Dr. Fernando González Fermoso, head scientist of the Spanish Research Council in Spain, is spending nine months at Florida Polytechnic University collaborating on environmental engineering research at the campus.
“This is my first time really getting deep into American universities,” he said. “The relationship with industry is much stronger here. I know how the American university works and its connection with society and industry and how its research has been developed and opportunities at the state and national level. This experience is helping me learn how to work with them.”
Fermoso is working alongside Dr. Xiaofan “Caleb” Xu, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at Florida Poly, to launch a research project focused on phosphate recovery from the process water in phosphogypsum stacks.
“My work is to explore a new solution for the phosphogypsum leachate, and I suggested a biochar,” Xu said. “Biochar has very similar physical properties to activated carbon, but it is much cheaper and can be manufactured from agriculture waste. People started using it for domestic wastewater treatment, and I believe for the phosphogypsum process water, biochar can do the same thing.”
Xu and Fermoso are now working on demonstrating this and evaluating whether any limiting conditions exist for applying the biochar to the process water treatment.
The two researchers also are working to identify future research partnership opportunities. Among these is strawberry waste and resource recovery. Fermoso is working with other researchers internationally to find ways to recover and repurpose strawberry production waste.
“We are focusing on the actual strawberry. When people make a puree for something like jam or yogurt, they are producing a waste that is just the leftover from that pressing part,” he said. “You get all the juice and puree to go to the product and you get organics on top. We are recovering energy and organics from that.”
Xu’s experience and expertise in life cycle assessment (LCA) and geographic information systems (GIS), along with his location near a major part of Florida’s strawberry industry, will be a valuable contribution to the effort, Fermoso said.
“When we talk about environmental engineering, people think we like clean water and clean waste,” Fermoso said. “I want people to see that we recover. There is something really valuable that is not getting back to us, and we are developing technologies that in the future we hope will be used for this in industry.”
Fermoso will return to Spain at the end of the nine-month Fulbright experience.
“The value of this program is to provide more opportunities for the faculty here and for the international scholars,” he said. “We can collaborate and have more time to stick together, think together, and find more research topics.”
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