A team of 31 LSU environmental engineering students traveled to Las Cruces, New Mexico, to compete in the Waste-Management Education Research Consortium, or WERC, Environmental Design Contest, where they won a total of five awards and two first-place task awards in competition against 20 other teams from 10 universities.

Taking first place in Task 1 (Silver-based Microbial Check Valve for Spacecraft Potable Water Systems) were LSU Environmental Engineering seniors Morgan Lauck, of Mandeville; Ian Smith, of Baton Rouge; Dylan Bates, of Grand Cane; Brian Beck, of Horsham, Pennsylvania; Dana Bowman, of Baton Rouge; Sheila Elhami, of Baton Rouge; Gibson Fischer, of Baton Rouge; and Jon Nelson, of Greenwell Springs. In completing the task, sponsored by NASA, the team designed an electrolysis method using silver to keep bacteria from growing in the recycled water used by the International Space Station, according to a news release.

“All of the water on the space station is recycled,” Smith said. “They collect water and use this complex system of deionizing and cleaning it to make sure it’s drinkable. It’s unsafe to drink iodine, so they must remove it before it goes into the potable water system. Usually in space, you get some microbial growth in the clean water that sits there in the tank. However, we can ingest silver in small amounts, so we’re able to dose the system and make it safe for astronauts to drink.”

“Electrolysis is a really simple method,” said Lauck, who served as team leader. “Our project is a replacement of their iodine system, but an improvement to the overall water recycling and treatment system. The only real addition would be two silver wires.”

Beck explained that these wires are connected to the electrode that doses the untreated water with the silver concentration.

“Right now, the astronauts clean the water, then it turns bad, so they have to clean it again,” Smith said. “Our method isn’t disinfection; it’s a preventative residual dose.”

Unlike iodine, silver is not harmful for humans to ingest in small doses.

The students had to complete the task without knowing how everything on the ISS is built. One thing the team did know is that their model had to weigh less than 5 kilograms.

“We don’t know if that’s because that’s the weight they would want to use for the ISS,” Lauck said. “It needed to be lightweight because weight is a huge constriction for the ISS. Our model is really small and simple.”

Smith said they wanted their design to be simple for the astronauts to use.

“We talked about that a lot at WERC,” he said.

What really seemed to impress the WERC judges was the team’s outline of how much the project would cost, which totaled near $1.1 million.

“Our original cost analysis was very underestimated,” Lauck said. “I sat down with Dr. (John) Pardue, who explained that it was going to cost a lot more and have a yearlong implementation schedule. He helped a lot with that.”

With guidance from LSU CEE professor and EVEG undergraduate program coordinator John Pardue, the team began researching its project in September 2018, then moved on to building and testing in November.

Working as such a large team, the students agreed that it was easier to break into smaller groups to focus on specific tasks, which ended up being beneficial in more ways than one.

What happens with their project remains to be seen, but the group can lay claim to being one of the first LSU teams to place — well, first — at WERC since the university began competing. The other was the team that took on Task 2 (Industrial Stack Exhaust Emissions Testing Using Drone Technology).

This team — LSU EVEG seniors Elliot Felsher, of Cheneyville; Mark Fritchie, of Baton Rouge; Erol Knaus, of Baton Rouge; Teche Melancon, of Lafayette; Justin Robert, of Gonzales; and Lauren Westphal, of Broussard — designed a payload to monitor air concentrations of volatile organic compounds and particulate matter from a drone. The group won the task, sponsored by Intel, by developing an integrated sensor and communication system that could monitor industrial smokestacks, eliminating the need for manual stack test measurements.

Taking second place for Task 6 (Blight to Bioswales: Engineered Nature Parks in New Orleans’ Abandoned Lower Ninth Ward Community) were LSU EVEG seniors Aaron Basso, of Ponchatoula; Duyen Lam, of Raceland; Chandler Landrum, of Baton Rouge; Holly Midkiff, of Jackson; Madison Moss, of Shriever; and Sarah Wannamaker, of Baton Rouge.

Also taking second place for Task 3 (Selenium Water Treatment and Recovery) were LSU EVEG seniors Muneer Al-Mamari, of Baton Rouge; Lee Lattimore, of Baton Rouge; Daniel Lopez, of Gonzales; Shelbi Meynard, of Marrero; and Juston West, of Baton Rouge.

Lastly, receiving the Freeport-McMoRan Innovation in Sustainability Award for Task 5 (Removal and Reuse of Phosphorous as Fertilizer from CAFO Runoff) were LSU EVEG seniors Jasmine Bekkaye, of Baton Rouge; Rachel Ellis, of Plaquemine; Nathan Goff, of Ocean Springs, Mississippi; Olivia Guidry, of Baton Rouge; Lauren Imme, of Denham Springs; and Ryan Robinson, of Baton Rouge.

WERC is a competition that brings together industry, government, and academia in search for improved solutions to environmental challenges. All winnings from the competition will go back into LSU’s EVEG program to help next year’s participants.