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RMU Students Generate Electricity From Abandoned Mine Drainage

Four senior students spent the afternoon putting the finishing touches on their integrated engineering and design project by installing a turbine into an acid mine drainage overflow pipe in the Wingfield Pines Conservation area. The turbine will be driven by drainage from abandoned coal mines.

Tony Kerzmann, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Robert Morris University, said the project teaches students to use practical engineering skills to improve the local ecology. The conservation area in Upper St. Clair and South Fayette Townships has a stagnant pond with low oxygen levels that will be remedied by the installation.

"Currently there's a problem where the air is, I guess, sort of being sucked out of the water due to the algae accumulation," Kerzmann said. "So if we can use the electricity to pump this aeration pump into the pond, we can help to sustain the local ecosystem in that pond that's about 1,000 feet away."

Students worked in collaboration with the Allegheny Land Trust, which protects 1,500 acres in 22 municipalities locally.

"Turning one of our region's most visible and polluting industrial scars — abandoned mine drainage — into a source of energy that improves the ecology of Wingfield Pines is exciting," said Roy Kraynyk, the trust's director of land protection.

Kerzmann says projects such as this are the best way to prepare seniors who are just weeks away from working on real-world projects with professional engineering firms.

"To be able to sort of discuss with them what their needs are and what they hope to accomplish and sort of try to fill those needs, I mean, that's a basic fundamental skill that engineers have to have in the industry," Kerzmann said.

Eric Balent is graduating in just a few weeks and said this course was the perfect experience for his future.

"To do this in our senior year is great. We can use all our knowledge and experience leading up to this to help us with the project, and then, to have this under our belts when we graduate is going to be great," Balent said. "Just the experience, the planning, the purchasing, the building — everything that goes into it will really help our careers with whatever we choose."

Kerzmann said the project will be handed over to the land trust along with an operation and maintenance manual which was also produced by the students this semester. Kerzmann estimated the students spent 5-10 hours each week across the semester planning their final project. He said the program works to promote practical and applicable projects for their senior-level students.

"We've been really big on hands-on projects and sort of real-world application, so we don't want to just teach the theory and the engineering, we want to show the students some hands-on activities that have real world applications, and this is the perfect example of that," Kerzmann said.

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