New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
Energy Conversion and Conservation
Continued concerns over the effect of fossil fuels have made renewable and sustainable fuels a priority. Algal fuels, like bioethanol derived from the seaweed Gracilaria, are easily produced, and incur fewer environmental impacts, than their fossil counterpart. Furthermore, the alga can also produce other valuable products and remediate impacted ecosystems during the production cycle. Typically, algal culture for bioenergy occurs as a standalone venture but studies have shown that there are numerous benefits to integrated approaches. For example, seaweeds grown in tandem with aquaculture (Integrated Mutli-Trophic Aquaculture) have access to nutrient rich effluents while improving water quality and husbandry for fish and other seafood species. However, such integrated systems possess numerous parameters requiring constant monitoring, and therefore the effort required to achieve maximum productivity increases exponentially. In other industries, systems with this level of complexity have greatly benefitted from the injection of automation for fairly mundane routines. In this specific instance, the process of monitoring water quality to ensure that parameters remain within the optimal and safe ranges, meets these criteria, freeing up time to deal with other operational challenges. Kolb's cycle of experiential learning formed the basis for the student lead activities for the duration of the project. The cycle is a well-known and effective model in education which outlines the process where knowledge is gained through transformative experiences. As students immerse themselves in an active learning framework, acquisition of knowledge resulted from the combination of participation, assimilation, comprehension, and conceptualization of experiential processes in the affective, psychomotor, and cognitive domains. Once the project objectives and requirements had been defined in consultation with the graduate student, eight undergraduate engineering and computer science students set out to design and fabricate the monitoring and data acquisition system. The undergraduate students followed the system development procedure, where they proposed project objectives, identified design requirements, characterized system specifications, sourced all required components, and were involved in system fabrication. Throughout the project, the students were exposed to a multi-disciplinary team of researchers and faculty members from engineering, environmental sciences, and the aviation programs at the university. The students based their design around the Arduino MEGA and the system has the capability to measure, log, and display seven environmental parameters on an LCD screen. The parameters included temperature, conductivity, color, dissolved oxygen, oxidation reduction potential (ORP), pH, flow rate, and nitrate levels. The final system is currently packaged in a 3D printed case. An assessment was conducted following the activities, and students reported high levels of enthusiasm for the opportunity to participate in this cutting-edge research, and also displayed improvement in their content and team-building skills. The components of these experiential learning activities are incorporated in science and engineering undergraduate courses.
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