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picture of Bridget Ulrich wearing lab safety goggles, in a laboratory workspace

On April 22, we celebrated Earth Day, recognized as the world’s largest civic event. This year’s theme is “Restore Our Earth” and with that in mind, Tech Comm is highlighting a UMN innovator working to restore our water resources so they are clean and safe to drink. Bridget Ulrich is a new research program leader at the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) at University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). Her research focuses on preventing our exposure to different contaminants that might be harmful. 

As an engineer working with Tech Comm, Ulrich creates sustainable and cost-effective solutions to remove contaminants from water. One of the solutions she’s most focused on right now is using a charcoal-like material called biochar to remove contaminants, including E. coli, from water using passive treatment systems. The biochar is placed in a water filter or basin and passively treats the water, as opposed to a system that is actively pumping water (which requires maintenance and operation that is more resource-intensive and costly). As part of the commercialization process, Ulrich has been seeking a way to acquire biochar from a local producer to reduce costs and the environmental impact associated with shipping.

Ulrich grew up on the Iron Range and began her education as a UMN undergraduate in chemical engineering. She started to focus more on environmental issues and water treatment because she wanted her work to be more broadly impactful. Ulrich studied environmental engineering in graduate school and earned a National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Graduate Fellowship for her PhD work on using biochar to treat water runoffs. 

She has been working with Tech Comm’s Tim White, who is based at NRRI in Duluth, to learn more about how her innovations might be protected with intellectual property and how to partner with Tech Comm to advance her discoveries and create real-world impact. In addition, she’s been exploring potential industry funding sources as it applies to her research. If you are interested in Ulrich’s research or in potentially becoming a local biochar producer, please contact Tim White at twwhite@d.umn.edu.