By Kelly Koepke
Published in Las Cruces Sun-News 3.27.2022
In its 32nd year, the WERC Environmental Design Contest organized by the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University and co-sponsored by Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) brings industry, government, and academia together in search of innovative real-world solutions to current important environmental challenges. Multi-disciplinary teams representing more than 100 students from fourteen universities around the country will come to Las Cruces April 10-13 to build bench scale working models of their designs. The designs will be judged by scientists, engineers, and industry experts with $25,000 in cash prices awarded at the event’s end.
One of the experts is Deputy Director, LCU Natural Gas and Energy Operations and Maintenance, Lucio Garcia. “The Utility is sponsoring one of this year’s six design tasks, along with co-sponsor El Paso Electric. Task number two, Carbon Conversion for the Energy Transition, is about capturing, storing, and repurposing carbon from the environment. The task assumes that, as part of the energy transition, there is a way to take carbon dioxide and make something useful out of it. We’re all excited to see what the students produce at their presentations,” he says.
Other tasks in the contest including designing systems for cleaning spacesuits, reusing copper smelter slag, monitoring virus removal in wastewater treatment, and reducing VOC emissions from produced water for water recycling. All tasks are problems identified by scientists and engineers who assess students’ solutions in their labs or workplaces. Students also submit an economic feasibility analysis to bring their process to full scale production.
“Qualified judges are essential to the contest, because this is the first opportunity for students to propose a full-scale solution with a working model,” says Ginger Scarbrough, PhD in structural geology and contest program manager. “Judges serve as mentors and help the students hone and refine their processes. We appreciate LCU’s involvement because it demonstrates their commitment to the environment and dedication to sustainability, and to encouraging the upcoming workforce.”
Dr. Scarbrough taught materials engineering at NMSU for 15 years. With her background in teaching, engineering, and hard science, she now collaborates with sponsors to create each year’s tasks. “Student teams also need three auditors for their design proposals to ensure they are viable technically, economically, and legally. Because each year’s tasks are different, students always have new challenges to solve,” adds Dr. Scarbrough.
The public is invited to a three-minute “flash talks” competition sponsored by NMSU’s Arrowhead Center on Monday, April 11 at 6 p.m. at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. The community can learn more about and talk with teams about their design entries. A separate panel will judge the projects’ business viability. The event is free with registration required at https://bit.ly/36fkUqI
“We’re excited to participate in this year’s contest and look forward to brainstorming future tasks to engage these bright students who are motivated by doing something good in the world,” says Garcia.
For more information about the WERC Environmental Design Contest, visit https://wercdesigncontest.nmsu.edu/
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PHOTO 1: New Mexico State Engineering students evaluating their green computer in the WERC Environmental Design Contest-Courtesy NMSU