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NMSU teams to compete in environmental design contest

Two teams of New Mexico State University students will be among the 33 teams from 24 universities competing to solve environmental problems this week during the 2005 WERC Environmental Design Contest at NMSU. The contest will be held April 3-7 with student teams competing on eight tasks for cash prizes.

(From left) NMSU students Sarah Suttmiller, Will Robbie, Ryan Donahe, Dan Candalaria and Krista Adams will compete to develop a treatment system to remove hydrogen peroxide and ammonia from wastewater for use in cooling towers. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

l engineering major Sarah Suttmiller is the leader of the NMSU team competing on Task 3, "Ammonia and Hydrogen Peroxide Wastewater Treatment in Semiconductor Facilities," sponsored by Intel Corp. This task requires students to develop and demonstrate a technology for the treatment of wastewater contaminated with ammonia and hydrogen peroxide, producing treated water that can be reused in cooling towers.

Because of the extremely small size of semiconductor products, it is important to remove small particles to ensure proper function. Ammonia and hydrogen peroxide are typically used in the particle removal process.

Currently, wastewater from the process is sent directly to a publicly owned wastewater treatment facility. With increased production, treatment systems will needed at the production facility prior to discharging wastewater to the public treatment facility.

The NMSU team must develop a treatment system that minimizes the volume of residual waste for recycling. The design must be easy and safe to implement into an existing facility and in compliance with all Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.

This team is composed of three undergraduate students - Suttmiller and Dan Candelaria from chemical engineering and Will Robbie, a mechanical engineering major - and two graduate students - Ryan Donahue and Krista Adams. both studying mechanical engineering.

"We chose Task 3 because it utilizes skills from all of our disciplines," Suttmiller said.

"It's good to have a multi-disciplinary team," Adams said. "It forces you to look at your project from several perspectives."

Tim Jobe, an undergraduate student majoring in chemical engineering, is the team leader for the NMSU team tackling Task 4, "Arsenic Removal from Drinking Water," sponsored by the Awwa Research Foundation. This team must develop and demonstrate a treatment technology to remove arsenic and nitrate from drinking water in rural, isolated communities. The method must be cost-effective and energy-efficient, with the capacity to function appropriately in the presence of other competing ions such as silica and phosphate.

Arsenic, a naturally occurring element, poses a variety of environmental and health risks. The EPA recently lowered the maximum level of arsenic in drinking water to 10 parts per billion effective in 2006. Many New Mexico communities will be out of compliance with the new regulation.

The pollution of water with nitrates, the salts of nitric acid, is increased with the use of artificial fertilizers and land cultivation. Nitrates washed from the soil into bodies of water reduce the oxygen content of the water, which can be detrimental to plants, animals and infants.

After researching different removal methods, the NMSU team settled on using activated alumina (aluminum oxide) as a filter medium. This medium is made by treating aluminum so it becomes porous and highly adsorptive. The team discovered by using activated alumina during adsorption - a process by which molecules, colloids and particles adhere to a surface without any chemical reaction - both the arsenic and the nitrates could be removed in one step.

This team consists of students from NMSU's College of Agriculture and the Chemical Engineering Department -- Jobe, his wife Trine Jobe, a graduate student in horticulture; Nina Llaguno, Aous Manshad and Venkat Viswanathan, undergraduates in chemical engineering.

"The tasks are formed independently from one another, so there's a lot of cooperation between the two teams," said Martha Mitchell, NMSU chemical engineering professor and faculty adviser for the teams.

Student teams, all volunteers, are formed early in the fall semester. An optional two-semester class, "Environmental Process Design," is offered for participating students. Students are responsible for the composition of a written report, oral presentation, poster presentation and safety summary, as well as a bench-scale demonstration of their technology.

The annual environmental design contest, which draws teams from across the nation and some from other countries, is sponsored by WERC: A Consortium for Environmental Education and Technology Development. The consortium consists of New Mexico State University, the University of New Mexico, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Diné College and Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories. For more information, contact Kay Perkins, WERC program facilitator at (505) 646-7707 or kperkins@nmsu.edu, or visit www.werc.net.