Department of,
Construction, &

(Dept. Website)

Morton A. Barlaz, PhD., P.E,

Professor and Head




I joined NC State University in August 1989 after completing my Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin in 1988 and then spending a year as a research scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Laboratory for Groundwater Research (Ada, OK).   I have been serving as Department Head since 2010. 
My research interests are in the area of solid waste engineering with a specific emphasis on (1) biological and chemical processes in landfills and (2) the use life-cycle analysis to evaluate the economic and environmental performance of integrated solid waste management systems.

Biological, Chemical, and Physical Processes in Landfills
Biological, chemical and physical processes all affect the decomposition of municipal solid waste(MSW) in landfills as well as the behavior of trace waste components such as organics and metals. I am interested in all aspects of solid waste behavior in landfills and conduct research that ranges from fundamental studies of the microbial ecology of landfills to more applied studies on the effect of various industrial wastes on refuse decomposition and gas generation.  My research area includes laboratory and field-scale experimental work as well as mathematical models to describe various aspects of waste and landfill behavior.  Representative projects are described below, with references to journal articles that describe the work more fully.Journal articles are listed in my Publication List.

In collaboration with Dr. Francis de los Reyes in our department, Ph.D. student Bryan Staley conducted work to understand the mechanisms by which methane production is initiated in a landfill.  Two hypotheses were explored including the presence of methanogen-rich microniches and the presence of acid tolerant methanogens that could grow under the acidic conditions that are typical soon after the disposal of fresh solid waste.  This work resulted in a series of papers from methods development to a description of the initiation of refuse methanogenesis in laboratory-scale simulations (papers 85, 92 98).
In collaboration with Dr. Detlef Knappe in our department, I have worked on the behavior of trace organic contaminants during waste decomposition.  This work began in 2000 when Dr. Dilek Sanin, a postdoctoral research associate at the time and now a professor in Turkey, worked with waste excavated from a Superfund Site to measure the behavior of toluene and acetone during waste decomposition (paper 34).   This work continued with postdoctoral research associate Dr. Shannon Bartelt-Hunt, now on the faculty at the University of Nebraska, who began to explore the behavior of chemical warfare agents in landfills (papers 62, 66.)   This work was based on mathematical modeling and was extended to a detailed description of trace contaminant behavior in landfills in collaboration with Michael Lowry at Research Triangle Institute (paper 67).  In parallel, postdoctoral research associate Dr. Pascal Saikaly worked on the behavior of surrogate biological warfare agents in decomposing waste (papers 65, 89).  Most recently, Ph.D. student Jovi Saquing focused on physical and chemical interactions between municipal waste components and trace organic contaminants (papers 70, 76, 83).  Perfluorinated compounds have been documented in municipal landfill leachate (paper 91).  Currently, with support from the National Science Foundation, we are working to identify sources of perfluorinatedcompounds in municipal waste and to evaluate whether landfill leachate is a significant source of these compounds in the environment.

I have a long standing interest in material biodegradability in landfills including both bulk waste components such as various types of paper (paper 20), wood (paper 94), and newly developed biodegradable polymers (papers 25, 46, 93 as well as ASTM standard D6776-02).  Concurrently, I am interested in quantifying that fraction of biogenic waste that does not degrade and is put into long-term carbon storage in landfills (paper 27, 68, 104).  I am currently working with 1 Ph.D. students on improved analytical methods for lignin in MSW.  The method most commonly employed to quantify lignin in MSW is the Klason lignin method and we have shown that interferences (plastics, rubber, synthetic textiles) make this method unreliable for bulk MSW.  I am working with a second Ph.D. student on factors controlling the anaerobic biodegradability of wood in simulated landfill systems.   
I am interested in the impact of various wastes on refuse decomposition and on the analysis of field-scale landfill performance.  This is best illustrated by work on the effect of industrial wastes on decomposition (papers 72, 73).  I have worked on various aspects of bioreactor landfills for many years (papers 42, 75, 99, 101) and recently completed a national assessment of the state-of-the practice in collaboration with Dr. Craig Benson at the University of Wisconsin and Dr. Chris Bareither, now at Colorado State University (papers 61, 77, 78).  We are currently analyzing landfill gas collection data from landfills across the U.S. in an effort to update the U.S. EPA’s Landfill gas Emissions Model (LandGEM - 
There are many other aspects of landfills where I am actively working including strategies for the long-term management of landfills (papers 49, 90, 100, 102) and landfill gas collection (papers74, 79, 103).

The Application of Life-Cycle Analysis to Integrated Solid waste Management
I collaborate with Drs. E. Downey Brill, Joe DeCarolis and  Ranji Ranjithan in our department on research to identify optimal strategies for solid waste management in consideration of cost, energy consumption and environmental emissions using life-cycle analysis. In the late 1990s, we worked with the Research Triangle Institute and the U.S. EPA to develop the first solid waste management life-cycle model in which a user could search all feasible solid waste management strategies to identify optimal waste management scenarios.  The model, often referred to as the Decision Support Tool, includes process models to describe emissions from individual unit processes (e.g., waste combustion – paper 35; landfills – paper 36), as well a systems model (papers 43, 44) and a user interface (paper 38).  In subsequent work, we considered uncertainty in model parameters (paper 56) and later the model was used in a case study to assist the State of Delaware with solid waste management planning (paper 69).  The use of life-cycle analysis to explore various aspects of the waste management system continues with papers on industrial wastes (84), commercial food waste (95), and a study on whether biodegradability is a desirable attribute of a material (paper 93).

We are currently working on a new version of the optimization model to enhance its capabilities in several areas (manuscript submitted).  First, all process models are being updated in consideration of changes in waste management technologies (e.g., new methods for refuse collection, increased automation in MRFs, reduced emissions from mass burn combustion systems, a more sophisticated analysis of landfills).  In addition, new process models for anaerobic digestion and waste gasification have been developed.  Second, the model will have the capability to consider future changes to the solid waste system such as increased costs for energy, limits on greenhouse gas emissions and higher landfill diversion targets.  Changes can be imposed in five year time steps throughout the modeling period.  Third, the model will project changes in the mix of fuels used to generate energy in the U.S. as this has implications for both the cost of energy and the offset credits attributable to processes in which energy is recovery from waste (e.g., combustion, landfills, anaerobic digestion).


Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering
North Carolina State University
Campus Box 7908, Raleigh, NC 27695-7908
Updated On: 30th Jan 2013