UNL student engineers’ work in pollution prevention proves productive

UNL student engineers’ work in pollution prevention proves productive

Calendar Icon Aug 14, 2012      Person Bust Icon By Carole Wilbeck | Engineering     RSS Feed  RSS  -  Submit a Story

P3 Group
P3 Group

After a summer working with industry or seasoned agricultural producers, students in UNL’s Partners in Pollution Prevention program ended their experiences with presentations on their P3 accomplishments.

Bruce Dvorak, P3 program director and professor and interim chair of UNL’s Department of Civil Engineering, was in the audience adding up the potential benefit of this year’s P3 efforts.

“The 2012 P3 interns provided assistance to 17 clients and made 78 engineering-based source reduction suggestions,” said Dvorak. “If these suggestions are all implemented, they would provide the clients with over $210,000 in annual cost savings and annual reductions of 23 tons of solid waste, 150 million gallons of water, and 2,000 MT CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gases.”

The P3 program, which focuses on sustainability, just completed its 15th year. An outreach assistance program operated by the University of Nebraska Extension and the UNL College of Engineering, it is funded by the USEPA Region 7, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, and a wide variety of businesses and industrial partners.

P3’s undergraduate student interns conduct one-to-one pollution prevention assistance with Nebraska businesses by performing waste assessments or other waste reduction and resource conservation projects, and providing each client with a written report detailing waste minimization suggestions. More than 200 P3 interns have worked in more than 80 communities, with more than 600 clients served including dry cleaners and auto body shops, large pharmaceutical and manufacturing plants, and agriculture producers.

One of the first students involved with P3 in 1997 was Brian Wanzenried, who is now director of Environmental Safety and Health for the Gavilon Group, LLC, in Omaha. Gavilon is a commodity management firm, connecting producers and consumers of food and energy through its global supply chain network.

UNL students Alex Sellers, from South Dakota, and Lais Speranza, from Brazil, had P3 placements with Gavilon locations in Hastings, Grand Island and St. Josephs, Mo.

Wanzenried said he enjoyed the students’ presentations, with recommendations that gave him “much to look at—more than I expected” for the feed-food-fuel operations in his area. Sellers advocated enhanced energy efficiency via replacement pump motors and variable, weather-based control systems involving fans and tarps for ground storage sites, to “reduce future maintenance costs and increase environmental stewardship” by the company. Sellers calculated the investments would save $27,651 per year and those savings would offset their purchase by the company in 6.2 months of use.

A senior majoring in Biological Systems Engineering, Sellers said the P3 opportunity helped him pursue his interest to “do more environmental work.” Speranza said she was eager to make a difference in work with a large company, and her experience with Gavilon was what she hoped.

Civil engineering student Jordan Wachal and BSE student Keith Miller analyzed equipment, inputs and outputs for several farmers in areas of Nebraska. Using sensors for irrigation systems, the students were able to advise greater efficiency in powered machinery choices.

Dvorak said the P3 program helps both businesses and the interns to focus their efforts. “Based on past surveys, we know that our P3 students are much more likely to provide leadership on the job in implementing source reduction changes than other recent graduates,” said Dvorak. “We anticipate that the P3 students will be leaders in implementing practical measures as part of their work to improve the environmental sustainability of the business and the industry.”

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