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MU team takes first at regional competition, advances to international level

From left are civil engineering senior Steven Stepanovic, mechanical engineering senior Adam Byrnes and electrical engineering graduate student Daniel Nabelek. The trio formed an engineering team that took first place at the U.S. regional Grundfos Challenge. They will travel to Denmark for the first International Grundfos Challenge in March.

After winning the regional Grundfos Challenge, three University of Missouri College of Engineering students are planning a spring trip to Denmark to compete in the first international Grundfos Challenge. The event will join the top teams from the U.S., Denmark and China in a competition that will require knowledge in water and environmental systems and skill in presentation and delivery.

Electrical engineering graduate student Daniel Nabelek was the first to hear about the competition and assembled a team for the engineering category from some of his contacts through Mizzou’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB).

“Dr. [Noah] Manring contacted me about the competition because he thought I might be interested,” Nabelek said.

“We’ve all worked together in Engineers With Borders for the last two years,” said Adam Byrnes, a senior mechanical engineering major.

Nabelek and Byrnes, along with civil engineering senior Steven Stepanovic, credit those EWB experiences for their success at the competition.

“In EWB, we have to ‘sell’ all these projects to donors. It helped me learn how to create a business plan,” said Nabelek, who is EWB’s current president.

Teams at the U.S. regional competition were comprised of either business or engineering students. Each was given roughly 24 hours to devise a solution that addressed four water issues key to Grundfos’ vision — decreasing the amount of water used, decreasing the amount of energy needed to transport and purify it, increasing the reliability and security of water networks and decreasing the overall cost of handling and using water. Teams applied their solutions to one of four categories: water intake and distribution, consumer, sewage systems or water treatment plants.

“They gave teams a case statement, and we had to tackle the problem in a way that fits Grundfos’ vision and goals,” Nabelek said.

“Most of the project was based on creating a project the company could identify with — that reflected its core values,” Stepanovic added.

Based on their experience from Engineers Without Borders, the team decided to pursue a solution to handling wastewater treatment in an urban region, keeping in mind the state of the system over the next five or 10 years.

“Our solution was to move wastewater treatment from a centralized source to a de-centralized source,” Nabelek said.

Their solution focused on how to reuse water most efficiently, specifically greywater — wastewater produced from domestic activities such as laundry or bathing. “De-centralized” meant establishing several smaller wastewater treatment facilities that would take the burden off a core municipal source.

Part of the competition was selling and creating a market for the team’s solution, and a secondary point included consumer education. The team created what they termed “SmartWater,” a user-minded interface that would provide consumers and municipalities’ real-time water consumption data to allow for more educated decisions regarding water use.

“We wanted to create the market to make consumers aware of their water consumption,” Byrnes said.

Presentations for the teams’ final solutions were delivered beginning Friday morning, Nov. 16, and were judged on five criteria: Grundfos relevance, business potential, innovation, communication and holistic understanding.

Each team member said he brought a different expertise to the team. Byrnes and Stepanovic said their engineering disciplines helped when devising a solution.

“My civil background helped because of the classes I’ve taken in environmental engineering and wastewater treatment,” Stepanovic said.

As a mechanical engineer, Byrnes was able to analyze the solution, which Nabelek said he used in writing the presentation.

“Adam is very good at explaining things face-to-face,” Nabelek said. “I told him, ‘Adam, you start talking,’ and I typed what he said as fast as I could. This was at 4 a.m.”

The competition was initiated in 2006, and this is the first year the Danish-based Grundfos Holding A/S is staging an international event. The U.S. region’s competition was held Nov. 15-16 in Kansas City.

In addition to competing against the top regional teams from China and Denmark, MU’s engineering team will also compete against the second place U.S. regional finisher — the University of Kansas.

The international competition will take place March 17-23 at The Poul Due Jensen Academy. The grand prize winning engineering team will receive a cash prize of 75,000 Danish Krone, which converts to roughly $13,000.