WRF Announces 2021 Paul L. Busch Award Winner

Sep 20, 2021
Press Release

$100K Research Prize Will Advance Understanding of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Wastewater


The Water Research Foundation announced today that Dr. Z. Jason Ren is the winner of the 2021 Paul L. Busch Award. With the $100,000 research prize, Dr. Ren will develop an inventory and digital tools to easily measure and track greenhouse gas emissions from the wastewater sector. WRF hosted a webcast showcasing Dr. Ren’s research and the work he will conduct using the funding from his Paul L. Busch Award.   

Dr. Ren is a Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University in New Jersey. He is a leading expert on the water-energy nexus and has received notable recognitions, including the 2020 Walter L. Huber Civil Engineering Research Prize from the American Society of Civil Engineers for “producing groundbreaking technological advancements that are transforming water infrastructure for energy and resource recovery.”

Dr. Ren’s proposed research articulates an actionable approach to modernize wastewater treatment toward decarbonization and digitization. He understands the critical needs of the water and wastewater sectors in developing greenhouse gas (GHG) emission monitoring and mitigation programs, considering the sector’s commitment to energy efficiency and GHG emission reductions. Dr. Ren plans to leverage state-of-the-art sensing technologies to measure emissions from specific sites, and then use machine learning (ML) tools to derive industry trends from the new data. Dr. Ren was selected because of his novel, data-driven approach to quantifying emissions, and the tools and web applications he plans to create to make that data usable by water utilities looking to manage the emissions from their facilities.

On winning the award, Dr. Ren says, “It is a great honor to receive the 2021 Paul L. Busch Award and join many leaders in the field to advance water research and modernize the water industry. I am grateful for WRF’s support in taking this critical first step to understand the true emissions from the wastewater sector.”

Current emission accounting methods for wastewater resource recovery facilities are based on direct measurements or emission factor (EF)-based modeling. Direct measurements rely on grab samples or in situ measurements, which represent data from a specific point source, such as a sludge digester, at a specific time, but do not represent emissions from the entire plant site, which are subject to large daily and seasonal variations. The Paul L. Busch Award will enable Dr. Ren to use a new systematic approach, integrating advanced sensing of direct emissions at the plant level and ML tools to better understand emissions from the industry at large. His team will work with WRF, utility partners, and research collaborators to conduct surveys, execute a national data collection effort, and fill the knowledge and data gap on plant-integrated emissions. 

“I hope to help develop long-term decarbonization strategies and technologies that can help utilities, and specifically, under-resourced utilities. I am excited to work with partners and develop an interactive platform for stakeholders to make better predictions and decisions for building more equitable, resilient, and sustainable water infrastructure,” said Ren.

Watch this video to learn more about Dr. Ren and his important research. 

For 20 years, the WRF Endowment for Innovation in Applied Water Quality Research has supported the Paul L. Busch Award, providing more than $2M in funding to up-and-coming researchers who are making major breakthroughs in the water quality industry. From energy-producing wastewater to next-generation membrane treatment, WRF has funded important research, pushing ideas on the brink of discovery forward.

About WRF

The Water Research Foundation (WRF) is the leading research organization advancing the science of all water to meet the evolving needs of its subscribers and the water sector. WRF is a nonprofit, educational organization that funds, manages, and publishes research on the technology, operation, and management of drinking water, wastewater, reuse, and stormwater systems—all in pursuit of ensuring water quality and improving water services to the public.