Yes, the lawnmowers smell like French fries, but there’s much more to it than that.
There is a growing atmosphere of environmentally friendly inventiveness on the campus of Southeastern Louisiana University.
The need to make ends meet combines with educational resourcefulness to produce cutting-edge educational programming, sustainability success and monetary savings. It’s a model of efficiency that has caught the attention of campuses across the nation, which are, aptly, a little “green with envy.”
Whether you refer to them as green initiatives or sustainability efforts, they’re all about utilizing resources to produce savings. What’s even more impressive is their simultaneous educational value—they allow students to benefit from the knowledge gleaned by being part of the conservation processes.
“You can’t feel the heat produced by a solar panel pictured in a textbook,” says Sebastian van Delden, head of the computer science and industrial technology department. “Using several types of energy technologies, our students have the ability to make adjustments to the devices and observe in real time how the energy output is affected. It’s a proving ground to help determine what works best and can be implemented to save energy costs.”
Junkun Ma, associate professor and coordinator of engineering technology, explains it as learning the means to explore and hopefully solve a problem. “It’s the real thing,” he says.
One example would be the senior design project by students Benjamin Gabriel, Justin Cifreo and Nathan Taylor. With a focus on the solar thermal heating and cooling of the Sustainability Center, Ma says they made all the measurements, located handbooks for materials properties, calculated the thermal load and designed the control system for managing the temperature for the building.
“Students feel a sense of pride when they are able to contribute to a project that reaches outside of the classroom and leaves a lasting footprint at Southeastern,” van Delden says. “It is an intriguing prospect to be studying and contributing to the development of these technologies, which could one day revolutionize the way we produce energy.”
The university aims to provide a synergistic educational facility that offers diverse learning opportunities in the areas of renewable energy, recycling and waste reduction measures, plant biology and other sustainable technologies. A centralized hub is planned for property that previously housed a horticulture program.
Solar panels are expected to be used on an increasing number of campus buildings, including residence halls. Cardinal Newman Hall, a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) residence hall, is foreseen as Southeastern’s first truly green residential facility. Solar panels also help to power part of the physical plant office and the Sustainability Center.
Seven rows of solar panels at the Kinesiology and Health Sciences building were originally intended to heat the indoor pool, explains Byron Patterson, physical plant director. “The panels were generating so much hot water we did some re-piping and now provide heated water for the whole building. We now use the boilers only when outside temperatures are very low.”
Future green elements include a recycling program designed to reduce waste going to landfills by 80 percent; a tree farm to cultivate plants and trees for landscaping on campus; a composting area that converts landscape waste into useable mulch and compost; and rainwater retention ponds that provide irrigation for plants and other purposes.
Plans also call for two technology-rich classrooms designed by engineering technology students. The Student Tech Fee Committee and Student Government Association have been strong partners in Southeastern’s “Go Green! Keep it Clean!” efforts, contributing thousands of dollars.
As for the aroma of French fries mixed with the scent of freshly-cut grass—Southeastern recycles waste oil from campus food operations and converts it to fuel for 69 cents per gallon, much lower than the retail price. The biodiesel is used to power landscaping equipment, including lawnmowers and other off-road vehicles.
“There is no single approach to efficient energy generation and management,” says Dr. Mike Asoodeh, professor of industrial technology and chief information officer. “However, collectively, the various technologies available that are constantly improving, as well as a strong conservation program, can yield tremendous savings.”
In 2010, the university’s conservation efforts saved $1.2 million. The goal is to be 80 percent off the grid by 2020. “It’s an aggressive goal, admittedly,” says Patterson, “but we believe we have to think aggressively or it won’t happen at all. Any strides taken toward this overarching goal are steps in the right direction.”