The Engineer's Impact - Christopher DeGroot

Your inside look at faculty’s research and its effect on society

In this new Q&A series, we’ll feature Western Engineering faculty members to gain a succinct overview of their research, understand its impact on society, and discover intriguing little-known facts.

Meet Mechanical and Materials Engineering Assistant Professor Christopher DeGroot

degroot_cCan you describe your research?

My research is centred around the concept of creating value from waste to help mitigate the harmful effects of climate change, while also improving human and environmental health. I work a lot with wastewater treatment processes, using models to improve treatment outcomes while minimizing energy usage and maximizing resource recovery. I have a particular focus on photosynthetic microorganisms (e.g., microalgae) and how they can be used to capture and transform carbon. From an engineering perspective, I am developing greater understanding of how algae interact with the multiphase fluid flows and light distributions encountered in complex reactors. Additionally, I am heavily involved in wastewater surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 to help understand the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community.

How does your research impact society in everyday life?

Climate change is an existential threat to humans. The atmospheric CO2 concentration continues to increase, despite the knowledge that this continued rise is unsustainable. This trend is expected to result in continued global temperature rise, leading to more extreme weather, drought, food shortages, rising sea levels, and population displacement (to name just a few of the detrimental effects). A big part of my research is to find ways to capture and transform carbon from waste streams, taking inspiration from the natural process of photosynthesis, while enhancing it with specially engineered photobioreactors that maximize the productivity of microalgae. Besides this topic, my work on wastewater surveillance has helped the local community understand the prevalence of COVID-19 through my website and regular media interviews.

What’s an interesting, little-known fact related to your research?

I think that people don’t necessarily realize the value of what they flush down the toilet. Not only can wastewater provide critical insights into the health of a population, but it is also full of resources that can be recovered and used. Wastewater contains thermal and chemical energy that can be recovered and used for heating and cooling (thermal energy) or converted to biogas and used for power generation (chemical energy). It also contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous that can be used in agricultural applications.