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Environmental Studies Professors Earn Funding for Research and New Technology

Sarah-Jane Lorenzo
November 1, 2014

Two Voinovich School professors received more than $123,000 from the university’s 1804 Fund for projects designed to bring new environmental technologies to campus this year.

Sarah Davis and Natalie Kruse Daniels received grant money for their projects exploring anaerobic digestion and environmental monitoring technology. Both professors hope their projects will provide graduate training and research opportunities while positively impacting the local environment.

Davis’ project “Anaerobic Digestion System for Multiple Services” will focus on constructing a small greenhouse and anaerobic digester to compost campus food waste on a trial scale.

Anaerobic digestion is the decomposition of organic matter without oxygen, a process that generates methane. The university currently composts much of the waste from campus dining halls in an in-vessel composting facility. A by-product of the current composting system is carbon dioxide, and the compost is not used after it is produced.

Davis wants to expand the utility of the university’s compostable waste by capturing methane generated during anaerobic digestion for use as an energy source and by spreading composted material on some fields at the Ridges.

Although the $75,000 grant Davis received will not build a very large anaerobic digester, Davis said she hopes that if the system proves viable, the university will consider investing in anaerobic digestion on a larger scale.

Davis is currently working on the project with several graduate students and Voinovich School Research Postdoc Kim Miller and hopes the facility will become a resource for students who want to investigate composting methods and anaerobic digestion. She encourages interested students to contact her about initiating involvement.

Kruse Daniels’ project, “Environmental Monitoring Technology: From Stream to Cloud,” will employ new wireless technology to monitor water quality field data in the Athens area.

Through her project, which received a $49,327 grant, Kruse Daniels aims to provide an educational advancement opportunity not only for students in the Voinovich School, but for those in the Scripps College of Communications and the Russ College of Engineering and Technology.

Through the partnership, students will both assess the area’s watershed and utilize Scripps College resources to improve data presentation and visualization. The project will complement the ongoing OU Water Project, an interdisciplinary exploration of the Athens watershed produced by the Scripps College of Communications and the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.

“We are hoping to not only develop technology that allows for low-cost remote water quality monitoring with cloud based data storage and data visualization, but also to train students on all of the elements of this work,” Kruse Daniels said.

Both Davis and Kruse Daniels believe their projects will contribute lasting educational resources to the university community and will help the university become a national leader in environmental technology.