Student working at eco-machine

Environmental Engineering Research

Environmental Engineering focuses on the improvement of environmental quality through design, including the treatment of surface water, groundwater, wastewater, soil, and air; the management of wetlands and watersheds; the treatment and disposal of solid and hazardous wastes; the production of renewable energy; and the design of “green” products. The Penn State Environmental Engineering (Env E) program has specific strengths in biological processes for energy production, bioremediation of hazardous contaminants, physical/chemical processes for contaminant removal, conventional water and wastewater treatment, green product design, and environmental law.

The EnvE research program is supported by projects of over $20 million dollars funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the American Water Works Association Research Foundation, and many other federal, state, and local agencies, as well as by various industries.  The majority of this research is conducted in the Kappe Environmental Engineering Laboratories housed within the Sackett Building on the Penn State, University Park campus.

Environmental Engineering Research by topic:


Desalination and Membrane Technologies 

Environmental Biotechnology

Environmental Hydro biogeochemistry

Green Engineering

Physical-Chemical Treatment


Salinity Gradient Energy

Water treatment

Research Funding in Environmental Engineering

There is a vigorous research program in Environmental Engineering (EnvE) here at Penn State. The total funding for research projects in the EnvE group was $9.8 million as of September 1, 2020. The project titles, principle investigators, and other information on these research contracts and grants is listed below.


Energy 2100: Ensuring a carbon-neutral, global energy economy. (PI: Logan). Strategic Initiative funds, Penn State University. $250,000. July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2021.

Materials and configurations for improved desalination performance using battery electrode deionization (BDI). (PI: Logan, co-PI C.A. Gorski). Collaborative Research Grants: U.S. – Egypt S&T Joint Fund Cycle 19, administered by the US National Academies of Science. August 1, 2019 – July 30, 2022.  $194,128.

Hybrid microbial fuel cell-biofiltration system for energy neutral wastewater treatment. (PI: Logan). Environmental Security Technology Certification Program, through the U.S. Army Engineering Research and Development Center, June 15, 2016 – June 14, 2021. $571,821.

Enabling hydrogen gas production from seawater using electrolytes contained by reverse osmosis membranes. (PI: Logan, Co-PIs C.A. Gorski, M Hickner). National Science Foundation, September 1, 2020 – August 31, 2023. $300,000.

Renewable Energy Art and Design. (PI: Mihyu Kang; co-PI: Logan). Seed grant from Institutes of Energy & Environment (IEE). $30,000. April 1, 2020 – August 31, 2021.

Phase II IUCRC at The Pennsylvania State University: Center for Membrane Science, Engineering and Technology (MAST). PI: A.L. Zydney; co-PIs: M. Kumar, B.E. Logan, E.D. Gomez, M.A. Hickner. February 1, 2019 – January 31, 2024. $500,000.

ECO-CBET: Transforming the Nitrogen Bioeconomy. National Science Foundation, (PI: Brennan; Co-PIs: Costello, Curtis, Hristov, McPhillips). July 2020 – June 2024. ($405,000 to Brennan, out of $1,700,000).

Food Resilience in the Face of Catastrophic Global Events. Open Philanthropy, (PI: Anderson; Co-PIs: Behring, Brennan, Connolly, Di Gioia, Jacobson, Jaenicke, Kemanian, Lambert, Lasky, Pecchia, Ransom).  May 2020 – March 2024. ($364,000 to Brennan, out of $3,187,683).

Integrating Law, Policy, and Engineering: Digital Open Badges for Sustainability. The Leonhard Center for Enhancement of Engineering Education (PI: Allain; Co-PIs: Brennan, Obonyo), Jan. 2020 – Dec. 2020, $14,800.

Drawdown as a Unifying Theme in First Year Seminars to Promote Engagement and Retention within the College of Engineering. The Leonhard Center for Enhancement of Engineering Education (PI: Brennan; Co-PI: Urbina), Jan. 2020 – Dec. 2020, $10,000.

A Systems Approach for Meeting Local and Global Food-Energy-Water Nexus Challenges. Strategic Initiative funds, Penn State University, (PI: Brennan; Co-PIs: Jacobson, Thiede), July 2019 – June 2023. $250,000.

Characterizing Food-Energy-Water Systems in Ethiopia, Penn State Sustainability Seed Grant Program (IEE), (PI: Thiede; Co-PIs: Brennan, Jacobson), April 2019 – August 2021. $50,000.

