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Ohio University, Rural Action develop Perry County acid mine drainage facility to create art from waste

Anna Hartenbach and Colleen Carow | Jan 22, 2018
AMD
Having waged battle with brush throughout the day, the team -- comprising Ohio University faculty and students, and Rural Action volunteers -- stands over the Corning, Ohio, site where the acid mine drainage surfaces and runs into Sunday Creek.

Ohio University, Rural Action develop Perry County acid mine drainage facility to create art from waste

Anna Hartenbach and Colleen Carow | Jan 22, 2018
Having waged battle with brush throughout the day, the team -- comprising Ohio University faculty and students, and Rural Action volunteers -- stands over the Corning, Ohio, site where the acid mine drainage surfaces and runs into Sunday Creek.
Having waged battle with brush throughout the day, the team -- comprising Ohio University faculty and students, and Rural Action volunteers -- stands over the Corning, Ohio, site where the acid mine drainage surfaces and runs into Sunday Creek.

In an area awash with acid mine drainage, Ohio University faculty and students, and the surrounding community, broke ground in Perry County in December on an acid mine drainage (AMD) remediation pilot-scale plant that will use the pollution to create paint pigments.

Guy Riefler, chair of the Russ College Department of Civil Engineering, and John Sabraw, chair of painting and drawing in the School of Art and Design, worked with Rural Action’s Michelle Shively, who is the Sunday Creek Watershed coordinator, to build the facility at the John Altier Park in Corning, Ohio.

“The only way these sites are going to get cleaned up is if we can find a way to do so affordably,” Riefler said. “It's possible, if we turn it into a business and sell a product from it.”

AMD is acidic water that flows from a mining site, resulting in the oxidation of iron sulfide and creating an acid strong enough to dissolve other harmful metals and metalloids, which can be detrimental to the surrounding ecosystem. AMD is marked by an orange tinge, which occurs when iron precipitates in the water. The iron that can be extracted from AMD and the resulting solid is iron-oxy-hydroxide, a valuable commodity in the pigment industry. Pigments produced from AMD can range from orange to yellow, to deep reds and browns, and even black and some shades of violet, Sabraw said.

Encompassing about 400 square feet, the Corning Paint Pigment Pilot Project – which will continuously treat the water in Corning for about a year – will feature two 1,500 gallon tanks and one 1,000 gallon tank. Water will be pumped up, then will drip down through trays with holes and into the first tank before flowing through the bottom of it and into the next, thanks to gravity.

At this rate, the team will be able to produce roughly a pound of pigment a week, enabling them to test and optimize the process, calculate cost and yield estimates, and begin marketing their product to pigment suppliers.

“It’s still a small installation -- it will treat only about a quarter of 1 percent of the flow, so just a tiny amount of the flow coming out of Corning,” Riefler said.

Iron will be oxidized via tray aeration in the first two tanks, then the iron particles will be separated from the water in the third tank. Clean water will flow back into the stream while the remaining sludge is pumped out through a sock filter to remove the remaining water before transport to the lab for the pigment production process.

“The pigment is of a quality that is the same as any high fine artist pigment,” Sabraw said. “We’re able to make acrylics, water colors, pastels and oil paints.”

Riefler and Sabraw have been collaborating for several years on the AMD pigment project. Through Sabraw’s personal relationship with Gamblin Artist Colors in Portland, Oregon, the project is already gaining traction in the art supply industry; Gamblin produced 500 tubes of oil paint made from the

pigment collected at the facility and co-branded with them with the names of both parties as part of a trial run.

“When I was in grad school at Northwestern University, I worked at an art store in Evanston, Illinois. One of the people who would come around pretty frequently to educate us about their products is Robert Gamblin himself. He and I really enjoyed talking about the history of pigments,” Sabraw said. “It’s just a good vibe and a great full circle to be working with him.”

The duo will use the pigments to support a Kickstarter campaign.

Meanwhile, Sabraw is leading an effort to turning the outdoor facility and its fencing into art.

“We have a student team of artists that are working with me, Guy and the team to design the exterior of the pilot plant as an art piece,” Sabraw said. “So the entire facility should be a beautiful, challenging, public work of art.”

The team is working to finalize the design for completion by this summer. Funding was provided by a Sugar Bush Foundation grant that Riefler, Sabraw and Shively received in July 2017, and matching funds from Russ College alumnus Richard “Dick” Dickerson, BSCE ‘80.