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MU team takes its sustainability project to EPA competition

Amanda Prescott, Sami Tellatin, Jeremy Davis, Assistant Research Professor Christine Costello and Austin Davis pose in matching green shirts.

Amanda Prescott, Sami Tellatin, Jeremy Davis, Assistant Research Professor Christine Costello and Austin Davis participated in the U.S. EPA P3 Competition at the National Sustainable Design Expo at Oronoco Bay Park in Alexandria, Va. Photos courtesy of U.S. EPA.

A University of Missouri bioengineering capstone team was one of just 42 selected to participate in the Environmental Protection Agency People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Design Competition for Sustainability in April in Alexandria, Va.

The event was held as part of the 11th Annual National Sustainable Design Expo at Oronoco Bay Park. Bioengineering seniors Austin Davis, Jeremy Davis, Amanda Prescott and Sami Tellatin, under the tutelage of Assistant Research Professor Christine Costello, shared their project, “Feasibility and Life Cycle Assessment of Anaerobic Co-Digestion of Campus Food Waste and Swine Manure,” with EPA judges and the general public over two days. They received a $15,000 Phase I grant from the EPA to help offset some of their expenses.

Austin Davis explains the project to a conference attendee.

Austin Davis explains the Mizzou team’s project, which studied ways in which mixing swine manure with edible food waste could prove a practical way of energy creation and nutrient recovery through the process of anaerobic digestion. Anaerobic digestion uses microorganisms to break down biodegradable waste without the benefit of oxygen.

“We were there for eight or nine hours on Saturday and Sunday. Students were judged twice. It’s open to the public, and it was right along the Potomac so there were bike paths and running paths, so people from the public kind of came through. We were talking to people kind of nonstop. It was really tiring,” Costello said, laughing.

The team’s project studied ways in which mixing swine manure with edible food waste could prove a practical way of energy creation and nutrient recovery through the process of anaerobic digestion. Anaerobic digestion uses microorganisms to break down biodegradable waste without the benefit of oxygen.

Prescott said the team received plenty of quality feedback on ways to improve the project going forward, as well as plenty of interest from members of the general public. Costello added that their project was pretty young in comparison to the time and research already put into some of the projects that captured one of the seven top award spots.

“The funding was more for developing technologies that can be sold on the free market, and ours was a little more in the municipal, waste-management frame of thinking,” Costello said.

Going forward, the team plans on taking a look at the possibility of using anaerobic digestion to break down bioplastics, a growing issue in the composting realm, as well as handling inedible food waste streams — items such as apple cores, banana peels and the like.

The EPA P3 event, meanwhile, provided something of a jolt of energy. Prescott explained how refreshing it was to be around so many other students and faculty members that were so dedicated to finding long-lasting methods to positively impact the environment. And the speakers, including EPA Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg, helped drive the point home even further.

“I was just blown away,” Prescott said. “To me, it felt like a conference full of passionate, dedicated people all working toward the goal of sustainability. And everybody was so excited about their projects, and you could see the excitement on people’s faces for other projects. It was just a very focused, passionate conference, and it was really refreshing to be around people who care about what they’re doing.”