Renewable Energy Center

Solar Energy

Eric Marchand

Eric Marchand

Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director of civil and environmental engineering Eric Marchand works mainly in optimizing water quality and water treatment processes. But recently, Marchand jumped at the opportunity to conduct research and collaborate with Biomass and Biofuels group lead John Cushman. He hopes to contribute his knowledge of nutrient dynamics in water and wastewater treatment processes to Cushman’s project on extracting biofuel from algae.

Having obtained his undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Nevada, Reno, Marchand returned to the University after completing his doctorate at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Apart from being close to family, the interaction Marchand experienced with his professors as a student at Reno proved an appealing advantage.

“I was familiar with the college faculty and the overall environment of the school,” Marchand said. “I liked the personal touch that you could have with students. With a lot of the larger institutions there’s kind of a built in buffer between students and the faculty. I liked that idea that as a student here, you could interact with the faculty.”

This interest in working with students remains an important facet in Marchand’s work. His collaborative research project with John Cushman, Biofuels and Biomass Group coordinator and professor in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, started earlier this year with civil engineering undergraduate student Kimberly Rafter. This summer, Rafter began her undergraduate research project on the “evaluation of wastewater as a nutrient source for culturing algae for biofuel production,” Marchand said.

“It didn’t seem to make sense to develop two separate tracks when both had with the same goal,” Marchand said. “We discussed the opportunity of using some of the algae strains that they’ve worked with and then bringing in the water quality and treatment aspect to it.”

While Cushman’s research requires certain nutrients to grow the algae, Marchand works in optimizing the processes of removing these very same nutrients from wastewater.

“The algae he works with essentially need nutrients commonly found in fertilizer, nitrogen and phosphorus,” Marchand said. “Domestic wastewater has an abundance of those nutrients. The municipalities spend a lot of money in the Truckee Meadows to remove these constituents from the water. It seemed like a natural fit to be able to see if there was some synergy that we could obtain by coupling wastewater treatment with algae production and subsequent biofuel production.”

Though the project has just started, Marchand said the City of Reno has expressed interest in seeing if a waste stream called centrate, which is a nutrient-rich water source within the treatment plant, would be suitable to grow algae. Marchand said this cooperation between the University and the water treatment plants in the area would inevitably benefit both parties.

“What I would like to be able to see is first off, to make things easier for the municipalities,” he said. “They need to remove a huge amount of nitrogen and phosphorus to protect water quality in the Truckee Meadows. Just the opportunity to be able to take some of that off their hands and be able to use it in a good way, that’s very attractive.”

Marchand hopes to someday work more closely in renewable energy, if his expertise in water quality and water treatment processes can be a contribution.

“I don’t want to stray too far away from what I consider is my expertise, which is mostly in water quality, water treatment processes,” Marchand said. “But if there is some project that comes that comes up which has to do with water or nutrient cycling, then I could certainly see myself getting more involved (with renewable energy).”