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Western Wins $75,000 Grant - EPA Grant To Bolster Biogas Refinery Built By Students

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In: The Western Front exit EPA
By: Sara Edmonds
May 1, 2007

Members of Western's Vehicle Research Team unload the biogas refinery after returning from Washington, D.C. where they won a $75,000 grant from the EPA.

Western won a $75,000 grant at the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) P3 awards in Washington D.C. for their biogas refinery design April 25.

Eleven students from the Vehicle Research Institute (VRI) represented Western, which competed against 53 schools for grant money. Six schools won a $75,000 grant, including Western.

The refinery, called the "scrubber," processes biogas, a byproduct of cow manure, so it can be used to power engines that run on methane, said Eric Leonhardt, an engineering and technology professor at Western.

The grant money will help fund research on the scrubber so the engineering students can reach their goal of powering the Ferndale school bus system with biogas, said Western junior Drew Wohlenhaus, one of the engineers for the scrubber.

VRI students also built a car, known as Viking 32, that runs on methane fuel refined by the scrubber. Built on a modified Honda engine with a custom chassis, the team used the car to demonstrate the fuel's potential, said Western senior Alex Freund.

At the competition, two judges - one a former EPA employee and the other a bioengineer - asked the students a barrage of tough questions about the design and improvements that could be made to the scrubber, Wohlenhaus said. He said the judges were impressed by the students' responses.

"I think the judges were amazed at the level of our project compared to the other schools," Wohlenhaus said.

Leonhardt said the competition had various types of entries, from new ways of treating water to creating energy out of algae.

Leonhardt said he thinks Western stood out because of the giant scope of the project, but also the revenue it would create for farmers around Whatcom County. A farm in Northern Whatcom County runs a methane digester, which extracts the biogas from manure from more than 1,500 cows.

Washington Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, went to the competition and spoke at the awards ceremony on Western's behalf, Leonhardt said.

Western senior Ryan Cruse said he was happy to see Larsen at the competition in Washington D.C.

"Larsen took time out of his schedule twice to come down and support us," Cruse said. "It really felt like what we were doing was received as important."

© Copyright 2007 The Western Front

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