Santa Fe Community College’s Alternative Fuels (biofuels) program prepares students for employment in science, agriculture and energy fields and for further studies in agriculture, biology and engineering. Hands-on applications and field trips to facilities in operation provide networking opportunities at potential job sites and universities. Instructor Luke Spangenburg sees the experiential aspects of the program as “a way to inspire the next generation to develop cross-disciplinary thinking skills to be able to face climate, food, energy and water challenges.”
A Trip to the New Mexico Consortium
A trip to the Biolab and greenhouse facility at the New Mexico Consortium (NMC) in Los Alamos gave students a look at current research in energy and food security. The NMC comprises a group of scientists from New Mexico’s national laboratories and universities, led by Dr. Richard Sayre. Some SFCC students have interned with the NMC.
Giovanni Echave, inspired to do a summer internship with the NMC after visiting the facility: “Microalgae has the potential to produce more fuel than any other feedstock…They are doing some non-GMO selection. It is sort of like selective raising of sheep for wool.”
Matthew Encinias: “The NMC had a lot of information about where the algae industry is going. I now know more about potential problems to consider when I try growing algae.”
James Stapleton: “The trip tested my memory of SFCC’s genetics class.”
Diana Melin: “We had three presentations from working scientists. I was excited to be able to understand what they were saying and see that there is work in this field. I felt inspired to be in a science degree program. It seems like finding ways to manufacture end products out of a cell is a new ‘industrial revolution.’ ”
A Trip to ABQ’s Wastewater Treatment Facility
SFCC’s Biofuels and Microbiology for Wastewater Technologies class toured the Albuquerque Southside Wastewater Treatment and Anaerobic Digester Facility. The field trip was an informative look into the orchestra of turning waste into water. The plant treats 55 million gallons a day; that is, approximately 636.6 gallons a second, 24 hours a day. They followed the water from entry to the exit that drains into the Río Grande and saw where the treated water comes out. They noticed that, because the river was so full of sediment, there was a visual boundary between it and the treated water.
EDITOR’S NOTE: On Feb. 27, about 6 million gallons of partially treated sewage spilled into the Río Grande at the Southside Treatment Plant when a power surge knocked the facility’s power and the backup system failed to come online. The spill put high levels of E. coli into the river, creating a health risk and also violating the plant’s EPA permit.
Cisco Whitson-Brown, a student in the Biofuels II and Microbiology for Wastewater classes, has completed the Greenhouse Management program, is working toward an associate’s degree in Sustainable Technologies, is an intern with the Biofuels program and is also providing research data for the NM-EPSCoR Bioalgal Research Team. His design for a mobile water-purification station won a poster prize at the New Mexico Academy of Science Research Symposium. Whitson-Brown said that the field trip was “a very interesting and stinky adventure. I never knew processing poop could be so complicated. Each acre of structures is integral to the overall success of the final result: clean water. It is a long process of solids removal, bacterial cultures, fat-skimming, aeration, anaerobic digestion, ultraviolet-light cleaning stations, chemical additions, thousands of miles of pipe and tubing, along with billons of tons of concrete.”
Biofuels II student Sam Pearson: “Albuquerque’s wastewater-treatment plant generates up to 70 percent of its energy requirements through a pair of massive combustion generators fueled by methane produced during anaerobic digestion of sludge that is removed from the sewage. Instead of having radiators cool the engines, heat is pumped away to maintain optimum temperature in the digesters and other components of the treatment process. Digestate is sent off to be used as fertilizer, soil or compost inoculator.”
Kat Vindas: “Methane runs one engine full-time and the other engine about eight hours before switching to natural gas. Heat from the engines is also used to keep the sludge at the desired temperature through the use of boilers. In addition, this hot water is used for radiant heat in the winter.”
A Trip to Tesuque Pueblo Farms
Tesuque Pueblo Farms is a 40-acre Certified Organic farm and orchard. William Torres Longo, an agronomist from Puerto Rico and an SFCC Biofuels intern, has been working with the farm to incorporate hydroponic greenhouses to make possible a longer growing season and alleviate year-to-year inconsistencies in fruit production. Longo led a collection of students from the Greenhouse Management and Biofuels programs on a work-study visit to the farm last November.
Cisco Whitson-Brown: “This farm project’s director is a plant geneticist named Emigdio Ballón, a Quechua from Bolivia. The farm primarily serves the people of Tesuque Pueblo. It has 40 acres of traditional Native American crops, some found only in this part of the world. There are 10 beehives that pollinate the farm.”
Giovanni Echave: “Tesuque Farms was built to help sustain the native people in the area. The underground seed-storage facility was built completely out of wood, mud, sand and hay.”
Santa Fe Community College offers Sustainable Technologies degree and certificate programs in Alternative Fuels, Water Technology and Greenhouse Management, as well as Solar Technologies and Green Building. For more information, email Biofuels@sfcc.edu or visit www.sfcc.edu/programs/biofuels