A student team from UNC Charlotte’s William States Lee College of Engineering won the 2019 American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE) National Student Innovation Contest recently held near Washington, D.C.
Civil engineering students Michael Murray, Bryan Moreno and Nathan Lindholm swept the competition, taking first place in the Entrepreneur Category, winning the Audience Award and being named the top team overall.
“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-foot by 5-foot by 5-foot 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 microbreweries,” 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.
Photo, left to right, Nathan Lindholm, Bryan Moreno and Michael Murray, working with brewer’s yeast in the lab.