Identification of Links Between Surface and Recycled Water Microbiomes and Microbiological Water Safety, Penn State Sustainability Seed Grant Program (IEE), (PI: Kovac; Co-PIs: Brennan, Laborde), April 2019 – August 2021. $50,000.

EAGER SitS: Emergent Properties during Soil Formation. (PI: Brantley; co-PI Regan, Nyblade).  National Science Foundation, October 01, 2018 – September 30, 2021, $300,000.

Metatranscriptome and Redox Signatures of Microbially Catalyzed Phosphorus Mobilization in Agricultural Landscapes. (PI: Regan; co-PI Walter, Cornell). United States Department of Agriculture. $500,000. July 2019 – June 2022.

Center for Bioenergy Innovation. (PI: Richard; co-PI: Regan). Department of Energy, Subcontract with Oak Ridge National Laboratories. $283,749. October 2017 – September 2021.

Re-engineering anaerobic treatment processes for novel functionalities. Penn State – University of Auckland Collaborative Seed Fund. (PI: Wang and Yi, Co-PIs: Regan, Wicaksana, Zhuang) 6/15/20-12/15/21, $40,000.  

CAREER: Battery-inspired electrodes for efficiently desalinating water or harvesting salinity gradient energy. National Science Foundation. Environmental Engineering. (PI: Gorski) August 1, 2018 – July 31, 2022. $500,000.

Linking Thermodynamics to Pollutant Reduction Rates by Fe(II) Bound to Iron Oxides. National Science Foundation, Environmental Chemical Sciences (ECS) Program. (PI: Gorski). August 15, 2018 – July 31, 2021. $345,765.

Health impacts of roadway dust and groundwater following treatment with oil and gas fluids (PI Warner, CoPIs: Chase, Grady, Braiser, Freedman, Burgos, Vanden Heuvel, Taylor, Wilson) Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute July 1, 2018- June 30, 2021 $50,000.

Characterizing structural changes in sodium-ion battery electrodes in real-time. Penn State University Internal Seed Grant Program. (PI: Gorski, Co-PIs: Heaney, P.J.). 4/1/2012-12/31/2012. $40,000.

CZCN: Dynamic water storage in montane watersheds. NSF, Critical zone research, $421,847 to PSU PI Li (out of $5.6M, with Barnard, Singha, Sullivan, Harpold, Tague, Sitchler-Navarre)

Collaborative Research: Network Cluster: The Critical Zone in the age of Big Data: using an integrative approach to assess ecohydrological resilience across scales. NSF, Critical zone research, $454,372 to PSU PI Li (out of project total ~ $5M, Perdrial, Seybold, Harpold, Shanley, Abbott)

SitS: Collaborative Research: Soils are signaling shifts in aggregate life-cycles: What does this mean for water, carbon and climate feedbacks in the Anthropocene? NSF, low-temperature geochemistry, 1/15/2021 – 1/14/2025, $233,042 to PSU PI Li (out of $1.1M, with Sullivan, Billings, Hirmas, Flores)

Collaborative Research: Combining complex systems tools, process-based modelling and experiments to bridge scales in low temperature geochemistry. National Science Foundation. (PI: Li, with Julia Perdrial, Donna Rizzo at Univ. Vermont, and Adrian Harpold from Univ. Nevada, Reno), January 1, 2018 – December 2020, $173,352 out of $650,000

Using the Susquehanna - Shale Hills CZO to Project from the Geological Past to the Anthropocene Future.” National Science Foundation (NSF) (PI: Brantley, co-PIs: Davis, Eissenstat, Kaye, Li, Lin, Russo). November 2013 – September 2020, $800,000 (project total $6,500,000)

Collaborative research: Determining the eco-hydrogeologic response of tropical glacierized watersheds to climate change: An integrated data-model approach. National Science Foundation, Hydrology program. March 15, 2018 – February 28, 2021, $151,658 (PSU PI Li,  Collaborative with Crystal Ng, Andrew Wicket et al., U Minnesota, project total $548,953)

RAISE-SitS: Designing models to forecast how biogeochemical fluctuations in soil systems govern soil development, terrestrial water storage and ecosystem nutrient fluxes. National Science Foundation. 9/1/2018-8/31/2021, $121,266. ((PSU PI: Li, Collaborative with Pamela Sullivan (U Kansas), Daniel Hirmas (UC Los Angeles), Alejandro Flores (Boise State U.), project total $550,000)

