Two researchers in lab coats and goggles smile while working with vials at a lab table.

Our team forms partnerships with these microbial communities. This means managing the near-limitless metabolic diversity of the microorganisms while using their services to clean up pollution, produce renewable resources and improve our health. In return, we provide the microorganisms with a good life as they carry out their natural metabolism. It’s a win-win solution. 

We apply the most advanced tools of molecular microbial ecology, chemistry, microscopy and mathematical modeling to think like the microorganisms and, in turn, create systems that allow the microorganisms to provide beneficial services, ranging from sustainable environmental processes and nutrient and energy recovery to making humans healthier. 

Our culture begins with our diverse set of researchers who come from many disciplines within engineering, life sciences, chemistry and more. Partnerships are common within our center, as well as with other groups in ASU, national and international universities and practitioners. 

To date, our center has spun out two Biodesign research centers: 

Managing microbial communities for societal service is achieved through cross-disciplinary and team-based research in the areas of engineering, sciences, sustainability and biological design.  

Major efforts of our center, include:  

  • Mathematical modeling specific to environmental biotechnology. Lab research ranges from fundamental concepts like chemical speciation, biofilms and microbial ecology, to practical applications including the microbial electrochemical cells, wastewater treatment, bioremediation and membrane biofilm reactors. This work is supported by the Rittmann Lab.
  • Production of energy or high-value chemicals through microbiological technologies. We make use of microorganisms and their complex enzymatic machinery to carry out reactions that are difficult or impossible through any other known chemical route. Our main research interests are microbial electrochemistry, fermentations and photosynthetic biofuel production. This work is supported by the Rittmann Lab.
  • Water sustainability. We minimize the production of waste byproducts and advance the water–energy–food nexus. Our water efforts include drinking water and wastewater treatment, natural aquatic systems, treatment of water at various lifecycle stages, water conservation, valuable material recovery and sequestration of harmful contaminants. This work is supported by the Rittmann Lab.
  • Research on microbes. We study the ecology of carbon-rich ecosystems, the interactions and activities of microbes as potential ecosystem drivers, and the genomics and evolution of microbes to track their mechanisms of change. We also focus on novel groups of methane-producing Archaea and interacting bacteria in anaerobic, high-carbon content of natural or human-engineered environments. This work is supported by the Cadillo Lab.
  • Systems approach to water quality and treatment. We consider global drivers such as urbanization, climate change, biogeochemical cycles, sustainable engineering and disruptive innovation. 
  • Field applications. We work in biological, chemical and physical characterization of soils, biochemical reactive transport and multiphase flow in porous media. Our team works with the ASU Center for Biomediated and Bioinspired Geotechnics to develop and transfer technologies from a proof-of-concept in the laboratory to field scale demonstration projects for a variety of geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering applications. This work is supported by the Delgado Lab and the Torres Lab.
  • Nanomaterials. Our team produces and uses nanomaterials in concert with microorganisms. We work with the NSF Center for Nanoenabled Water Treatment to develop novel nanobiotechnologies for detoxifying recalcitrant pollutants to purify a wide range of waters and wastewaters. This work is supported by the Rittmann Lab.
  • Circular economy. We recover economic value of components of wastes. By applying membrane-based techniques, these valuable components are advanced as high-value products to achieve more cost- and energy-effective products. This circular economy tackles environmental challenges, such as greenhouse gases mitigation, while also generating economic benefits. The work, led by Lai and Rittmann, is supported by Global Center for Water Technology, the center for Science and Technology for Enhancing Phosphorus Sustainability and private industry collaboration.
  • Advanced oxidation and biodegradation (Rittmann, Delgado and Zhou) in the Rittmann Lab and the Delgado Lab.
  • Amazon peatlands: C and N stocks and cycling in the Cadillo Lab.
  • Bio-based ground improvement through microbially induced carbonate precipitation in the Rittmann Lab.
  • Biofilm drinking water treatment (Zhou and Rittmann) in the Rittmann Lab.
  • Bio-mediated iron precipitation for permeability reduction in the Torres Lab and the Rittmann Lab.
  • Bioremediation in all labs — see the Rittmann Lab for information.
  • Coal methanogenesis: energy production and water management in the Cadillo Lab.
  • Fermentations in the Torres Lab, Delgado Lab and Rittmann Lab. 
  • Genomic adaptations and physiology of methanogens in the Cadillo Lab.
  • Liquefaction mitigation through desaturation by stimulating nitrate-reducing bacteria to produce nitrogen gas in the Rittmann Lab. 
  • Mathematical modeling in the Rittmann Lab.
  • Membrane biofilm reactors (Zhou and Rittmann) in the Rittmann Lab.
  • Microalgae technology in the Rittmann Lab.
  • Microbial ecology (in all labs).
  • Microbial electrochemistry in the Torres Lab and Rittmann Lab.
  • Microbial products in the Rittmann Lab.
  • Nutrient recovery in the Rittmann Lab.
  • Photobioenergy in the Torres Lab and Rittmann Lab.
  • Northern peatlands: Climate and its effects on microbial activity in the Cadillo Lab.
  • Novel biotechnologies (in all labs).
  • Resource recovery (Zhou and Rittmann) in the Rittmann Lab. 
  • Wastewater treatment (Zhou and Rittmann) in the Rittman Lab. 


  • Extensive chemical analytical facility.  
  • Fully equipped microbiology and molecular biology facility for research on classical microbiology and molecular microbial ecology. 
  • Custom-designed process laboratory that maximizes flexibility for supporting bench-scale reactor systems.  
  • Photobioenergy research laboratory with photobioreactor facility.  
  • Deep expertise and capacity in molecular microbial ecology, mathematical modeling and novel biotechnologies.  
  • Expertise in the biological, chemical, and physical characterization of soils, biochemical reactive transport and multiphase flow in porous media and affiliate with the Center for Biomediated and Bioinspired Geotechnics.

Swette Impact Report

Each year, the members of the center compile their achievements into the following impact reports

Year in review archives

Support the Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology

Managing microbial communities that provide services to make society more sustainable.