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Mizzou Engineering student team designs better septic tank

P3 team members Andrew McCulloch, left, and Huy Nguyen describe the group's experimental septic tank system during an Environmental Protection Agency competition. Photo by Jamie Cole

A Mizzou Engineering student team is devising a new type of septic tank that would better protect the environment.

About 25 percent of the U.S. population—and 40 percent of new developments—use septic systems, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site statistics. But wastewater treated and released by many septic systems still contains nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, that stimulate the growth of oxygen-hoarding algae, experts say.

“The aim of this technology is to improve contaminant removal from household wastewater and return cleaner water to the environment,” said Jamie Cole, a biological engineering senior serving as co-leader for the Mizzou team.

The MU People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) student design team started work last January on their septic tank prototype in order to participate in the EPA’s P3 Award competition, held from April 20 to April 22 in Washington, D.C. The team—comprising Cole, civil engineering graduate students Huy Nguyen and Zhihua Liang and civil engineering junior Andrew McCulloch—brought home an honorable mention and encouragement to build a full-scale model of their prototype.

Mizzou’s septic tank uses a gas-permeable membrane to diffuse oxygen into the system, increasing the amount of oxygen in the tank. That allows nutrient-removing bacteria to work more effectively, said civil and environmental engineering Assistant Professor Zhiqiang Hu, the team’s faculty advisor.

Nguyen said the team plans to build a full-scale model of its septic tank and test it at an EPA-approved center. Ultimately, team members hope to bring the new septic design to market, Nguyen said.

“We think this is a good way to update septic systems using low-cost and efficient technologies so that they’ll remove more nutrients,” Hu said.



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