Montana Tech Environmental Engineers Take Home Top Awards at International Design Team Contest

Montana Tech’s Environmental Engineering design team traveled to Las Cruses this year for the WERC International Design Competition in New Mexico. Montana Tech’s team placed first and also won the prestigious Innovation in Sustainability Award.

For the 28th WERC Design Contest, the Montana Tech’s Environmental Design team, “Digger Denitrification,” designed a prototype biofilm electrode reactor (BER) technology to treat the nitrate contamination from agricultural runoff and thereby improving the sustainability of contemporary agricultural practices. Contemporary agricultural practices release excessive amounts of nutrients to the environment, causing eutrophication, one of the largest water quality issues in the world. The BER technology is a chemical-free, solar-powered technology that reduces nitrates into harmless nitrogen gas, allowing for in-situ treatment of eutrophic water in remote areas. The BER reactor designed by Digger Denitrification achieved a denitrification rate of 12.4 mg-nitrate/L/day (84% removal) while only using 1.8V of power. The cost of bench-scale BER can be reduced considerably as the technology develops. The current cost is estimated to be $4.14 per gram of nitrate removal.

The New Mexico State University at Las Cruces, New Mexico, organized the design contest. The teams were judged based on a written report, a power point presentation, a poster presentation, and a demonstration of the bench scale system built by the student teams. The judges took samples from the bench scale system and tested them to confirm the achievement of treatment promised by each team. The Digger Denitrification team took first place beating six other teams, which were University of California Riverside, California Polytechnic State University, Louisiana State University (two teams), New Mexico State University, and Louisiana State University. In addition, the Freeport-McMoRan Mining Company judged each of the teams for their innovation in sustainability. The Digger Denitrification team won the praise of the company and received the “Innovation in Sustainability Award,” which was given to only one team in all the 26 teams that participated from 13 universities. Team members included Tylar Holden, Brett Jonson, Emma Rott, Nels Thorsrud and advisor Daqian Jiang.

“Montana Tech’s Environmental Engineering students have been competing in this design contest for the past several years and have won numerous awards,” noted Environmental Engineering Department Head Kumar Ganesan. “A big thank you to all the faculty members in the Environmental Engineering and other departments who helped the team win once again.”