Russ College senior Liz Cohenour and her team won a Judges Choice Award on Task 3 for their denitrification process.

Photo courtesy of: Nicholas Dunfee


Russ College engineering students also won a prize for Task 2, building a solar water distillation unit.

Photo courtesy of: Nicholas Dunfee


Jake Tennant from the Russ College works on the teams solar distillation unit.

Photo courtesy of: Nicholas Dunfee

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Ohio University chemical engineering students win three prizes at national environmental design contest

Two teams of chemical engineering students from Ohio University's Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology won awards at the recent Waste-management Education and Research Consortium's (WERC) 2013 Environmental Design Contest.

Held April 7-10 at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico, the contest tasks students with developing environmental solutions that are fully operational and bench-scale.

Twenty teams from 12 universities across the nation competed.

The OHIO team that solved Task 2, "Development of an Improved Solar Distillation Unit," received a Judges Choice Award for best bench-scale demonstration, a $500 award. They also received "Special Recognition for display at Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility," a $1,000 award. The team that solved Task 3, "Nitrate Removal in Rural Water Treatment Systems," received a Judges Choice Award and $500. Winnings are passed on to the following year's team.

"The students did all the work and deserve the attention," said Darin Ridgway, associate professor of chemical engineering and the team's adviser. "I was happy they received recognition for all the hard work they put in and was proud of the way they represented the college and university," he added.

Senior Liz Cohenour was on the team that addressed Task 3. It required the team to reduce nitrate concentrations from 20 parts per million (ppm) down to 10 ppm, which is the EPA limit on nitrates in drinking water.

"This is such an amazing experience and opportunity," she said.

Cohenour explained that her team used "chemical denitrification via iron oxidation," in which they used steel wool as an iron source and forced the oxygen in nitrates to react with the iron. This produced iron oxide, or rust, and ammonium. A zeolite filter filtered out the ammonium and an activated carbon filter filtered out the rust, leaving pure water at the end.

"Essentially, our process broke down something that is very difficult to remove into components that are very easy to remove with common filters," she said.

The other team worked on Task 2, where they were to develop a cost-effective solution to water shortages in parts of the world that only have access to brackish water. They used a parabolic trough to concentrate solar energy, which was used to distill brackish ground water to produce solids and pure water. 

"WERC is a lot of work, especially on top of our senior classes," Cohenour said. "Both teams spent entire days working in the lab when we didn't have classes. It was exhausting sometimes."

"A lot of teams enter the WERC program, and a lot of them end up not coming because they couldn't finish their design. I was so proud of our bench-scale when we were presenting it to the judges. I decided that even if we didn't win, I was still proud of our accomplishment," she said.