Tech Teams "Clean Up" in Environmental Design Contest, April 26, 1999

LAS CRUCES, N.M., April 26, 1999 -- Three teams comprised of New Mexico Tech environmental engineering students each won second place honors in three separate environmental cleanup tasks at the Ninth Annual Waste-Management Education and Research Consortium (WERC) International Environmental Design Contest, which recently was held at New Mexico State University.

The New Mexico Tech seniors also took home a total of $6,000 in cash prizes for their team's second-place finishes in the design contest's Task I, Task II, and Task III categories.

This year, WERC presented six tasks which accurately simulated pollution problems which occur in real-life situations in public and private sites throughout the United States.

The teams competing in Task I were charged with remediating an environmental problem which stemmed from a mine tailings pile that was leaching heavy metals into surrounding groundwater and an adjacent river.

The innovative design presented by the Tech team involved treating the contaminated groundwater by using two permeable reactive walls. The first wall was composed a mixture of compost and zero-valent iron to promote the growth of sulfate-reducing bacteria, which would create sulfide and precipitate metal sulfides from the water. The second permeable reactive wall was constructed of clinoptilolite zeolite (mined in New Mexico) and zero-valent iron, which worked to remove metals from water through surface interactions.

The New Mexico Tech team members involved with solving the Task I problem were Patrice Brun, Kelly Houston, Jerome Marez, and Matthew Prange. Faculty advisors were Tech professors Baolin Deng and Cathy Aimone-Martin.

The Task II team from New Mexico Tech consisted of Ian Sutton and Nathan Meese. The duo also placed second in addressing a problem involving "Suppression and Immobilization of Radioactive Airborne Particulates." Faculty advisor for the team was environmental engineering professor Randy Martin.

Tech's Task III team designed an ingenious landfill closure cap for arid and semi-arid climates, which employed a passive dry barrier using solar-induced natural convection to provide circulation drying within the cover. The passive dry barrier was created using three sequenced layers of soil, while the induced convection was achieved by using parallel-plate solar collectors to increase the collection of solar heat and facilitate overall circulation.

"I thought the WERC competition was interesting and hard work," says Task III team member Beryl Barnes. "We did have a good time there, but the road leading up to that was long and strenuous. . . . It was an experience that I definitely learned from and can be proud of."

Barnes was joined on the Task III team by fellow Tech students Legena Briest, Cris Carson, Joe Fleming, and Leah Stapp. Faculty advisor was Clint Richardson, chairman of Tech's mineral and environmental engineering department.

"Overall, I think the WERC contest is a lot of fun," adds Task III team member Fleming. "The work was hard, but the actual competition was well worth all the work."

The three New Mexico Tech teams competed against teams from much larger schools such as Clarkson University, Tufts University, Oklahoma State University, Purdue University, United Arab Emirates University, University of Arkansas, and University of California at Riverside.

Over 350 student participants were asked to present design proposals, oral and poster presentations, and working bench-scale models to verify the design, functionality, and cost- effectiveness of their proposed solutions.

The winners of the cleanup contest then were determined by "success" ratings scored by a panel of judges made up of over 70 professionals from academia, government, and industry.

Although WERC granted only one first place overall award during the competition (which went to Purdue University), Richardson says he felt the strong showings by Tech's three teams would have garnered the university a strong second place overall had such an honor been awarded this year.

Richardson also points out that New Mexico Tech environmental design teams always have fared well in past WERC Environmental Design Contest: last year's sole Tech team, for instance, took second place and "best team work" honors in the 1998 design competition.

WERC was established in 1990 in New Mexico under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy as a educational partnership to conduct programs and provide technology development projects on better ways to address issues related to the management, minimization, and prevention of all forms of waste through education, technology development, information transfer, and public outreach. In addition to New Mexico Tech, WERC members include New Mexico State University, the University of New Mexico, and Díne College, in collaboration with Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories.