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BC Students Work For Sustainability

Two Berea College students have been named the recipients of the ESE Sustainability Research Mini-Grants totaling up to $1,600. Nathan Hall and Micah Johnson were awarded the mini-grants for their outstanding work with their respective sustainability projects.

Johnson (left) and Hall (right) take time out to show off their sustainable projects

The purpose of the ecological sustainability education (ESE) department's mini-grant is to provide financial support for research related to the practice or teaching of sustainability here at Berea College. Awards range from $250 to $1000. Members of the campus are eligible to receive the grants, but the projects need to include a collaboration of two or more groups, such as faculty, staff and students. Winning proposals and projects are chosen by a committee comprised of the dean of faculty, the director of sustainability and environmental studies (SENS), the sustainability coordinator and a Berea College student involved in sustainable practices.

Nathan Hall comes to Berea College from Allen, Ky., and is in his second semester. He plans to pursue an independent major which will encompass sustainable agriculture, business and industrial technology. Hall's proposal outlined plans for the Berea biodiesel project, which began as a collaboration with two professors, Dr. James Dontje of SENS and Dr. Paul Smithson of the chemistry department. Hall and his advisers hope that the project will help in producing a sustainable and renewable fuel that will power campus groundskeeping equipment. They also hope to engage in hands-on research to understand the use of this sustainable technology as well as educate students and the community about biodiesel and its production.

The biodiesel project will benefit the college in several different ways. Not only will it provide Berea with a cleaner burning, independently made fuel, but it will also help students get a head start in the growing field of biodiesel research. Having the active Berea biodiesel project will allow students with interest in sustainable techniques and technologies to experience first-hand the process of biodiesel production. Hall hopes that not only the Berea College community will benefit from the biodiesel project, but also the eastern Kentucky region and other like minded colleges who support and emulate BC's sustainability programs.

"I wasn’t especially expecting to receive the grant," said Hall, whose project was awarded a $1,000 grant. "I was very glad that the committee deemed this to be an effective use of their funding resources. I hope that the biodiesel system will be a permanent and constantly evolving component of Berea College’s efforts to be sustainable and self-sufficient in terms of its energy usage. In the short term, I plan to have the system moved to its own separate and permanent location, with at least one finished and tested batch of high-quality biodiesel being used in campus grounds equipment by the end of this semester."

Micah Johnson is from Frost, W.Va., and is a junior working towards an independent major in design for sustainable development. Johnson's ambitious project is aimed at decreasing the amount of the waste produced by dining services that is simply being thrown out. Johnson's project is a biogas digester, which will anaerobically digest food waste that can produce methane gas. This methane gas can then be burned for building heating as well as for soil sterilization at the college's greenhouse. A byproduct of the process will be a waste slurry of highly concentrated nutrients that can then be spread onto the greenhouse gardens for plant fertilizer. Johnson hopes that his project will further propel Berea College in its practice of sustainability and self-reliance by eliminating the need for commercial fertilizer as well as recycling an even higher percentage of food service wastes.

"When I was discovered I had won the funding, I felt blessed and delighted that my study would not remain on a report, but be actuated and incorporated into the nutrient recycling practices of the college greenhouse," commented Johnson. His project was awarded a total of $600. Right now, his project is still in its beginning phases. "Tests are being conducted to analyze the methane production of cafeteria food waste," he said. "Upon successful results, the materials will be purchased and construction begin. Hopefully, in April the anaerobic digester will begin functioning."

The ESE department at Berea College is committed to actively educating students and the community on sustainability, and is working toward lessening Berea College's "ecological footprint" on the environment now and for future generations. For more information on Berea College's ESE or SENS departments, please click on the links found below.

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