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Environmentally sound brick kiln is part of Smithsonian Institution exhibit

An environmentally sound brick kiln developed by New Mexico State University researcher Antonio Lara and alumnus Roberto Marquez is on display in Washington, D.C. It is part of the Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage traveling exhibit "El Rio," which opened Friday, Feb. 14.

Left, alumnus Robert Marquez and, top, a Juarez brick-maker, build an environmentally sound filtering kiln in front of the Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in 2000. (Photo courtesy of Erin Ward)

Lara, an NMSU chemistry professor, and Marquez, who is now at the University of Virginia doing post-doctoral work, developed an environmentally sound filtering system for brick-making. The working system operates with a dual kiln design. When one kiln is being fired, the other traps the pollutants. The role of the kilns are reversed at the next firing and the original pollutants are then efficiently combusted.

Lara and Marquez worked with ladrilleros (brick-makers) in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, during the research process.

"It's an incredible solution, because the pollution has been eliminated, not merely trapped and concentrated to pose additional problems down the road," Lara said.

He said the filtering system was constructed with "very appropriate technology."

"It doesn't have exotic building materials," Lara said. "Clay will trap the smoke."

The project was started eight years ago and has evolved since then with the support of many agencies and foundations including the El Paso Community Foundation, the Lindbergh Foundation, the New Mexico Environment Department, the university's Chemistry and Biochemistry department, El Paso Electric, Applied Sciences Laboratory Inc./Department of Energy, the Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez and the Southwest Center for Environmental Research and Policy (SCERP) at NMSU.

The filter system "has demonstrated an outstanding success in reducing the air pollutants emanating from brick-making chimneys," said Erin Ward, SCERP campus director.

Ward, who is in Washington, D.C., for the opening, said the low-tech approach to environmental protection has a number of advantages such as the accessibility of materials to make the filtering system and the low cost.

The "El Rio" exhibition refers to the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Basin that extends from the mountains of Colorado through the rugged landscapes of New Mexico, Texas and into Northern Mexico. It also refers to the relationship between people who live there and their environment.

The exhibit will travel around the United States and Mexico, including stops in Albuquerque and El Paso in 2005.

For more information contact Ward at (505) 646-5255.