EPA Recognizes Gonzaga with P3 Award

Evan Bates ('23, Engineering Management) and Brynna Bone ('24, Civil Engineering)

June 30, 2023
School of Engineering and Applied Science

Gonzaga engineering students earned national recognition from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in June for their innovative project in water filtration.

The project—aimed at addressing the health risks posed by per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in rural and disadvantaged communities—surpassed 16 competing teams from larger research institutions and doctoral programs. During a conference held near Washington D.C. in June, Evan Bates ('23, Engineering Management) and Brynna Bone ('24, Civil Engineering) presented their poster and a two-minute description of the project. They received the US EPA P3 Award ("People, Prosperity, Planet") for researching solutions for environmental protection and public health. Additionally, they received a $1,000 prize from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Institute for Sustainability.

The project was made possible through an EPA grant and a collaboration between Kyle Shimabuku, PhD, PE (Civil Engineering) and Marc Baumgardner, PhD (Mechanical Engineering).

The project tackled a growing concern over PFAS contamination. In the West Plains area of Spokane County, elevated PFAS levels have been detected in both private wells and the blood of community members. The students focused on developing a point-of-use (POU) treatment using biochar, an emerging organic adsorbent, as a sustainable alternative to commonly used granular activated carbon (GAC) filters.

Baumgardner's expertise in combustion engineering led to a different approach to manufacturing biochar adsorbents. Around 30 biochars were produced in a custom-designed, top-lit drum (TLUD). Students then filtered PFAS from drinking water using advanced experimental approaches developed in Shimabuku’s lab that compared the efficiency of these biochars with commercial GAC filters.

In addition to the EPA award, the students have been invited to present their research at the annual meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) in November.

The Gonzaga engineering students' achievements highlight the university's commitment to research and addressing critical environmental challenges. Their award-winning work brings us one step closer to providing sustainable solutions to communities affected by PFAS contamination and paving the way for a healthier future.

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