Technician at the University of Sheffield leads an innovative biodigester student design project

By 19th July 2019 Blog, News
Helen Wright in the Diamond building

Image: Helen Wright, Copyright Technicians Make it Happen, technicians.org.uk

University of Sheffield Technician Helen Wright is leading on an innovative green project that will enable students to design a working biodigester. The winning design will be made and installed in the multidisciplinary engineering Diamond building at the University.
Below Helen tells us about how she came up with the idea for the project.
The Diamond Student Biodigester Project

People laugh when I tell them that the inspiration for this project was a man in the Malvern Hills who had made a dog waste biodigester in his back garden. 

I described the news report I had seen in one of our Green Impact sustainability meetings and suggested that, as an engineering department, surely we could create something similar to tackle the amount of food waste created by the users of our state-of-the-art teaching facility. 

Better yet, how great would it be for our students to design and build it themselves? I never expected to be told “That’s a brilliant idea – do it”.

From that initial idea in a staff meeting this project has already grown into a collaborative effort far exceeding my original hopes. The Biodigester Team now has 26 members including technicians, academics, undergraduate students, admin staff and researchers across five different engineering disciplines. 

The project already has support and collaboration with over 10 different organisations including the Sheffield iForge, RS Components, Engineers Without Borders, Energy 2050 and The Urban Flows Observatory. And this really is only the very beginning . . . 

So what is the big idea for our Diamond Student Biodigester? 

In October this year undergraduate students from across the Faculty of Engineering will be invited to take part in a design challenge where they will work together in multidisciplinary teams to research and address a real global sustainability problem. 

With guidance and consultation available from leading experts in anaerobic digestion, sustainable energy and engineering safety the students will develop their own solutions to tackling food waste in a busy commercial building. 

The challenge culminates in a weekend event where student teams will meet with [key people] from industry, research, global organisations and professional bodies as they finalise their designs, create models and prototypes, and finally present their solution to a panel of expert judges. 

All student teams will receive valuable feedback on their research techniques and design creativity, and the event also presents a fantastic opportunity to develop core skills such as communication, presentation and team working skills. 

The group selected as our event winners will be well-rewarded in the form of prizes and fantastic publicity – the entire event will be covered through the University, social media, local media and national institutions such as the IST.

After the event our winning team will be invited to make their idea into a reality. The students will work together with experts from various organisations, industry collaborators, academics and technicians from across the Faculty, and the University Estates and Facilities team to create a full pilot scale biodigester that will form a central feature of the University’s Diamond Integrated Pilot Plant. 

We are already forming further plans for the final working biodigester to be incorporated into the world class engineering teaching delivered by the facility. 

Most importantly though, the Diamond Student Biodigester will become a shining display of engineers at all levels coming together to find the solutions to major global issues. 

And this is what the project is all about.

 

For more information on the University of Sheffield Diamond Student Biodigester project please contact Helen Wright helen.wright@sheffield.ac.uk