Promoting and sharing knowledge about the latest trends in environmental engineering has been the purpose of the Kappe Lecture Series since its inception in 1989 by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists. This year's Kappe Lecturer is University of South Florida College of Engineering Professor Daniel Yeh.
"The selection of Professor Yeh as our distinguished Kappe Lecturer - where Daniel will speak at multiple universities throughout the autumn 2023 semester - is one of the premiere honors we bestow upon exceptional individuals who are leaders in the excellence of environmental engineering and science," AAEES iExecutive Director Daniel Oerther wrote in an email announcing Yeh's selection.
The AAEES annually chooses selectees of the Kappe Lecture Series from among the community of environmental engineers and scientists. The lecturers deliver formal presentations at universities, on campus and online. Besides sharing knowledge, the lecture series provides a way for students to engage and interact with environmental engineering professionals.
"I am deeply honored to learn that the Academy has selected me as this year's Kappe Lecturer," Yeh said. "As a graduate student and junior faculty, I always looked forward to visits by the Kappe speaker. Sometimes we drove hours to the hosting university. I now have the opportunity to represent USF across the country and share stories on the inventions my students and I have created over the years."
Since earning his PhD in environmental engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2000, Yeh has focused much of his research effort on sustainable wastewater processing, approaching problems as opportunities. After researching membrane bioreactors as a postdoc at Stanford University, he joined USF's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering as an assistant professor in 2005.
He has also held numerous other positions at USF, such as serving as a courtesy faculty member of the Department of Global Health and as a research fellow of the Dr. Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions. Yeh is also a visiting professor of bioregenerative technologies for space exploration at the Kennedy Space Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
As the principal investigator of USF's Membrane Biotechnology Laboratory, Yeh has directed research projects dealing with subjects such as decentralized wastewater treatment systems, bioenergy, nutrient management strategies, and bioregenerative water purification that is suitable for space travel.
One of the lab's most notable projects is its NEWgenerator portable, stand-alone sewage treatment technology developed to sustainably treat human waste using solar power while yielding nutrients, energy, and clean water for uses such as flushing the toilets and irrigating crops. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through its Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, the NEWgenerator technology led Yeh and his team to win the 2014 Cade Museum Prize for Innovation.
A licensing agreement between USF and WEC Projects in South Africa signed in 2020 facilitated the transition of the NEWgenerator technology from a research project to a commercial product that benefits residents in communities without substantial wastewater treatment infrastructure. The NEWgenerator project also garnered Yeh and his team recognition from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with a Patents for Humanity Award in 2020.
Speaking about environmental engineering issues is familiar to Yeh. He has done several podcasts and has even appeared in late-night comedy. In 2015 he presented a TEDx Talks lecture at USF about emerging environmental challenges and solutions with the title, Taking on the Global Grand Challenges of Water, Energy, Food and Sanitation.
"As environmental engineers, we think about these issues. We think about these issues a lot. This defines our profession and we think, 'How do we sustain the planet?'" he said.
According to the AAEES website, two lectures are offered as topic options.
Reinventing the Toilet for Global Sanitation: The NEWgenerator Resource Recovery Machine examines new ways of solving the old wastewater treatment problem sustainably. Decentralized systems such as the NEWgenerator system are highlighted in the lecture.
From TRL1 to TRL4: Development of the ICARUS Floating Membrane Photobioreactor for Direct Algae Cultivation in Wastewater explains how Yeh and the Membrane Biotechnology Laboratory team addressed cultivation of microalgae from wastewater for use as biofuel and other bioproducts.
Yeh's Kappe lecture tour kicks off in March at the University of New Mexico, followed by the University of North Carolina. You can learn more about the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists and its Kappe Lecture Series by visiting aaees.org. More information about the USF Membrane Biotechnology Laboratory's work is available online at membiolab.com.