Ohio University

Chemical engineering students prep for annual national environmental design competition

Chemical engineering students prep for annual national environmental design competition

Two teams of Ohio University chemical engineering seniors are spending the dreary winter days preparing for sunny New Mexico, where they’ll travel in April for the 30th annual WERC Environmental Design Contest to present their research and propose solutions for two environmental challenges.

The annual competition, held at New Mexico State University, consists of six tasks based on real-world environmental challenges. Asked to develop an economically smart solution, students must submit a research essay before the competition, then make an oral presentation and demonstrate their work at the event. Last year, Russ College students earned a win.

This year’s two 10-member teams will compete in Task 4, “Fluoride Water Treatment and Recovery,” and Task 5, “Produced Water: Rare-Earth Element Recovery and Clean Water Production.”

Task 4 requires removing high levels of fluoride from streams near mining operations because abundant fluoride levels can be detrimental to aquatic life. According to the team’s project manager, Matt Shone, the team’s solution is unique.

“It’s not a conventional method, and actually uses a waste product from another industry to remove the fluoride from the water,” he said.

While some of Shone’s team members are receiving credit hours as part of an independent study, others are participating on their own accord, based on recommendations from friends who competed on last year’s first-place team.

Task 5 asks students to clean the elements europium, lanthanum and neodymium from water to make it suitable for farm use, and so the elements can be used in the electronics industry.

Connor Fallace said the team is still experimenting with their solution because they must first put the elements into the water to practice taking them back out.

The teams, which are supported by last year’s prize winnings of $2,500, created a video and are also fundraising for their trip. They are advised by Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Professor Darin Ridgway.