49er Civil Engineering Students’ Idea Wins Innovation Contest

Monday, June 17, 2019

A new competition for the 2019 American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE) regional conference was the Student Innovation Contest. The UNC Charlotte team won, and will now be heading to a global competition near Washington D.C. June26-27 to pitch its invention for removing contaminants from coal ash.

The team members from the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department of The William States Lee College of Engineering were Michael Murray, Bryan Moreno and Nathan Lindholm.

“This was ASCE’s first-ever Student Innovation competition,” Murray said. “We were given five topics to choose from. We went with ‘Improvements in Clean Water,’ and took on the challenge of developing a better way to treat water from coal ash basins.”

The 49er team’s innovation solution was to use brewer’s yeast in a 15’x5’x5’ semi-permeable reactive barrier. As water passes through the organic barrier, the yeast absorbs the heavy metals, and most importantly the boron particles.

“Brewer’s yeast is actually very cost effective now, because of all the micro-breweries,” Murray said. “Using the yeast to reduce contamination in coal ash has the potential of preventing millions of dollars of environmental damage. This idea can also be applied to other environmental hazards around the globe.”

The team is currently in the process of patenting its idea. It is also working to improve its submission for the Global Innovation Contest to be held at ASCE headquarters in Reston, Virginia. Submission criteria include an executive summary, poster, TEDx-style video presentation, and a Shark Tank pitch to judges about how to develop and market the idea.