USF teaches community school students about bio gas - WFLA News Channel 8

USF teaches community school students about bio gas

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LUTZ, FL (WFLA) -

At the Learning Gate School in Lutz, their motto is "Nature is our best teacher." The school brings environmental awareness into all aspects of the day. The students already compost their lunch food waste, but food like meats, oils and cheese cannot be composted.

"It's just such a waste because we only eat a certain amount of food," said Learning Gate 6th grader Helena Rodriguez.

The school has partnered with University of South Florida's Engineering students to develop a machine to break down the non-compostable food so it can be used in new ways.

"With the food waste digester, it's an anaerobic process which means without oxygen, and it has a lot more heat than compost," said George Dick, a USF Engineering student.

The anaerobic digester is on the campus of Learning Gate and shows the students how microbes can break down food and create a bio gas. The students have the hands-on experience to see how the broken down food can be used.

Once the microbes digest the food, the leftover is full of nutrients. Those nutrients are used as fertilizer in the school's hydroponic garden.

"It's a good education tool for the kids, so they can really see how the nutrients and carbon is recycled just like nature does it," said Jorge Calabria, USF Engineering student.

The USF Engineering team also built a device to produce algae. The nutrients from the digester also go into this device to allow the algae to grow. The algae can then help produce bio diesel and jet fuel.

Seeing all these devices work with what was originally waste material has a big impact on the students at Learning Gate.

"There's other ways to make energy without having to dig up fossil fuels, and just finding a way that these tiny little creatures just like eat up all our food and create energy," said Helena Rodriguez.

Finally, the USF team created a separate anaerobic digester specifically for cleaning waste water instead of food waste.

"Take all the nutrients out of it, take the energy out of it and take out clean water that we can reuse," said USF Engineering student Robert Bair.

This project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to help bring clean drinking water to developing countries.

The USF students and teachers not only created these large devices for the kids to see, but they also do smaller experiments to drive home the basics that went into developing the digesters.

"Having the students get hands on with different activities to learn about some of the technologies we're working on, so they can appreciate how nature can recycle waste material for example into energy and fertilizer and back to water," said Dr. Daniel Yeh, a professor for USF Engineering.

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