of having lectures, there would be one-on-one meetings to guide the students through the design process. I believe that learning by doing works very well for engineering.




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    Thomas Saldutti

    About Thomas Saldutti

    Thomas Saldutti is a student at Villanova University studying Civil and Environmental Engineering. His passion for the environment started with bugging friends about recycling and weekend camping trips and evolved in college on Villanova's Presidents Environmental Sustainability Committee. The group works with faculty, staff, and fellow students to help make our campus more sustainable. After college, Thomas hopes to contribute to sustainable development throughout the city.

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