Sunday, September 28, 2008

Getting a gov't grant and the first trial of the filter

Now we can get to the stages involving hard research and analysis. Before the
spring 2007 semester started, I approached Dr. Durham about this concept. He
was skeptical but gave me some literature from the concrete industry regarding
pervious concrete. The literature basically pointed out what I have already
posted: pervious concrete was already being used in some simple structures to
improve drainage and the quality of that drainage by trapping large diameter

Dr. Durham also directed me to Dr. Anu Ramaswami, who at the time was taking over the environmental engineering side of the university's civil engineering department. After a brief description of my concept, she suggested I apply to the EPA's P3 (People, Places, Prosperity) research grant competition.

This is a two stage competition, the first stage is a $10,000 grant and the second
stage is a $75,000 grant, with the goal being to initially develop
sustainable/green technologies or educational programs that can be used to
assist developing communities around the world and be profitable as well.
In addition to information about this competition, I was also informed that I had
only 4 days to develop, type and submit an abstract. I turned down
snowboarding in great conditions to hunker down on the couch and hammer
out whatever came to mind. Without much of an environmental or science
background beyond my BS, which I received 9 years prior and did not use in the
work force and relying on the business development skills I honed to a razor's
edge in Shanghai, I managed to bang out what I will honestly call "something"
and send it off to the EPA.

The copy that I turned over the Civil Engineering Dept got less than stellar
reviews, but in the end I did receive the money and managed to turn a few heads
in the process.

So now Dr. Durham and I get down to work. We also enlist the aid of Dr. David
Mays, who has hands on research experience in fluid flow. The two of us
basically got a crash course in filtration through a granular medium (which is
what the filter basically is). What came next was a barage of variables that had
to be determined so that I could get another variable in order to allow me to
calculate the needed filter length for a list of biological, organic and inorganic
pollutants. The process of coming up with a spreadsheet also took another 4
days, over a weekend of course. Once I came up with that, Dr. Durham
determined how much concrete we would need and we set about making a mold
and getting the materials for the experiment.

The chemicals were easy to buy, and I wanted to see what desalinization
potential this filter might have, so in addition to copper and iron (typical
pollutants in water) I added 35,000 ppm of sea salt. Thank goodness I had a big
container of the stuff at home (great for seasoning veggies and noodles).
I also had to reproduce biological contamination, but without the hazard of
handling E. coli. So I used another species found on human skin and in our
mouths, Micrococcus luteus. This bactria thrives on our skin and is similar in
diameter to E. coli except that M. luteus is spherical rather than conical and has
no large flagella, so in effect it is a smaller particle.

Instead of trying to grow a specific number of bacteria, I went with the idea that polluted waters would typically have concentrations of microorganism that are "too high to count".
So I approached the university Biology department and enlisted their aid (I'll
mention the lab manager's name once I look it up in my P3 paper, which is not in
front of me right now). He basically cultured a thick soup of bacteria in broth
overnight. After asking some questions, I decided that I could approach the large bacteria
concentration as a "total suspended solids" value. I then measured the original
TTS value and diluted it by a factor of 10, 5 times and tested the filter separately
against the bacteria contaminated water and the salts contaminated water.

In my next post I'll show graphs of the results as well as some of the write up.
Unfortunately I did not win the second round of funding at the April
demonstration, but I did attract considerable of attention from many very
experienced scientists ( I counted about 20). To add to the heat I was
completely mentally exhausted being bombarded with questions I had yet to
consider at that time.

BTW, if you are really into the whole global environmental/water thing, you need to see this film.

No comments: