"The sustainability of human civilization on earth is an ideal to which we should strive. Our work helps balance the need for equitable quality of life for all with an environment that is not threatened by human impacts."
The challenge: how to effectively teach engineering students to develop sustainable and equitable solutions to real-world problems. The solution: make it possible for the students do research on location so that they more clearly understand the broader implications of their work.
A specialist in biological treatment processes, sustainability, renewable energy and life cycle assessment, Kevin Gilmore, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, mentored four students working to create a clean water supply and distribution system for the rainforest village of Tumaipa, Suriname in northern South America.
The students began the project on campus, but soon decided they wanted to research firsthand Tumaipa's culture, water sources and layout before deciding on the best design for the clean water delivery system. During winter break in January 2010, Gilmore, the students and Professor Mike Toole traveled to Tumaipa, where they met with the villagers, who are descendants of escaped Dutch slaves. As a result of the trip, the group determined that collecting rain water would be sufficient for the village's drinking water needs during periods when rainfall was adequate. And if rainfall was less than average or demand was high, filtered river water could serve as a backup resource. Gilmore believes the students learned a valuable lesson about the global impact that engineers can have.
Next on Gilmore's agenda is using a membrane-carbonated photobioreactor for purification of biogas. Biogas from landfills and anaerobic reactors contains methane, but also too much carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is corrosive and prevents the compression of biogas for use in mobile vehicle fuels. By having the gas go through a membrane selective for CO2, the CO2 can be delivered to an algal biofilm grown outside the membrane tube. The resulting biogas has a higher thermal value and lower fraction of CO2.
"The sustainability of human civilization on earth is an ideal to which we should strive," he says. "Our work helps balance the need for equitable quality of life for all with an environment that is not threatened by human impacts."
Posted Sept. 27, 2011
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