U.Va. Sustainability Project Competition Showcases Range of Green Solutions

April 29, 2009 — From a floating learning center designed to teach K-12 students sustainable practices to sophisticated energy monitoring systems for Charlottesville-area homes, the first-ever Student Sustainability Project Competition held last week in the Dome Room of the Rotunda showcased 24 projects aimed at creating a more sustainable future.

The competition, organized by the President's Committee on Sustainability, featured projects from students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, McIntire School of Commerce, School of Architecture, College of Arts & Sciences and the Darden School of Business, among others. 

"Our goal for the U.Va. Sustainability Project Competition was three-fold," said Andrew Greene, sustainability planner in the University Architect's office and an organizer of the competition. "One, to help further these great projects; two, to foster collaboration among students from across the University, and three, to set up a successful event model that can be replicated and expanded in the future.

"The quality of entries at our first competition bodes well for the future of this event."

The top three projects identified by a panel of U.Va. faculty judges were "UVA Bikes" by students from the Commerce School, "Learning Barge" by students from the Architecture and Engineering schools and "Management and Reuse of Salt-Contaminated Stormwater Runoff" from the Engineering School.

Each winning project team will be awarded $750.

The "Learning Barge" details the creation and benefits of a 32- by 120-foot floating classroom and environmental field station that will educate K-12 students about sustainability with interactive, hands-on lessons. Beginning as soon as this summer, the barge will move every few months to different locations on the Elizabeth River to teach visitors about the tidal estuary ecosystem, wetland and oyster restoration, sediment remediation efforts and the Elizabeth River's economic and transportation significance. Other lessons will include how to adapt the rainwater collection and renewable energy systems found on the barge into homes.

The project team, which consists of engineering students Whitney Newton and Farhad Omar and architecture graduate assistant Danielle Willkens, is working to help make the Elizabeth River fishable and swimmable by 2020, and the group estimates that more than 19,000 students and adults will visit the barge annually.

The next winning project, "Reducing Salt Contaminated Stormwater Runoff," proposes ways to minimize the volume of wastewater generated at more than 300 road-salt storage facilities operated by the Virginia Department of Transportation. It also would identify and evaluate potential treatment alternatives, and investigate the feasibility of recycling salt-contaminated stormwater runoff into the brine used to manufacture anti-icing agents for roadways.

Methods such as improving site designs and management practices  could cut current waste volumes by nearly 50 percent, according to the proposal. Also, the researchers estimate that reuse of salt-laden runoff would result in annual savings of $1 million to $6 million, a 35 percent reduction in the amount of chloride on roads , and a reduction in the amount of fresh water needed for brine creation.

The project team aims to retrofit three salt storage facilities to incorporate all or part of the recommendations. G. Michael Fitch, a Ph.D. candidate and associate principal research scientist at the Virginia Transportation Research Council, and James A. Smith, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, make up the team, along with researchers from across the U.S. and Ireland.  The Research Council is the research division of the Virginia Department of Transportation and is a partnership between VDOT and U.Va.

The final winning project, "UVA Bikes" showed that two-thirds of the University community uses the most inefficient mode of transportation – cars – at least once per week, and that just as many want a more eco-friendly way to get around Grounds. The team's solution: A bike exchange system where faculty, students and staff can check out bikes for one-way trips by swiping their University ID cards on strategically located self-locking bike racks.

The project team – composed of Paola Dorronsoro, Jason Liu, Betsie Vason and Simone Wojtaszek, all fourth-year students in the Commerce School – is in the process of researching bike system vendors, developing marketing plans for potential users and securing funding. They hope to have the system launched by August 2010.

— By Zak Richards