BCOEgrantA team of students from UCR’s Bourns College of Engineering recently won a $15,000 grant for a reusable storm drain filter that is more cost-efficient and less harmful to the environment than other models. The grant, awarded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is a phase one reward in the EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) competition.

The team members include Franklin Gonzalez, Karim Masarweh, Johny Nguyen, Diego Novoa, Kenneth Orellana and Taljinder Kaur and are supervised by lecturer Kawai Tam. The new design they developed, named “Sustain-A-Drain,” is set apart from other storm drains in that it has improved inserts that current models use. Some storm drains currently use inserts that are disposable — but generate waste — and filters with uncertain lifetimes.

This storm drain model’s main technological improvements are the calibrated indicator and filter system. The filter is made of 100 percent recycled materials including polyester, rayon and cotton fibers. Beginning tests have already proved it can absorb oil six times its beginning mass, using a capacity of 73 to 87 percent.

The indicator in the model is a 3-D printed device made of the same material as the filter as well as clear, biodegradable plastic. The plastic has a polymer (a macromolecule made of smaller molecules) and changes from powder to gel form when full of oil, to indicate when it needs to be replaced. The team hopes to improve the model with their new funding, which includes increasing the drain’s absorption capacity.

For the upcoming phase two EPA competition, the team will be submitting a proposal for a $75,000 grant in March. Judging will take place in Washington D.C. in April, where the team will travel to present their results.

Students on the team have plans to improve the way saturated fiber filters in their storm will be cleaned. Currently, the filters must be cleaned with biodegradable detergent, which can contaminate the wastewater with oil and heavy metals. Currently researchers are studying a mushroom which can break down contaminants into harmless compounds, thereby eliminating the waste.

Further plans also include testing the best way to clean the filter, which is currently underway at UCR’s Corporation Yard where the living laboratory is located. The price of making the improved “Sustain-A-Drain” product will be determined, and can possibly range around $300. The product currently on the market falls between the $350 and $500 range, and is not reusable. The team’s model also includes a metal mesh filter, water diverter and sediment catcher.