Sigma: 2021-01-19

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From Swine Lagoons to Space and Back Again

Bill Cumbie

January 19, 2021 at 7:30 P.M. via


Water is essential for life. It is the major component of virtually all creatures and its abundance on earth is one of the major reasons life can thrive on earth. We use it for travel, for recreation, for growing crops, and it plays a part in many aspects of our life. Water connects everything and we must recognize that interconnectedness if we are to have a clear vision of how to enjoy and preserve this resource.

We will start by discussing the challenges of supplying water for astronauts in space. Exploring the challenges faced in that small, mostly self-contained, ecosystem will help us understand the interconnectedness of water use and reuse. Pancopia will present information on development of biological wastewater recycling including the research we are pursuing using anammox, a recently discovered bacterium that can more than halve the cost of nitrogen removal from wastewater.

We will look at how ‘earth bound’ systems and technologies can help resolve issues in space and how solutions to problems in space can improve systems on earth. The discussion will close with a proposed paradigm to help water professionals to keep abreast of developments in the world of water and why that is important.


Bill Cumbie, PE is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Pancopia, Inc., a research, development, and commercialization firm specializing in the identification and introduction of environmental technologies that transform wastewater from a liability to a productive asset.

Bill has forty years’ experience in water purification and reuse. He received his Civil Engineering degree from Old Dominion University and a Master’s in Sanitary Engineering from Virginia Tech. He is a registered professional engineer in Virginia with experience as a Plant Manager at Hampton Roads Sanitation District and almost 30 years at CH2M, a large multinational infrastructure engineering firm. Bill has engineered and managed more than a dozen multi-million-dollar state-of-the-art projects covering a wide range of technical specialties, leading a number of projects requiring ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions. He has extensive wastewater treatment operational experience and has maintained an active Class I wastewater treatment license for thirty-five years. Mr. Cumbie has also started up and operated two high-tech companies and received the 2010 Entrepreneur award from the Hampton Roads Tech Council.

He is a proponent of a more encompassing understanding of the water cycle, and the need to develop robust, sustainable solutions that address all aspects of water use. The desire to play a part in the development of such sustainable solutions led to the founding of Pancopia and the pursuit of its first major project to help develop a biological purification system to recycle wastewater for use by NASA in space exploration. Pancopia has executed multiple projects for NASA, and the research has led to applications in the municipal and agricultural markets.

For illustration only. No additional information.

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