Directory & Faculty Profiles

Steven Van Ginkel

Hi, my name is Steven Wenetta Van Ginkel. I received degrees in environmental engineering while studying at Iowa State University (B.S. 1998, M.S. 2000) and Pennsylvania State University (Ph.D 2005). I also received a B.S. in Wildlife Biology (1994), a graduate minor in Environmental Studies (1998) at Iowa State. Abroad, I studied environmental engineering at the University of Newcastle, Australia (1996) and at Wageningen University. In between my undergraduate and graduate work, I worked at Yellowstone National Park as a waiter hoping to be part of the wolf reintroduction project. However, reintroduction did not occur until the following year. After working at the park and during my graduate studies at Iowa State, I roofed a lot of houses and poured a lot of concrete walls, sidewalks, and driveways to help pay my way through school. My graduate research studies entailed optimizing biohydrogen production from wastewater and high carbohydrate substrates as part of a new renewable energy economy. I wrote a book on the subject – While at Penn State, I served as president of Engineers for a Sustainable World. We worked on renewable energy and water treatment technologies in Jamaica and El Salvador. During the last year of my Ph.D, I built a passively heated solar home for my father in Mitchellville, IA with ~35 friends and coworkers. After building the shell of the home in the Fall of 2005, I studied at Wageningen University. After returning from the Netherlands, I defended my Ph.D thesis and finished the inside of the house while working as a project engineer at Montgomery Watson Harza, an environmental engineering firm in Des Moines, IA. I worked on several projects related to contamination cleanup work for the petroleum and coal industries. I traveled a lot from Texas to Minnesota, but mostly worked at sites around Iowa. It was tough finishing the home traveling so much, but we managed to do it in about nine months. The shell took about three months. During this time, I also wrote a book chapter entitled “Nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from wastewater treatment plants” for the Netherlands government on behalf of the Lettinga Associates Foundation. N2O is a very potent greenhouse gas. I then got an offer to evaluate the H2-based membrane biofilm reactor (MBfR) for the treatment of nitrate and perchlorate in ion-exchange brine at the U.S. National Research Council. The MBfR was developed by Dr. Bruce E. Rittmann at the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, the Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University. In brief, we fed microbial biofilms hydrogen (H2) which they eat like we eat our food and they breathe nitrate and perchlorate like we breathe oxygen. From there, I continued the project as a postdoctoral researcher at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Risk Management Laboratory, Treatment Technology Evaluation Branch. Based on this work, I wrote a chapter on the advances in perchlorate remediation and 10 publications in peer-reviewed journals. I then became an assistant research scientist at Swette where we continued to study the MBfR for the treatment of selenate, chromate, trichloroethylene, freons, and nitrosamines in water. I also performed fundamental studies on biofilms, the degradation of activated sludge, extracellular polymeric substance accumulation in activated sludge, biosensing using sulfur-oxidizing bacterial and wrote a book chapter on phosphorus recovery from wastewater. Altogether, I have 32 peer-reviewed publications in these areas. In August 2011, I am continuing my environmental engineering research work as a Research Associate II in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering the Georgia Institute of Technology (GT). My first project entailed the remediation of trinitrotoluene (TNT) for the Dupont Corporation. I then focused on netzero aquaponics (simultaneous fish and produce production in closed-loop systems) to cure ‘food deserts’ in the inner cities of America for the Ford Foundation. I am currently working with Dr. Yongsheng Chen in the Algae Testbed Public Private Partnership (( where along with four other testbeds around the country (Florida, Hawaii, Arizona, California) we are harmonizing how algae biodiesel is produced in the United States. This project is sponsored by the Bioenergy Technologies Office of the U.S. Department of Energy. The algae biodiesel project is a perfect dovetail for the aquaponics project because any algae not going to biodiesel can be used as fish feed! I also teach two undergraduate courses in environmental engineering. We are currently focusing on algae high in omega-3 fatty acids, algal photobioreactors that have high areal productivity, and working towards a commercial scale aquaponics system at Grove Park Intermediate School in Atlanta, GA i.e. teaching K-12-Ph.D students sustainable urban farming practices as part of the food, energy, water, nexus; all of which will be part of a class in Fall 2016. Recently, we digested GT food waste and used thie nutrients to grow heart healthy algae to 'fuel' aquaponic systems. I partnered with a veteran organization 'Veterans Rising Above Poverty Farms' to help reintegrate veterans into civilian live through urban agriculture.

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Primary College or School: 
School of Advanced Studies