The Sustain-a-drain team built a better filter to keep oil and other muck out of storm drains.
Some UC Riverside students are seeking to patent a new way to filter oil from wastewater drains. That could bring a new product to market for businesses that have to control their releases to storm drains.
Elizabeth Horstman, Shanin Quazi, Sarah Bates and Thomas Alan Kwan have UCR’s Kawai Tam as an advisor and teacher. Their invention, called “sustain-a-drain,” was entered in an international competition, the Intel Environmental Innovation Award, and they won a $2500 cash prize.
Some of what sustain-a-drain does relies on existing technology: inserts that sit inside drains and capture oil already exist, and they work pretty well. The UCR students married the filter idea with an indicator they designed, a test tube-like device that holds a powder. That powder turns into a solid if the filter’s full; since it hangs from the storm grate above the filter, workers monitoring the drain can know when to change it out. The product's made of recycled materials. The filter material they're using, Adsorb-it, mopped up oil in the Deepwater Horizon spill a couple of years ago. It's reusable and washable, and the students plan to work with a company that can recycle the oil from the filters to cut waste even further.
Car repair shops, food processors and other businesses have to keep their contamination from getting into the stormwater system. That’s a big problem along Southern California’s urban coast. Water regulators in California and elsewhere have shown a strong interest in tightening the rules on storm water pollution. Maybe regulators will never have time to check every garage, but if those car repair places can buy better filters at competitive prices, that could help clean up storm drains.
An economic analysis the UCR team did “showed their product and the cost of the maintenance it requires is between $30 and $350 less per year than packages offered by companies providing similar services.”
The students' design is heading for the patent office. All the students on the team are headed to graduate schools.
[Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the students were from UC Irvine. The correct school is UC Riverside.]