Advancing a Watershed Hydro-biogeochemical Theory: Linking Water Travel Time and Reaction Rates Under Changing Climate”, PI Li, with Sullivan (KU), Williams (LBNL), Dept. of Energy (DoE), Subsurface Biogeochemistry Research (SBR) program, 09/01/19 – 08/31/22, $540,000 out of $600,000

Collaborative research: Digging deeper: Do deeper roots enhance deeper water and carbon fluxes and alter the trajectory of chemical weathering in woody-encroached grasslands?” Collaborative with Sullivan at U Kansas and Nippert at Kansas State U., NSF Hydrological Sciences program, 09/01/2019 – 08/31/2022, $198,060 out of $665,000

CZ Research Coordination Network (RCN): Building capacity to deepen the critical zone: expanding boundaries and exploring gradients through data-model synergy”, collaborative with K. Singha (CSM), Sullivan (KU), NSF CZO program. 06/01/2019 – 05/31/2024, $39,396 out of $500,000

Multi-scale and Multi-Model Global Sensitivity Analysis for Identifying Key Controlling Processes of Complex Systems”, collaborative with Ye (Florida State U), DOE Subsurface Biogeochemistry Research (SBR) 9/15/2018 - 9/14/2020, $38,712 out of $180,000

Metal-Microbe-Mineral interactions and biomineralization mechanisms in anaerobic acidophiles: Geochemical, microbiological and biotechnological implications. (PI: Sanchez-Espana; co-PI: Burgos), Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, January 1, 2017 – December 31, 2020.  $110,000.

Impact of Oil & Gas Wastewater Disposal on Lake and River Sediments. (PI: Burgos; co-PIs: Warner, Drohan, Liu, Vanden Heuvel), National Science Foundation, CBET – Environmental Engineering, September 1, 2017 – August 31, 2021. $330,000.

Electric Vehicles’ Health and Climate Benefits in China and India (PI: Johannes Urpelainen - Johns Hopkins; co-PIs: Peng, Hancheng Dai - Peking University), Wellcome Trust, Climate Change and Health Award, July 2020 – June 2023. Project total $401,457.

From Local Health to Global Climate: Assessing the Air Quality Co-benefits of Climate Mitigation Strategies in the U.S. and China. (Lead PIs: Peng, Yuming Guo- Monash; co-PIs: Marc Rigas -PSU, Shanshan Li - Monash). Monash University - Penn State University Collaboration Development Fund. September 2019 – June 2021. Project total $17,400.

Evaluation of Water Quality Impacts from Dust Suppressants used on Gravel Roads. (PI: Burgos; co-PIs: Chase, Warner, Liu), PA DEP Office of Oil and Gas Management, June 1, 2020 – May 31, 2021. $102,176.

Freshwater Mussel Soft Tissue Incorporates Strontium and Radium Isotopic Signatures of O&G Produced Water. (PI: Warner N.R.) Penn State Ecology Institute Flower Grant – June 18, 2020 - June 30, 2021. Project Total $3,000.

CAREER: Novel Water Quality Monitors and Indicators of Salinization (SALTSCAPES). PI: Warner N.R. US National Science Foundation, Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (ENG/CBET) - June 1, 2020 – July 31, 2025. Project Total: $500,000.

Identifying Robust Near-term Renewable Energy Policies to Ensure a Healthy and Climate-Friendly Future. (PI: Peng; Co-PIs: Keller, Srikrishnan), Seed grant from Institute for Computational and Data Sciences (ICDS). $30,000. May 1, 2020 – April 30, 2021.

From Local Health to Global Climate: Assessing the Impacts of Early Adoption on Future Landscape of Negative Emissions Technologies. (PI: Peng; Co-PI: Keller), Seed grant from Institutes of Energy & Environment (IEE). $30,000. April 1, 2020 – August 31, 2021.

Workshop on Climate Change and Migration: Towards an Interdisciplinary Framework. (PI: Peng; Co-PI: Srikrishnan), Seed grant from Center for Security Research and Education. $10,000. September 1, 2020 – August 31, 2021.

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The Penn State Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, established in 1881, is internationally recognized for excellence in the preparation of undergraduate and graduate engineers through the integration of education, research, and leadership.

Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

212 Sackett Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-1408

Phone: 814-863-3084