A University of Missouri-Rolla (UMR) researcher and 11 geological engineering students will use wind power to clean up ground water at a former munitions production site in Nebraska in the effort to use renewable energy for such a task.

The 17,000-acre site of the project was used for munitions during World War II and the Korean conflict. Declared a Superfund site in 1990, the soil is contaminated with wastes such as TNT. More than 400 people have wells within three miles of the site, using the water not only for drinking, but also for livestock and irrigation.

“We will develop a program to determine how much electricity is generated and the mass of contaminant removed,” says Dr. Curt Elmore, assistant professor of geological engineering at UMR, who is heading up the project.

“The preliminary numbers show that it is economically viable to use renewable energy at this site instead of paying the utility cost for electricity,” says Elmore. He hopes this program proves attainable to even average homeowners who might have contaminated wells on their property.

Elmore's research group will use a wind turbine to power a ground water circulation well that removes contaminants from the water. “The ground water circulation well removes contamination from an aquifer by extracting water from one interval, treating it and putting it back in the same aquifer at a different depth, so nothing is wasted. The only thing that comes out is the contamination,” explains Elmore.

The $300,000 project is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Kansas City District Corps of Engineers, UMR and Bergey Wind Power Co. of Norman, Okla.

Elmore says the project conserves the natural resources involved. “Because we are using renewable energy, we won't be contributing to potential pollution of one resource - the air - while we clean up another resource - ground water. Because we use a renewable resource, we are hoping to achieve total resource conservation,” he says. “It's kind of a holistic approach, that you can remediate the ground water without doing anything to it except removing the contamination.”

The students, as a part of a senior design course, will work to identify an appropriate wind turbine system; how best to acquire it; how much to pay a contractor; and how to connect it to an existing ground water remediation system.

The first phase of the project, which should be completed soon, focuses on identifying, procuring, installing and connecting the wind turbine. During the second and final phases, the wind turbine will be working and the researchers will measure the amount of electricity consumed by the system and the amount of electricity generated by the wind turbine, and estimate the mass of contamination removed. The project should be completed in September 2004.