May 25, 2011

A group of four biological engineering students put their heads together to create a filter that will prohibit floating litter from entering the bayou and causing problems in the ecosystem.

The group designed a filter for a specific storm drain in Bayou Plaquemine and was supported by the city of Plaquemine, which brought the proposal for the project to the University, said Patrick Lipoma, biological engineering senior and member of the group.

Lipoma, Jon Decuir, Lauren Dwyer and Brooke Morris, all biological engineering seniors, created the device.

Daniel Thomas, the group's project adviser, professor and chair of the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, said if the group's accomplishment gets installed in Plaquemine and other locations with similar problems, residents would enjoy their surroundings more.

"Floating trash is a problem everywhere," Lipoma said.

Lipoma said the biggest difference between communities with this problem was the dimensions of different storm drains, so whoever installed their device would have to fabricate it according to the drains' dimensions.

Lipoma said the device works using a floating weir, which lets litter float in and prohibits it from floating out.

One of the major hurdles the group faced was the fluctuating height of the water in Bayou Plaquemine, which rises and falls about 10 feet above and below the average height, Lipoma said.

Lipoma said their project floats by using Styrofoam blocks coated with expanded polyethylene, which Decuir said makes it like a hard plastic.

The trash travels out of the storm drain and into the filter and goes into the back part of the device, which looks similar to a cage.

Decuir said the device was constructed with the possibility of animals and fish accidentally being trapped in mind. The bottom of the cage is open so animals or fish that get into the device can escape.

He said a benefit of the device is that animals will not consume as much litter as they do currently.

Another benefit of the device's capture and removal of litter is more availability of oxygen for fish in the bayou, Lipoma said.

When litter degrades, it uses up oxygen in the water that fish also use, Lipoma said. Without the presence of litter, more oxygen will be present for fish.

Dwyer said the drinking water in Plaquemine is filtered water from the bayou, and the lack of floating litter would improve the taste and quality of the water.

However, Morris said the group never installed or made the device at full size because of community and political issues in Plaquemine.

The group did not want to waste the rest of its funds on constructing something that wouldn't be put to use, Lipoma said.

The students hope another group will take over and find a way to install the filter in the city of Plaquemine or other places that have inquired about their work, Morris said.

She said other interests in their device come from the LSU AgCenter and the Tri-Parish Council, which consists of Iberville, Pointe Coupee and West Baton Rouge parishes.

Decuir said a major issue they faced with the installation was that someone has to come to the device on a boat and empty it. This person would be required to have maritime insurance.

The group also got involved in the Plaquemine community to help raise awareness to the problem of floating litter in their bayou.

Dwyer said they participated in a "Boogie on the Bayou" cleanup day, during which a small group of six collected three 55-gallon barrels full of floating litter in boats after two to three hours.

Dan Hayes, biological engineering assistant professor who oversees the biological engineering senior design program, said he was impressed by the group's dedication and passion.

"They are certainly one of the more motivated and efficient groups we've had," Hayes said.

Morris said the group received $900 from the College of Agriculture Undergraduate Research Program for their project proposal.

Dwyer said the group has spent about $100 because they were saving the rest to construct the actual device. They currently have a working prototype.

She also said the group won the "Most Innovative Research" award from the College of Agriculture research grant poster competition.


This article was originally published in the Daily Reveille on May 2 and written by Meredith Will. To read the original article, click here.

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