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 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.


Faculty in this area focus on:


Desalination and Membrane Technologies 

Environmental Biotechnology

Environmental Hydro biogeochemistry

Green Engineering

Physical-Chemical Treatment


Salinity Gradient Energy

Water treatment


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 $12.7 million as of September 1, 2021. The project titles, principle investigators, and other information on these research contracts and grants is listed below.

Novel microbial electrolysis cell design for efficient hydrogen generation from wastewaters. (PI: Logan). US Department of Energy. September 15, 2021 – September 14, 2024. $1,000,000.

Materials and configurations for improved desalination performance using battery electrode deionization (BDI). (PI: Logan, C-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.

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.

Development of an All-Aqueous Thermally Regenerative Redox Flow Battery to Support Fossil Fuel Assets. (PI: Derek Hall, Co-PIs Lvov, Rau, Logan). US Department of Energy. January 1, 2021 – December 31, 2022). $312,881.

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.

IGE: Stakeholder-Driven Sustainable Development Experiences for Enhancing STEM Graduate Education. (PI: Brennan, Co-PI Wang). National Science Foundation. June 2021 – May 2024. $458,240.

IRES Track I: Manifestations of Climate Change in Extreme Events. National Science Foundation. (PI: Urbina, Co-PIs Brennan, Forest, Mejia, Randell). September 2021 – August 2024, $300,000.

Piloting a Water-Energy-Food Nexus Model for Improving Smallholder Livelihoods and Environmental Sustainability in Magdalena, Colombia. (PI: Brennan, Co-PIs Castaneda). Penn State Global Programs, University of Bogota Jorge Tadeo Lozano (UTadeo), and the Colombian Institute of Educational Credit and Technical Studies Abroad (ICETEX). January 2021- December 2022, ($11,000 to Brennan, out of $33,000).

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

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

Integrating Law, Policy, and Engineering: Digital Open Badges for Sustainability. (PI: Allain, Co-PIs Brennan, Obonyo). The Leonhard Center for Enhancement of Engineering Education, January 2020 – December 2021, $14,800.

Drawdown as a Unifying Theme in First Year Seminars to Promote Engagement and Retention within the College of Engineering. (PI: Brennan, Co-PI Urbina). The Leonhard Center for Enhancement of Engineering Education, January 2020 – December 2021, $10,000.

A Systems Approach for Meeting Local and Global Food-Energy-Water Nexus Challenges. (PI: Brennan, Co-PIs Jacobson, Thiede). Strategic Initiative funds, Penn State University. July 2019 – June 2024. $250,000.

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

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

EAGER SitS: Emergent Properties during Soil Formation. (PI: Brantley, Co-PIs 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-PIs Walter, Cornell). United States Department of Agriculture. July 2019 – June 2022. $500,000.

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

Re-engineering anaerobic treatment processes for novel functionalities. (PI: Wang and Yi, Co-PIs Regan, Wicaksana, Zhuang). Penn State – University of Auckland Collaborative Seed Fund. June 15, 2020 – December 15, 2021. $40,000.  

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

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

Health impacts of roadway dust and groundwater following treatment with oil and gas fluids (PI Warner, Co-PIs 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. (PI: Gorski, Co-PI Heaney). Penn State University Internal Seed Grant Program. April 1, 2012-December 31, 2012. $40,000. 

CZCN: Dynamic water storage in montane watersheds. (PI Li, Co-PIs Barnard, Singha, Sullivan, Harpold, Tague, Sitchler-Navarre). National Science Foundation, Critical Zone Research, September 1, 2020-August 31, 2024.  $421,847 ($5,600,000 total). 

Collaborative Research: Network Cluster: The Critical Zone in the age of Big Data: using an integrative approach to assess ecohydrological resilience across scales. (PI: Le, Co-PIs Perdrial, Seybold, Harpold, Shanley, Abbott). National Science Foundation, Critical zone research, September 1, 2020-August 31, 2024. $454,372 ($5,000,000 total).

