April 30, 2012

Sixteen LSU environmental engineering students in three distinct senior design groups competed in this year’s WERC International Environmental Design Competition in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The contest is a unique event that brings together industry, government and academia in the search for improved environmental solutions and draws hundreds of college students from the U.S. and around the world every year.

For past competitions, students select a proposed project to work on, but this year offered an ‘open task’ option allowing students to propose a project.

 “The students present a paper, poster and a short presentation about their respective projects,” said John Pardue, Elizabeth Howell Stewart Professor, LSU Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering and director of the Louisiana Water Resources Research Institute. “All of the students were interested by the open task option. Our three teams focused on aquaponics, taking the salt out of water using wind power and a green roof project.”

Aquaponics system looks to grow crawfish without soil

This year’s aquaponics group, who built a self-sustaining water circulation system for the growth of crawfish and plants without soil, won the Freeport McMoran Innovation in Sustainability award, a $2,500 prize, and a second place task award with a $1,000 prize. Group members included: Sarah Simmons, Brian McCormick, Matt Rodrigue, Jacob Zeairs, Tori Ocmand and Jena Milliner, all senior environmental engineering majors.

“We chose aquaponics because we recognized water shortage as a growing problem for the world to overcome,” said Brian McCormick, aquaponics group member. “Aquaponics addresses the water shortage issue by growing two crops in one system, fish and plants. Compared to conventional farming, aquaponics uses less water per amount of consumable produced.  However, aquaponics is still a new technique and operators have trouble breaking even. We chose to find if turning off the pump to save money on electricity would negatively affect plant growth.  After our experiment, we found that the system that was turned off for a period of time actually had faster growth rates.”

“The project actually taught me how to apply the things that I have learned over the last few years,” McCormick said. “We had to learn how to analyze every aspect of the project and how every environmental factor affected the system's operation.” 

Team finds more cost-effective system to remove salt from water with wind

The Wind Energy Pressure Pump (WEPP) system senior design group addressed the global water crisis with wind energy. The group, including Mary Battalora, Joyce Gravois, John Bellone, Evan Burns and Mary Claire Lambert, built a windmill-like device to push water through a membrane filtration system, combining design concepts environmental, mechanical and civil engineering.

“The Earth’s most valuable nonrenewable resource is being stretched thin in order to provide for its growing population. In coastal regions and areas being afflicted by problems such as salt water intrusion, finding potable water at a cheap price becomes even more of an issue when accessible fresh water is contaminated with salt,” said group member Evan Burns. “Because of these pressing issues, our senior design group decided to develop a system that would desalinate brackish groundwater by using only wind power as a source of energy. Because of its simple technology, our WEPP system can be installed virtually anywhere that is capable of harnessing wind energy.”

The system produces 1,000 liters of desalinated water at 38 cents, beating current desalination thresholds by more than ten cents.

“The completion of this project not only improved our group’s team work skills, but also opened our eyes to the many economic aspects of engineering design,” Burns said. “The Louisiana State University Environmental Engineering Department has supported us every step of the way, including help from other engineering disciplines such as the Mechanical Engineering Department.”

Students design filtration system using sustainable energy

The green roof project senior design group designed a greywater reuse system implemented on a dormitory using a green roof. The system is designed for the filtration of greywater – wastewater generated from domestic activities such as laundry, dishwashing, and bathing – using natural processes. The pump that the system requires to filter greywater is powered by solar panels, a sustainable source of energy.

“The green roof is used for biological treatment of the greywater to make it suitable to be reused to flush toilets in the dormitory,” said group members Leah Simmons and Katie Guliuzo. The green roof also adds other benefits to the dormitory it is used on, such as increased insulation and storm water management. 

“This project means a lot to us because it provides an innovative, sustainable way to reuse water in areas with water scarcity in the U.S.,” Simmons and Guliuzo said.

“This senior design project is the culmination of our studies in environmental engineering at LSU,” said green roof project group member Sydni Guillot. “We get to implement processes we've learned in our classes and put it into action, designing an innovative sustainable project that might be used in common practice one day.”

The green roof project group members included Sydni Guillot, Leah Simmons, Katie Guliuzo, Brooke Villarrubia and Kyle Kleinpeter.

LSU students have participated in the contest every year since 1998, winning 10 awards to-date including a USDA Excellence award in 2005 and a Judges’ Choice award in 2011 for a “Clean Energy Portable Safe Drinking Water System.”

For more information on the competition, click here.

For more information on LSU Environmental Engineering, click here.

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