Students Create Green Storm Drain Filter With 3-D Printing

Sustain-A-Drain Team wins $15,000 EPA grant for 3-D printed reusable storm drain filter
Students Create Green Storm Drain Filter With 3-D Printing
The Sustain-A-Drain team — students at the University of California, Riverside — recently won a $15,000 grant from the EPA for their reusable storm drain filter. (photo courtesy of UC Riverside)

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A team of students from the University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering received a $15,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency for a reusable storm drain filter.

The key innovation is the calibrated indicator and filter system. The filter is made of 100 percent recycled textiles. The indicator is a 3-D printed device made with the same material as the filter and a translucent biodegradable plastic. An included polymer changes from powder to gel when saturated with oil and/or heavy metals, indicating the need for replacement.

The filter material is a blend of 100 percent recycled polyester, rayon and cotton fibers. Preliminary testing shows it can adsorb oil at six times its mass with an adsorption capacity between 73 to 87 percent, which the students believe will increase with additional refinement.

The team is a Phase One winner of EPA’s P3 (People, Prosperity and the Planet) competition. Team members are: Franklin Gonzalez, Karim Masarweh, Johny Nguyen, Diego Novoa, Kenneth Orellana and Taljinder Kaur. With the exception of Kaur, who is an MBA student, all the students are seniors and either environmental or chemical engineering majors. Kawai Tam, a lecturer at the Bourns College of Engineering, advises them.

In March, the team will submit a proposal for a $75,000 Phase Two grant. The team will travel to Washington, D.C., in April for judging.

The team is building on the work of several previous members of the “Sustain-A-Drain” team. In 2012, one of those teams won several awards at WERC: A Consortium for Environmental Education and Technology Development design competition in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The project addresses a key need for industries and businesses that are required to obtain stormwater permits and implement control measures to prevent contaminated runoff from entering storm drains.

Inserts are often placed into storm drains to filter oil carried in stormwater runoff. However, existing inserts have two big problems: disposable filters generate waste and the filters have an uncertain life span.

The Sustain-A-Drain system addresses both of those problems with the indicator and reusable filter.

The system, which has been tested in the living laboratory at UC Riverside’s Corporation Yard, where 500 campus vehicles are maintained, includes the indicator, recycled fiber filter, which sits in a metal mesh filter, as well as a water diverter and sediment catcher.

Once fully saturated and indicated, the fiber filters will be cleaned with a biodegradable detergent. However, that process results in wastewater with the oils and heavy metals that have been removed from the filter. In the coming months, the students plan to address that problem by testing a mushroom, which previous research has shown removes contaminants. The mushrooms break down contaminants to harmless compounds. The technique is environmentally friendly and potentially inexpensive.

The team also plans to test the best way to clean the filter and learn how many times the filters can be used before being replaced.

The Sustain-A-Drain product could potentially be sold for $300.


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