Engineering students rise to Ecomagination Challenge

By Kate Augusto

With hydrolic innovations, two teams of students from Northeastern hope to rise to mtvU and General Electric’s Ecomagination Challenge and make Northeastern’s campus a little bit greener along the way.

The two teams, Team Payne and Team Miller, comprise students from Dr. Vladimir Novonty’s hydrological engineering class. Their projects were selected for submission to the nationwide student competition to create solutions for environmental issues last Friday at an all-day Urban Hydrological Sustainability Workshop, called Enviropolis.

During a presentation, Team Payne explained their project proposed to implement a system of permeable pavers, green roofs and green walkways.

Permeable pavers are porous materials used to cover either walkways or parking lots. They work to control storm water and collect contaminants to hinder bad water from seeping into the ground.

Green roofs and green walkways are essentially types of gardens. Storm water can collect in these gardens and return water into the natural water system. Green roofs also work to control building temperature to help save energy costs.

Team Payne predicted these elements would reduce water runoff by up to a third, and the project would cost about $10 million to implement.

Jessica Fosbrook, a senior civil and environmental engineering major and member of Team Payne, said she was unsure of the groups chances.

“Our projects were specific to hydrology and I don’t know if they [mtvU and GE] are looking for a more broad presentation,” she said. “We might have an advantage since our projects are more professional since we had to do it for a class.”

Another member of Team Payne, senior civil and environmental engineering major Kevin Crowder, said this project was beneficial because “if nothing else, it raises awareness of the issues.”

Team Miller also presented their project at the workshop.

Will Miller, a senior civil and environmental engineering major and member of Team Miller, said along with the permeable pavements and rain gardens, Team Miller proposed adapting campus parking garages to be able to collect rainwater.

Miller said the garages would be perfect for collecting rainwater since the top levels are rarely used, therefore pollutants like oil would not be an issue.

Miller pointed out other advantages of parking garages as rainwater collectors.

“They are high enough so that leaves and other sediments are minimized, the drainage piping is all exposed so it would be easy to access, there is plenty of room and structural support for the rainwater cisterns and the cisterns could be installed on the second or third levels from the top, naturally giving the water the needed pressure to be integrated into Northeastern’s irrigation system,” he said.

Miller said he estimated if installed, “the system could conserve up to 8,000 cubic meters of water per year.”

Enviropolis, sponsored by the Henry David Thoreau Foundation, also showcased six other projects from Novonty’s class. The presentations focused on how Northeastern can control flooding, keep drinking water safe and effectively dispose of wastewater.

Novonty encouraged all the groups to consider things like feasibility, cost-effectiveness and aesthetics.

Keynote speakers educated attendants on solutions to the environmental problems plaguing urban areas. Keynote speakers included Kate Bowditch, Director of Projects for the Charles River Watershed; Peter Shanahan, Senior Lecturer for the Department of Civil Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Jack Ahern, Chairman of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planing at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst; and Lee Breckenridge, Professor of Law at Northeastern.

Although Bowditch was present to present her own ideas, she was “impressed with the quality and thoughtfulness” of the students’ projects.

Ahern was also impressed.

“It was refreshing to see engineers thinking in innovative ways,” he said. “All the projects varied, but they’re all on the right track.”

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