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UNM Students Excel at Environmental Design Contest

April 16, 2012

Photo (left to right): Craig Garcia, Zachariah Harris, Andrew Gomez, Stephen Clark, and Peter Crowder receive their award at the 22nd International Environmental Design Contest.

Writer:  Mattie Hensley, NMSU

4-16-12 – A team of students from the University of New Mexico won first place last Wednesday at the 22nd International Environmental Design Contest. Chemical engineering majors Stephen Clark, Peter Crowder, Andrew Gomez, Zachariah Harris, and Craig Garcia received $2500, acclaim, and professional feedback for their design solution.

The team was advised by Dr. Eric Carnes, assistant research professor; Geoff Courtin, research engineer and supervisor of the Chemical Engineering Undergraduate Laboratory; Civil Engineering Professor Kerry Howe; and Civil Engineering post-doctoral student Dr. Janet Leavitt.

The event took place at the Las Cruces Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, where the UNM team excelled among the 20 student teams representing 15 universities from across the country. Hosted by New Mexico State University’s Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE), the contest awarded $20,000 to winning teams for solving technical environmental problems. Having spent several months to a year on their projects, the student teams presented oral, written, poster and bench-scale demonstrations of their innovative solutions to real-world problems at the annual competition.

“The University of New Mexico did an outstanding job during the competition,” said Dr. Abbas Ghassemi, Director of IEE. “The team had the highest overall total score and highest individual scores in each of the four categories.” The UNM team received first place in the Task 5 category for designing an improved method for pretreating water on sea-going ships. The team developed a realistic solution that could be applied to both seawater and inland application, reducing the environmental impact produced by the current pretreatment process.

“The team's system uses an ultra-filtration membrane to remove particulates from seawater,” explained Courtin. “It is designed to be an environmentally benign pretreatment for the reverse osmosis membrane process used to create potable water.  Without pretreatment, reverse osmosis membranes become quickly fouled, which makes them less effective and drastically drives up the cost of producing drinking water.”

The team’s device utilizes hollow fiber membranes to reduce fouling (dirtying of the membrane). The sea water enters one end of the cylinder which contains the membrane and runs tangential to the pores of the membrane. This carries away particulates before they can accumulate. That’s the backbone of the design, explained Garcia. The pressure in the system forces water through the pores to a tube in the center of the cylinder. When the water exits on the opposite side of the cylinder, it is particulate-free and ready for further processing.

The full scale—the size the device would be in real life—was originally designed for use on a specific size of ship, but once the team met this qualification they modified their design so it could be used on land as well. It was designed to be easily scaled up or down to meet these varying applications, and is transportable.

WERC’s Environmental Design Contest is a unique event that brings together industry, government and academia in the search for improved environmental solutions. Held annually since 1991 at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico, the contest draws hundreds of college students from throughout the United States and around the world.

A full list of winners and events at the contest is available at year’s event was sponsored by the State of New Mexico, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, Intel Corporation, the Office of Naval Research, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.