Cocopeat for wastewater treatment in the developing world. I: Comparison to traditional packing media in lab scale biofiltration columns



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© 2015 American Society of Civil Engineers.Cocopeat, a by-product of coconut processing plants widely available in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, was studied for its ability to support biological nutrient removal in lab-scale vertical flow columns treating simulated wastewater. Treatment performance for cocopeat was compared to sphagnum peat, a traditional packing medium, and Celite, an inert clay pellet. Removal efficiencies of nitrogen, phosphorus, and biological oxygen demand (BOD) were measured over a period of 325 days. During the treatment period, varying configurations were tested to determine the effect of varying aerobic, anoxic, and anaerobic zones on nutrient removal. Overall, similar BOD removal profiles were obtained for cocopeat and sphagnum peat. Slightly more efficient anoxic conditions and a less acidic environment developed with the cocopeat. Up to 75% nitrogen removal was obtained; however, phosphorus removal was not accomplished using the experimental setup, likely due to the absence of a completely anaerobic treatment zone. Overall, cocopeat appears to be a promising alternative packing material for on-site wastewater treatment in Southeast Asia in terms of nitrogen removal.






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Danley-Thomson, AA, CM Gardner, CA Gwin and CK Gunsch (2016). Cocopeat for wastewater treatment in the developing world. I: Comparison to traditional packing media in lab scale biofiltration columns. Journal of Environmental Engineering (United States), 142(2). 10.1061/(ASCE)EE.1943-7870.0000995 Retrieved from

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Claudia K. Gunsch

Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Claudia Gunsch is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and holds secondary appointments in the Nicholas School of the Environment and the Department of Biomedical Engineering. She joined the Duke Faculty in 2004 after obtaining her PhD from the University of Texas at Austin, her MS from Clemson University and her BS from Purdue University. Currently, she serves as the Director for PreMiEr, the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Precision Microbiome Engineering which is a joint venture between Duke University, North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina – Charlotte. She also serves as an Associate Director for the Duke Microbiome Center. Previous leadership roles include serving as Associate Dean for Research and Infrastructure for the Pratt School of Engineering (2021-2022), Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement (2019-2021) and as the Director of IBIEM (Integrative Bioinformatics for Investigating and Engineering Microbiomes), a joint graduate training program between Duke and North Carolina A&T State University (2015-2021).

Dr. Gunsch’s research bridges environmental engineering and molecular biotechnology. Current research foci include investigating the ecological impacts of emerging contaminants on environmental microbiomes, developing microbiome engineering approaches for bioremediation, studying microbial evolution following exposure to anthropogenic contaminants and developing innovative water treatment technologies. Her work has been funded in excess of $36 million by the National Science Foundation, US Environmental Protection Agency, National Institute for Environmental Health and Safety as well as state funding agencies and private industry.  Since becoming a faculty member, she has served as the primary mentor for 28 graduate students (8 MS and 20 PhD), 34 undergraduate students and 8 postdoctoral associates. She has been recognized for her research, teaching and service activities with several awards including the 2009 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award, 2013 Langford Lectureship Award, 2016 Capers and Marion McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising and the 2016 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Walter L. Huber Civil Engineering Research Prize. Dr. Gunsch was also named ASCE Environmental & Water Resources Institute Fellow in 2022, Bass Fellow in 2016 and Fellow of the National Academy of Engineering for the United States Frontiers of Engineering in 2011 as well as the Indo-American Frontiers of Engineering in 2014.

She currently serves as Editor in Chief for Biodegradation. She is also a member of the Editorial Board for npj Clean Water and Industrial Biotechnology.  She serves on the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) Board of Directors and has previously held several leadership roles within the Environmental & Water Resources Institute (EWRI).  Most recently, she served as the Environmental Council representative to the Technical Executive Committee to EWRI. 

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