News, Science and Technology

Net-Zero works to improve water sustainability

Eric Antmann, a graduate student in environmental engineering, gives a tour of the Net Zero water system attached to the UV Albenga Garage. Holly Bensur // Staff Photographer

Eric Antmann, a graduate student in environmental engineering, gives a tour of the Net Zero water system attached to the UV Albenga Garage. Holly Bensur // Staff Photographer

Eric Antmann, a graduate student in environmental engineering, compares the recycled water in the net-zero building at the University Village (UV)  to bottled mineral water.

“Because of the recycling system, this is actually similar to a high-quality mineral water,” he said. “It’s give or take the same mineral level as San Pellegrino.”

Antmann is part of the Autonomous Net-Zero Water Project team that developed a net-zero building. This building is equipped with a sustainable water system that recycles wastewater into clean water to be reused in a safe, economical and low energy manner. The system eliminates the traditional journey that South Florida water takes from the Everglades, to our homes and into the ocean – saving energy, reducing environmental impact and greatly minimizing the potential for a water shortage.

The project took four years to complete and was funded by a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation. James Englehardt, a professor in civil, architectural and environmental engineering, was awarded the grant and conducted a tour of the facility Friday.

“I am writing proposals to keep it running, because we do need research support to keep it going,” he said. “But we eventually got it built, and started in operation last January, but that was using treated city water and then our water went to sewer, the city sewer. Since June, we went into recycle mode.”

Englehardt, with an interdisciplinary team, used groundbreaking techniques to promote sustainable development and water use.

“We have a big team of students and various researchers and we test this water three times every day and we can also see on the computer all of the water levels, we can see all of the concentrations, and so we are constantly monitoring, testing, and collecting data,” Englehardt said. “We have lots of data and we are developing publications and so forth.”

After the water is used, wastewater travels to the system set up adjacent to the net-zero building. Half of the system is located outside, while the other half is housed in a small section of the nearby parking garage. The water goes through numerous steps to ensure quality. Organic matter, bacteria, metals and other impurities are eliminated.

“We are regularly achieving no bacteriological counts in our water through all of this disinfection equipment,” Antmann said.

Englehardt also hopes the project will help overcome regulation in addition to reducing energy and water demand.

Regulators, such as the Miami Dade Health Department, the Florida Environmental Protection Agency and other related government agencies, don’t have policies in place for systems like the net-zero building.

“The regulators don’t know how to permit a system like this yet,” he said. “So this is a research project that would partly help them develop regulations that would allow somebody to build a system like this and use it. The only reason we are allowed to do this is because it’s research, because nobody’s done it before.”

Students living in the participating apartment were unable to be reached at the time of publication.

The net-zero building was originally proposed for 20 students living in Eaton Residential College. But because of rising costs, the number of students was reduced to four.

Students applied to live in the net-zero apartment. Two groups of students applied, but only one could be selected. The participating students had to sign waivers because they are part of a research study.

“They have been very cooperative because every once in a while we have to go into the apartment to do something and they’ve been great to work with,” Englehardt said.

Students interested in touring the facility, conducting research or helping out can email Englehart and his team at or visit

November 3, 2013


Sarah Hall

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