SD Mines graduate generates power using microbes

By South Dakota School of Mines & Technology | August 30, 2018

Namita Shrestha is the first graduate of a new Ph.D. program in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. Her work involves harnessing clean energy for widespread use. Shrestha’s research centered around a set of microbes, initially discovered in the Sanford Underground Research Facility, in Lead, South Dakota, that generate electricity in a similar way to electric eels.

Shrestha’s thesis focused on maximizing the efficiency of what’s known as bioelectrochemical systems. By understanding the right combination of microbes and materials it’s possible to harness clean energy for widespread use in various applications.

Possible outcomes of Shrestha’s research include new ways to generate electricity and treat solid waste during NASA space missions, the ability for a wastewater treatment plant to help generate electricity while turning effluent into clean water, a new way to clean saline wastewater generated in oil drilling operations, and better ways to turn food waste, such as tomatoes and corn stover, into electricity.   

“Our project demonstrates a potential for sustainable waste treatment and clean energy production,” says Shrestha.  

Shrestha studied under Venkata Gadhamshetty, an associate professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. “Namita is a diligent worker. She quickly evolved as a model for many other graduate students. Her strong publication record demonstrates her potential to emerge as a star researcher. She has a potential to evolve as an independent researcher and a good teacher,” says Gadhamshetty.

“I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my adviser Dr. Gadhamshetty whose guidance helped me during the entire course of my Ph.D. research. My sincere thanks also goes to the entire Civil and Environmental Engineering faculty and all my colleagues in Dr. Gadhamshetty’s research group,” Shrestha adds.  

The graduation of the first Ph.D. from this new doctoral program at SD Mines is a milestone for the university and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Dr. Shrestha’s work is a fine example of the exciting and beneficial research being done by graduate students and faculty at SD Mines,” says Dean of Graduate Education Maribeth Price.     

“This milestone shows the potential for on-going research at Mines. We’re proud of Dr. Shrestha’s accomplishment and we are excited to see the progress in this field of study.  This is the type of research that has potential to spin-off into local industries and start-up companies,” says SD Mines President Jim Rankin.  

Shrestha has accepted a position as lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.