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2015 Clarke Prize Honoree

John C. Crittenden

John C. Crittenden, Ph.D., P.E., N.A.E, C.A.E.
Director of the Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems Georgia Institute of Technology

The National Water Research Institute (NWRI) is pleased to announce that environmental engineer, John C. Crittenden, Ph.D., P.E., N.A.E, C.A.E., Director of the Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems at Georgia Institute of Technology, will be the twenty-second recipient of the NWRI Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke Prize for excellence in water research. Crittenden is the Hightower Chair and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Environmental Technologies and a professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia.

"I consider the Clarke Prize to be one of the greatest honors that one who conducts water research can receive," said Crittenden.

Pioneer in Water Treatment Technology

With a career spanning 37 years, Crittenden has been a pioneer in the research and development of water treatment technologies, particularly physical-chemical treatment processes. He first began examining the use of granular activated carbon (GAC) to absorb toxic organic compounds, such as industrial chemicals, from air and water while working with the American Water Works Association Research Foundation and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the early 1980s. At some treatment plants, air stripping is used to transfer organics out of the water and into air, and then GAC is used to adsorb these organics from the air. Crittenden found that if the relative humidity of the contaminated air stream is reduced through heating, then GAC becomes more effective in adsorbing organics. It is now common practice to heat air before it enters the GAC system. Crittenden's research has also paved the way for a greater practical understanding of advanced oxidation, which uses chemical treatment processes to destroy organic compounds present in groundwater and wastewater.

One of Crittenden's passions has been the development of mathematical models to predict the performance of physical-chemical treatment processes. This pursuit led him to develop a model called the Rapid Small Scale Column Test (RSSCT), which uses a simple set of experiments to simulate the operation of full-scale GAC treatment systems. Now an industry standard, RSSCT makes it possible for engineers to efficiently design GAC treatment systems more quickly and cost-effectively than traditional methods.

"Dr. Crittenden's development of the RSSCT method was a major breakthrough in absorption technology," said Michael McGuire, Ph.D., P.E., N.A.E., of the University of California, Los Angeles.

"Crittenden's work in sustainability is particularly bold and innovative, and will change the way we will promote water security, enhance economic development, and alleviate concerns of wars over water," said Joseph B. Hughes, Ph.D, P.E., DEE, of Drexel University.

An intellectual leader in environmental engineering, Crittenden served as the senior author of the 2011 textbook, Water Treatment: Principles and Design, which has sold more than 10,000 copies. Another significant collaboration was the development of software to assess and implement effective treatment strategies. Together with his colleagues, he developed mathematical models called the Environmental Technologies Design Option Tools (ETDOTs), software routinely used for the preliminary design of GAC, air stripping, and advanced oxidation systems. These tools have also been used to optimize the water treatment system for the International Space Station. Crittenden and his colleagues worked with NASA to alleviate the costs of sending fresh water to space by helping to design a system on board the International Space Station to recycle impaired waters like wastewater, urine, and humidity condensation containing volatile organics from electronic equipment. NASA launched the system into space three years ago, and it has been in use ever since.

Leader in Urban Water Sustainability

Crittenden is also distinguished among his peers for his vision and dedication to developing sustainable urban water resources. He takes a holistic approach that considers more than designing water treatment plants to remove contaminants — for him, it is essential to find alternative chemicals and approaches to keep harmful chemicals from being used in commerce. At Michigan Technical University, he directed a center for "green" chemistry and environmentally responsible engineering that focused on eliminating contaminants rather than just treating them. It involved engaging professionals from various disciplines to collaborate on research such as developing clean technologies for manufacturing and chemical production. Because of his leadership in this area, Crittenden was selected by the American Institute of Engineers as one of the 100 Eminent Chemical Engineers in Modern Times.

In 2008, Crittenden was recruited to Georgia Tech to direct the Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems (www.sustainable.gatech.edu), established to create technological, management, and policy strategies to ensure a sustainable future (that is, "living within the means of nature"). To do so, researchers there, led by Crittenden, take a comprehensive approach in which systems are studied as a whole with all their complexities. Crittenden's particular interest is in developing sustainable water resources for people, agriculture, and the environment through a system-wide examination of water use in transportation, energy production, low-impact development (such as green roofs and permeable pavement), and land use. As an example, Crittenden's team estimated that the electrification of personal cars driven in the City of Atlanta would use more water than the amount of water consumed for irrigation and household use combined.

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