Ohio University is “green” in more ways than its teal, oval logo. Besides its status as home to the largest in-vessel composting system at a university in the nation, Ohio University has been identified as an Ohio Center of Excellence for energy and the environment. What you may not know about the university is that, 12 out of the last 13 years, it has sent teams to the International Environmental Design Contest, hosted by the Institute for Energy & the Environment (IEE). This April will mark the thirteenth trip of an Ohio University design team; the 2012 team is composed of chemical engineering students who hope to provide a treatment solution to invasive species in bilge water.
“They [the team] are working on a problem of concern to the Great Lakes area,” said faculty member Dr. Daniel Gulino. Gulino is co-sponsor for the Ohio team with Dr. Darin Ridgway, an associate professor of chemical engineering at Ohio. “And that is the problem of invasive species getting into the lakes from international shipping and how to mitigate their effects.”
According the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) an invasive species is “a plant or animal that is non-native (or alien) to an ecosystem, and whose introduction is likely to cause economic, human health, or environmental damage in that ecosystem.” A commonly cited example is the zebra mussel—since its introduction to U.S. waterways in 1988,
“…It is of concern to their area of the country,” -Daniel Gulino, Team Co-Sponsor
they have caused severe problems for power plants and municipal water systems, costing millions of dollars in removal and cleaning. The Ohio University team is examining invasive organisms, subjecting them to treatments, and evaluating the results. They will report on and demonstrate their findings at the design contest.
“A reason for choosing this topic is because it is of concern to their area of the country,” added Gulino. Ohio University is located in Athens, Ohio, just 160 miles south of Lake Eerie, home to the sea lamprey—an invasive and parasitic species which has plagued the Great Lakes since the 1800s. The lamprey caused the near-disappearance of lake trout from the Great Lakes and remains an environmentally disruptive nuisance. The lake itself is part of the bi-national Great Lakes-Seaway navigation system which has more than 100 commercial ports. This makes it especially susceptible to foreign species: commercial shipping, according to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative action plan, “is a proven vector for invasive species transfer.”
The port of Milwaukee alone, located on Lake Michigan and a member of the system, receives roughly 225 ships per year. When commercial ships, like the ships on Eerie and Lake Michigan, arrive in a port, they potentially carry exotic species in their bilge water, water stored in an interior compartment of a ship. These aquatic stowaways are introduced into U.S. and Canadian waters, an event which has proven destructive and costly.
Finding ways to treat invasive species could have large application possibilities, providing a service to the $33.5 billion shipping industry shared between U.S. and Canada. Ohio receives $3 billion in economic contributions from the Great Lakes-Seaway System, according to a 2011 economic impact survey conducted by Martin Associates.
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, signed into law in 2009 and in operation until 2014, is one such effort invested in combating invasive species. Back on the Ohio shore
“This is the real world now.” -Daniel Gulino, Team Co-Sponsor
of Lake Eerie, the restoration initiative lists six research projects focused on preventing, treating, and controlling invasive species. Treatment of bilge water, like the system being investigated by Ohio University students, could be a way to prevent such invasions. The team’s solution and process will be evaluated by industry professionals in April, when they travel to the design contest—which is, ironically, held over 1,600 miles from Ohio in the desert at Las Cruces, New Mexico.
IEE/WERC’s Environmental Design Contest brings together industry, government and academia in the search for environmental solutions. Held annually since 1991 at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico, the contest draws hundreds of college students from throughout the United States and around the world. At the contest, Ohio University will compete against other teams in their category and showcase their findings alongside the results of 22 other design teams.
“One of the greatest benefits the contest bestows, in our opinion,” said Gulino, “is the chance for the students to have to defend their work to a panel of impartial judges who will have no qualms about praising their work when they feel praise is justified and criticizing it when they believe criticism is justified. This is the real world now.”
The team has also received publicity from 33 Corridor News which can be seen here: Students Tackle Environmental Problems in Midwest Lakes.