Q&A With EWB: How the USOAR Grant Will Help

It’s not news that our EngineersWithout Borders student organization is a great program.  They are a fantastic representation of our hard working students the work they do not only sets them apart from other students, but that it actually impacts people around the world in a positive way.  In November, EWB was awarded the NIU USOAR Research Grant for their Bone Char as a Passive Fluoride Filtration Mechanism project.  Senior CEET Student and avid EWB member Taylor Dupre’ sat down with us to discuss how the grant will benefit their research and explain exactly what their bone char project is all about.
What exactly is bone char as a passive fluoride filtration mechanism?
“The ceramic filters that we work with are capable of taking out 99.9% of E. Coli and total fecal coliform bacteria.  What we’re trying to do is, increase the capacity of that system to also take out fluoride down to 1.5ppm, which is the EPA standard”. 
So how does bone char come into play in this procedure?
“Where the bone char comes in is, it’s basically an activated carbon; it’s what you would find in your Brita filter.  We are trying to manufacture our own activated carbon through locally sourced materials, with local kilns and not the highly manufactured carbon that is in industry”. 
Bone char before (bottom), and after (top).
Can you explain how this whole process works?
“We get cow, chicken, and pig bones from Inboden’s and we use the wood pellets from stoves and burn the bones at 600 degrees Celsius for 5-6 hours.  We have a kiln in Mexico that we’re working in tandem with, and on campus we use a tlud batch stove.  The key thing with the bone char is that the bones have to reach what’s called paralysis.  Basically all that means is that to retain the carbon structure while burning off all of the organics, you have to cook the bones in an atmosphere that is void of oxygen.  What the batch stove does and what we’re trying to do with the kiln is, it takes the inlet air and heats it up around the chamber and it burns once it gets to the top; it heats up the whole chamber but the gases ignite at the top, so it doesn’t actually burn the bones”. 
When will you start working on this project?
“We are starting testing in the spring, because we did get the USOAR [grant], that will pay for all of our sensors and ways to test the absorption properties.  We’ll really be trying to figure out, before we go back [to Mexico] in May, how on campus, we can make the bone char that matches the industrial quality bone char’s absorption quality and make it in a kiln in Mexico.  Because the kiln is not a paralysis chamber, it doesn’t ignite the gases the same way the batch stove does or have the same thermal properties.  So we’ll be trying to figure out how to again replicate that in Mexico with bones from farmers”. 
How much is the USOAR grant helping?
“The USOAR is helping a bunch because basically sending the travel team in may and all of the material costs rack up. Being able to get the sensors we need to get the testing off the ground sooner than having to apply for a bunch of smaller grants and waiting back to hear because. The sooner we can replicate stuff on our end and get the data to our partners in Mexico, then we can start working on replicating there.  We’ve never gotten the USOAR grant before so it’s relieved some funding tension”. 

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