KSU engineering students tackle blue-green algae problem

Published: Oct. 13, 2016 at 11:04 PM CDT
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A team of mechanical engineering seniors at K-State are proposing a solution for a real world problem—the blue-green algae bloom in the northeast corner of Milford Lake. They designed a prototype for their client, Clay County park manager Mike Carney to review.

Carney runs camping operations at the Clay County Park in Wakefield and said loyal campers at the site are leaving due to the smell and general safety concerns.

“This summer, I’ve lost eight of them,” he said. “They come up here, they worry about going out boating. They worry that they don’t want to take the children out there.”

Commonly referred to as blue-green algae, cyanobacteria is characterized for it's bright blue hue and is toxic to both humans and animals.

Frustrated with waiting for answers, Carney reached out to Kansas State University.

The students met with Carney in Wakefield three weeks ago at the start of their semester and he gave them a tour of the two inlets near the Clay County campsite where the water stagnates causing the harmful algal blooms to grow.

“It’s literally like watching a cake bake in an oven, when it gets stagnant, it just festers,” said Carney.

Carney said areas where the water is in constant motion due to the wind, the blue-green algae is not able to proliferate.

According to project team leader Ben Schmanke, the prototype the team designed involves a giant ring, about 16 square feet (4 ft. in diameter) that’s able to float and agitate the water.

“We decided to design a round floating model on top of the water so that it can best get to where the algae lives. There’s a pump in the central hub and it will pull up water from a hose and send it out through four hoses. Then for further agitation, we have four propellers that would be hooked up to motors,” said Schmanke.

Schmanke said the device is designed to be easy to transport in a truck and no more than 75 pounds so it’s not too hard to move out of the water when the seasons change.

According to senior in mechanical engineering Emma Schinstock, the team created an online survey to learn the public's perception of the problem and in three weeks had over 600 responses.

96 percent of the respondents said they are in favor of a device to help reduce the blue-green algae blooms said Schinstock.

“A lot of positive feedback towards the fact that they want something implemented to help fix this problem and there were a few suggestions of what they thought might work. Overall, a general idea of ‘we want something done,’” she said.

The students have two semesters to work on the projects before they graduate, and eventually, passing off their prototype to another group of students to continue developing.

Right now, they’re in the process of refining their design and showing their progress to Carney, KSU engineering professor Dr. David Pacey and Monty Prescott, a consultant with 40 years of local civil engineering experience.

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions that will be determined there in the testing of the prototype,” said Prescott. “For instance, how many of these devices and in what frequency will be necessary.”

The group meets again in December to discuss cost analysis for the prototype.