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2005-2006 HIGHLIGHTS








Cover of the 2006 Annual Report
Annual Report

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Cover of the 2006 College Directory
College Directory

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Daniel Noguera, Timothy Donohue, Isabela Tejedor-Anderson, Trina McMahon, Marc Anderson, Yun Kyung Cho and Rodolfo Perez

Standing (from left) Professor Daniel Noguera, Bacteriology Professor Timothy Donohue, Senior Scientist Isabel Tejedor-Anderson, Assistant Professor Trina McMahon and Professor Marc Anderson. Kneeling: graduate students Yun Kyung Cho and Rodolfo Perez. (Large image)

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Harnessing the power of bacteria

Looking for alternatives to world reliance on fossil fuels for energy, an inter-disciplinary team of UW-Madison researchers is studying ways to generate electricity by feeding a photosynthetic species of bacteria a steady diet of sunshine and wastewater.

Currently, the microbes live in sealed, oxygen-free test tubes configured to resemble an electrical circuit. Known as a microbial fuel cell, this environment tricks the organisms into delivering byproducts of their wastewater dinner—in this case, extra electrons—to an anode, where they travel through a circuit toward a cathode. Protons, another byproduct, pass through an ion-exchange membrane en route to the cathode. There, the electrons and protons react with oxygen to form water.

Bacteria cultures for microbial fuel cell research

A different concentration of bacteria lives in each test tube. (Large image)

One microbial fuel cell produces a theoretical maximum of 1.2 volts; however, like a battery, several connected fuel cells could generate enough voltage to be useful power sources.

The researchers—Professors Daniel Noguera and Marc Anderson, Assistant Professor Trina McMahon, Bacteriology Professor Timothy Donohue, Senior Scientist Isabel Tejedor-Anderson, and graduate students Yun Kyung Cho and Rodolfo Perez—are combining their expertise in materials science, bacteriology and engineering to optimize the fuel cell configuration. Eventually, they hope to scale up the concept so that electricity generation via microbial fuel cells is a modular step in the wastewater treatment process.

Data warehouse: A portal to traffic safety information

A unique website that pools information from many databases will help public audiences and Wisconsin transportation officials gain a broader perspective on traffic safety issues and needs.

Several researchers in the Wisconsin Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory (TOPS) are developing the WisTransPortal, a data warehouse at “Identifying the safety problems isn’t simply identifying the locations where there were X number of crashes,” says Assistant Professor David Noyce, TOPS co-manager. “We think there’s a lot more to that, and that’s why we want to incorporate information from several sources that are not traditionally included.”

Among its information, the WisTransPortal may include Wisconsin crash data and health outcomes, crash costs, road weather information, citation data, emergency vehicle run data, lane and ramp closure data, and traffic detector data.

When the site officially debuts in early 2007, it will enable users to combine that and other data—information that traditionally resides in databases at various agencies—to paint a more accurate picture of the economic and societal effects of traffic safety issues, and of the costs and benefits of safety-related improvements.

Although the portal is Wisconsin-specific, the researchers hope someday to expand it to include information that helps them to study traffic safety at an interstate or regional level. Funding for the project, which includes TOPS co-manager and Professor Bin Ran and IT Project Manager Steven Parker, comes from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Bioreactor landfills: Studying why waste degrades in haste

Solid-waste bioreactor landfill owners seeking to save money, speed degradation time and extend the life of their facilities may benefit from predictive tools that will help them learn more about the hydrological, mechanical and biochemical processes in their landfills.

A relatively new concept, bioreactor landfills are designed to recirculate liquids such as water or leachate through the waste to break it down more efficiently. Conversely, traditional landfills limit waste exposure to liquids like rain.

Professor Craig Benson and Morton Barlaz, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at North Carolina State University, are collaborating on the project, which combines their expertise in solid-waste containment, hydrology and decomposition.

In addition to maintaining bioreactor landfills in their own laboratories, the two are working with their industrial partners to install sensors that will enable them to monitor several operating bioreactor landfills. They also will construct computer models to simulate bioreactor landfill processes.

Their data could help state and federal agencies regulate and evaluate bioreactor landfills. It will also help waste management companies make decisions about siting and operating new landfills.

Benson and Barlaz received a three-year, $750,000 National Science Foundation Partnerships for Innovation grant for the project.

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