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A Solar Heated Worm Compost Bin

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Curricular Developments in Energy Education

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.109.1 - 14.109.14



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Paper Authors


Craig Somerton Michigan State University

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Craig W. Somerton is an Associate Professor and Associate Chair of the Undergraduate Program for Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University. He teaches in the area of thermal engineering including thermodynamics, heat transfer, and thermal design. He also teaches the capstone design course for the department. Dr. Somerton has research interests in computer design of thermal systems, transport phenomena in porous media, and application of continuous quality improvement principles to engineering education. He received his B.S. in 1976, his M.S. in 1979, and his Ph.D. in 1982, all in engineering from UCLA.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Solar Heated Worm Compost Bin Introduction Landfills continue to grow in this county, with 20-25% of the trash coming from food or yard waste [1]. For several years, Woodcreek Elementary School has collected their cafeteria food waste and used a worm-based compost system to turn the food waste into fertilizer. Due to this process, there has been a significant reduction in garbage collection at the school. However, during the winter months, the worms become very inactive and composting comes to a halt. In partnership with a non-profit community agency that provides energy and environmental information and services, a mechanical engineering capstone design team has taken on the challenge of designing and implementing a heating system for the worms. In keeping with the theme of the worm composting, it was decided that this heating system must utilize renewable and sustainable energy sources. This paper will share the design process and the details of the final design implementation. The project was unique in that it involved considerable interaction among the mechanical engineering students, the staff of the non-profit community agency, and the staff and students of Woodcreek Elementary School. The paper will share the lessons learned through such interactions and will provide some guidance to engineering educators who would like to pursue projects involving a diverse set of constituents.

There are three partners in this endeavor: Woodcreek Elementary School, Urban Options, and the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University. Woodcreek Elementary School is one of four elementary schools participating in a mid-scale vermicomposting worm bin program. Vermicomposting involves using red earthworms to consume waste and create compost [2, 3]. This process is extremely beneficial because it reduces the amount of natural waste that would otherwise be put in a landfill. Each day at lunch time, the students actively participate in emptying lunch waste into the worm bin at the school. As a magnet elementary school, the curriculum focus is math, science, and technology. Teachers consistently incorporate hands-on materials and activities to help students grasp technical concepts. The worm bin is a complementary addition and key component to the fifth grade curriculum at Woodcreek. It is used throughout the school as a valuable teaching tool.

Urban Options is a non-profit community agency that provides energy and environmental conservation information and services. The main purpose of the organization is to improve the environmental quality of urban spaces. This goal is achieved by home and yard improvement demonstrations as well as educational programs. Urban Options has been working to provide compost education to elementary school children in the Lansing School District for the past 11 years. As a result, teachers and students have participated in interactive programs concerning biology, recycling, composting and vermiculture. The most popular program, “Worms Eat Our Garbage”, enables students to set up and maintain their own classroom worm bin [4].

ME 481 serves as the capstone design course in the mechanical engineering program at Michigan State University. Student teams are assigned real world projects for the semester. Most of these projects are sponsored by industry, but each semester a few are humanitarian projects that look to serve the community. The Solar Worm Bin project came about due to the publicity of one of these humanitarian projects, Solar Ovens for Tanzania. The engineering teacher at Woodcreek

Somerton, C. (2009, June), A Solar Heated Worm Compost Bin Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4677

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