SitS: Collaborative Research: Soils are signaling shifts in aggregate life-cycles: What does this mean for water, carbon and climate feedbacks in the Anthropocene? (PI: Li, Co-PIs Sullivan, Billings, Hirmas, Flores). National Science Foundation, Low-Temperature Geochemistry. January 15, 2021-January 14, 2025. $233,042 ($1,100,000 total).

Collaborative Research: How roots, regolith, rock and climate interact over decades to centuries — the R3-C Frontier. (PI: Li, Co-PIs Sullivan, Billings, Hirmas, Flores, Singha, Ajama).  National Science Foundation - Frontier Research in Earth Sciences (FRES). August 1, 2021-July 31, 2025. $393,581 ($3,000,000 total).

Advancing a Watershed Hydro-biogeochemical Theory: Linking Water Travel Time and Reaction Rates Under Changing Climate. (PI: Li, Co-PIs Sullivan, Williams). US Department of Energy, Subsurface Biogeochemistry Research (SBR) program. September 1, 2019 – August 31, 2022.  $540,000 ($600,000 total).

Collaborative research: Digging deeper: Do deeper roots enhance deeper water and carbon fluxes and alter the trajectory of chemical weathering in woody-encroached grasslands? (PI: Li, Co-PIs Sullivan, Nippert). National Science Foundation - Hydrological Sciences Program.  September 1, 2019 – August 31, 2022. $198,060 ($665,000 total).

CZ Research Coordination Network (RCN): Building capacity to deepen the critical zone: expanding boundaries and exploring gradients through data-model synergy.  (PI: Li, Co-PIs Singha, Sullivan). National Science Foundation- CZO Program. June 1, 2019-May 31, 2024.  $39,396 ($500,000 total).

Acidic pit lakes: Novel biogeochemical reactors evaluated via multi-omics approaches. (PI: Burgos; Co-PIs Macalady, Sanchez-Espana), US National Science Foundation, Geobiology & Low-Temperature Geochemistry Program. August 2021-July 2023.  $400,000.

Consortium to Assess Northern Appalachia Resource Yield (CANARY) of CORE-CM for Advanced Materials. (PI: Sarma, faculty affiliate, Burgos). US Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory. July 2021-August 2023.  $10,000 ($1,500,000 total).

Evaluation of treatment technologies to meet new proposed water quality standard for manganese. (PI: Burgos). Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection-Water Quality Division. June 2021 – October 2021. $23,141.

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, 2022. $330,000.

Electric Vehicles’ Health and Climate Benefits in China and India. (PI: Urpelainen, Co-PIs Peng). Wellcome Trust, Climate Change and Health Award, July 2020 – June 2023. $401,457.

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

IRES Track 1: Sources and solutions of nonpoint source pollution.  (PI: McPhillips, Co-PIs Warner, Kahl, Zappe). National Science Foundation OISE Project. $75,000 ($300,000 total).

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). April 1, 2020 – April 31, 2022. $30,000. 

Workshop on Climate Change and Migration: Towards an Interdisciplinary Framework. (PI: Peng, Co-PI Srikrishnan). Seed grant from Center for Security Research and Education. September 1, 2020 – August 31, 2022. $10,000.

DISES: Multi-scale modeling of interactions between climate change, air quality and social inequalities. (PI: Budolfson, Co-PI Peng, Scovronick). National Science Foundation - Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) program. September 2021 - February 2026. $468,030 ($1,513,258 total).

Health effects of decarbonization (HEALED): Understanding key determinants of health co-benefits and co-harms. (PI: Peng, Co-PI Srikrishnan). National Science Foundation-CBET-Environmental Sustainability. September 2021 - August 2024. $349,471 ($399,472 total). 

Assessing Distributional Effects of Coal-Fired Power Plant Operations on Pollution and Health. (PI: Pakhtigian, Co-PIs Peng, Wiseman). Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment. June 2021 - August 2022. $30,000.

Community Engagement and Interdisciplinary Collaboration to Direct Air Quality Research at Industrial Sites near Pittsburgh. (PI: Miles, Co-PIs Peng, Baka, Bartnik, Davis, Iulo, Keller, Obonyo). Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment. June 2021 - August 2022. $30,000. 



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