College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Nuclear engineering alumnus specializes in alternative energy wastewater treatment

Mike Locascio uses fluid dynamics knowledge to consult for ethanol plants, distilleries and other industries

Mike Locascio
Mike Locascio

Most students have a moment where they are sitting in a class thinking they will never use the information once they leave campus. For Mike Locascio, it was a fluid dynamics lab he had to take prior to graduating with a nuclear engineering degree in 1989. With his career now focused on water treatment, Locascio says he uses fluid dynamics everyday. And he’s quick to add how grateful he is that Iowa State taught him how to be an engineer in any discipline.

After graduating, Locascio spent five years in the Marine Corps and then pursued an interest in rural water treatment. He now owns his own consulting business, Yield and Capacity Group, LLC, where he finds solutions to clean and dispose of wastewater for many types of industries. He says the hands-on experience of problem solving and working in a lab environment from Iowa State has come in handy since that’s what he spends a majority of his time doing.

Locascio specializes in fuel ethanol and potable alcohol wastewater treatment where he figures out how much water plants need. He also determines how the plant discharges this water into the environment. When he began working with the industry following the ethanol boom in the 2000s, he initially helped the state of Iowa create water discharge permit limits for the plants. Since then, Locascio has changed focus to help the plants use less water and recycle the water that is used, which he has coined the LESS process.

LESS stands for low energy solids separation and uses a combination of chemical and mechanical process to separate liquids and solids in a low-energy process. The Boeing Corporation, distilleries, ethanol plants and Honda have either implemented Locascio’s processes or done extensive trials.

He says creating the technology was not an easy process because he had to make sure his method did not violate other patents. After trying four technologies – centrifuges, screw presses, dissolved air floatation and clarifiers – he began studying low-energy processes. This led Locascio to his greatest accomplishment – a patented technology of a gravity table and micro-screen to separate water and solids. His discovery is the most energy-efficient process available and displaces very energy traditional processes.

Locascio’s process also created a new feedstock utilizing the solids filtered from the wastewater. The solids are paired with enzymes and produce a high-quality feedstock that can be fed to cattle, pigs and chickens.

Improving the environment is another result of his processes. He recently traveled to the Caribbean to implement technologies in a rum distillery. Molasses is used in the production process, which creates a thick and viscous wastewater. After the wastewater is discharged into a ditch or the ocean, the sunlight is blocked from entering the discharge area, effectively destroying the ecosystem. To reduceg the damage to the environment all while improving plant economics, Locascio created a process using a chemical reaction and his patented LESS technology to remove the organics and turn them into a precursor to fertilizer as well as remove the color.

No matter what part of the world Locascio travels to, he is grateful for the opportunity to become an Iowa State engineer. “I’ve traveled all over the world and worked with a lot of great people, but the best engineers I run across all come from ISU.”