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In: The Appalachian
Tuesday, 24 April 2007

This week, a team of student researchers from Appalachian State University’s department of technology are competing for a $75,000 grant in Washington, D.C.

They will present a 10-page report documenting their work to date, as well as a five-page proposal for Phase II funding, Dr. Marie Hoepfl, assistant chairperson and professor of technology, as well as the team’s advisor, said.  

Yonatan D. Strauch, a graduate student in industrial technology, leads the team and their research endeavors.

“We are testing an innovative insulation system for greenhouses that can build on low cost, steal frame greenhouse designs and turn them into super-insulated solar greenhouses (bioshelters), for an additional cost, that can pay itself back in under five years,” Strauch said.  “The insulation is ‘liquid-foam’, which is basically soap foam.”

The competition will showcase the current research of 41 student groups from across the country and award the winning team with funding for future research. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides the monetary award to the winners and sponsors the event.  

“The students have worked very hard over the past year and have done a really nice job documenting their work to date,” Hoefpl said. “Their report and proposal for Phase II funding are well-written, but it’s hard to say what the outcome will be.”  

The efforts of the team have been extensive and have involved help from many different students.

“I initiated this project and continue to spearhead it,” Strauch said.  “The core team is small right now, but many students have been involved, putting in thousands of hours.”

The team has been working on the project since January 2006, when they began planning. They are currently being funded by two grants, the first for $10,000 from the EPA P3, and the second for $10,000 from SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education), according to an article on AppalNET.

“The Affordable Bioshelters project is a student-run effort and was inspired and driven by these students’ interest in lower-cost, energy-efficient alternatives for greenhouse design,” Hoepfl said.

The team began building greenhouses at the test site in the fall of 2006, Strauch said.  There are currently two 24-by-14 greenhouses at the test site, which is located on Watauga River Farms in Valle Crucis, according to the article on Appanet.  

“Current greenhouses are wasteful in that they cost too much to heat, and as a result, it is risky to try and make money growing in them during the fall, winter and spring,” Strauch said.  “They also consume a lot of fuel, contributing to climate change and air pollution.”

Future research for the team is possible if they are able to win the competition.

“If the project receives Phase II funding, there will be considerably more research, followed by additional efforts to disseminate the findings of the research,” Hoepfl said.

This research would entail “examining ways to improve cavity design, as well as a foam mixture and foam generating devices for liquid foam insulation,” according to AppalNET.

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