Iniciativas de descontaminación en UGA: El Biodigestor / UGA decontamination initiatives: The Biodigestor

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UGA Costa Rica en el año 2008 quiso desarrollar el campus de una manera sostenible. Para esto evaluó y creó un plan de manejo para la finca, en el que se decidió incorporar en el año 2011 el primer biodigestor o sistema de descontaminación productiva de aguas residuales dentro del campus, un prototipo en el área de Monteverde.

La biodigestión consiste en la fermentación producida por bacterias anaeróbicas, componentes de las excretas (humanas o animales), sobre materia orgánica, éstas se aprovechan ubicándolas en un contenedor hermético, donde se generan altas temperaturas que destruyen y reducen las bacterias que podrían causar enfermedades. Las altas temperaturas llegan a “destruir hasta el 95% de los huevos de parásitos y casi todas las bacterias y protozoarios causantes de disentería” (Botero y Preston, 1987, P. 4). Es por esto que los residuos luego de ser procesados pueden ser aprovechados para la finca como fertilizante y abono.

In 2008, UGA Costa Rica wanted to develop the campus in a sustainable way. A plan to manage the farm was created, and in 2011, UGA decided to incorporate the first biodigestor/decontamination system of wastewater within the campus.  This biodigestor was a prototype in the Monteverde area.

 The biodigestion process occurs via the consumption of organic material by anaerobic bacteria. These organic components consist of human or animal excrement and other organic matter. The process occurs when these components are placed in an airtight container, where the anaerobic decomposition of these organic materials generates high temperatures that destroys or greatly reduces the concentration of bacteria that could cause illness. High temperatures “destroy up to 95% of parasite eggs and almost all bacteria and protozoa which cause dysentery” (Botero & Preston, 1987, p. 4). This is why the waste can be used on the farm as fertilizer after being processed.

 

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El encierro de los animales se limpia para dirigir las excretas a un filtro
The animal enclosures are cleaned up, excretement are directed to a filter

 

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El filtro por el cual pasan las excretas para ser dirigidas al reactor evita que pase material grueso o duro que puede ser difícil de descomponer dentro del biodigestor esto también evita daños a la bolsa.
The filter through which the excretion passes separates out the thick or hard material that would otherwise damage the reactor, or be difficult to decompose.

 

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El reactor es una bolsa hermética donde se produce la digestión anaeróbica, ahí se descompone el material orgánico que viene del establo para luego pasar al tratamiento secundario en las lagunas. Es en este proceso donde también se produce el biogás.   
The reactor is an airtight bag where anaerobic digestion takes place, organic material that comes from the stable decomposes there to pass to the secondary treatment in the lagoons.  In this process that biogas is also produced.

 

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Lagunas con plantas acuáticas para el tratamiento secundario de los efluentes que provienen del biodigestor.
Lagoons with aquatic plants for the secondary treatment of the effluent that comes from the biodigester.

 

Ya para el año 2013, por la eficiencia del primer prototipo instalado en la finca, se desarrolló otro biodigestor en el campus principal. Como resultado de ambos biodigestores se ha logrado procesar una mayor cantidad de materia orgánica generando más abono sólido y líquido, así como más biogás. Además, se implementaron las lagunas, donde el agua que sale del biodigestor de la finca lleva un tratamiento secundario con plantas acuáticas, las cuales absorben la materia orgánica restante, terminando de descontaminar las aguas residuales. Estas plantas también son utilizadas como alimento para cerdos y vacas.

La digestión anaerobia, como resultado produce una mezcla de gases que sirven como combustible (biogás), que puede ser aprovechado en diversos usos como fuente de energía renovable produciendo calor y electricidad.

La tecnología del biodigestor en el campus es considerada una herramienta multipropósito muy provechosa, ya que genera combustible, abono líquido y sólido. Además, el biodigestor juega un papel importante en la conservación, reduciendo la contaminación ambiental, según Carreras N. (2017, 3p.) el principal componente del biogás es el Metano (50-70%), este gas, contribuye al efecto invernadero y con esta tecnología en vez de ser liberado a la atmósfera es aprovechado como fuente de energía.

By the year 2013, due to the efficiency of the first prototype installed on the farm, another biodigester was developed on the main campus. As a result, both of the biodigesters have been able to process a greater amount of organic matter generating more solid and liquid fertilizer, as well as biogas. In addition, the lagoons at the farm were implemented, where the water leaving the biodigester has a secondary treatment with aquatic plants, which absorb the remaining organic matter, finishing the decontamination process of the waste water. These plants are also used as food for pigs and cows.

Anaerobic digestion as a result produces a mixture of gases that serve as fuel (biogas), which can be exploited in various ways as a source of renewable energy by producing heat and electricity. 

The biodigester technology on campus is considered a useful multipurpose tool, since it generates fuel, liquid and solid fertilizers, as also an educative oportunity. According to Carreras N. (2017, 3p.) the main component of biogas is methane (50-70%). This gas, which is known as a major contributor to the greenhouse effect, is harnessed as an energy source, rather than released into the atmosphere.

 

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Cámara de tratamientos de aguas residuales del campus principal
Main campus sewage treatment chamber

 

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Tubería que transporta el gas hacia el reservorio de biogás y tubería que comunica ambas cámaras para el proceso de tratamiento de aguas residuales
Large pipe on left: pipe that transports the biogas to the reservoir seem below.  Horizontal pipe consolidates both chambers for the wastewater treatment process

 

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Reservorio de almacenamiento de biogás.
Biogas storage reservoir

 

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El biogás siendo utilizado para el gas de la cocina
Biogas being used for gas in the kitchen

 

A través de los años en los que UGA Costa Rica ha experimentado con esta tecnología, se ha logrado compartir el conocimiento e instalar cinco biodigestores en diferentes fincas de la comunidad de San Luis y Monteverde.  Esto se ha logrado a través de programas académicos con estudiantes, donde se ha fortalecido el aprendizaje a través de la experiencia.

Through the years in which UGA Costa Rica has experimented with this technology, it has been possible to share knowledge and install five biodigesters on different farms in the community of San Luis and Monteverde. This has been achieved through academic programs with students, where their experience has been strengthened through service learning.

Mariela Vásquez G. pasante de fotoperiodismo/ photojournalism intern


Bibliografía

Botero R., Preston T.R. (1987). Biodigestores de bajo costo para la producción de combustible y fertilizante a partir de excretas. “Manual para su instalación, operación y utilización”. Recuperado de http://www.produccion-animal.com.ar/Biodigestores/04-biodigestores.pdf

Carreras N. (2017). CURSO DE FORMACIÓN TEÓRICO-PRÁCTICO DE ENSAYOS EN BACH (BMP) Y CONTINUOS DE DIGESTIÓN ANAEROBIA BASADOS EN LA NORMA VDI 4630. España: CIEMAT.

 

Una experiencia de aprendizaje en UGA Costa Rica Service Learning in UGA Costa Rica

Bosque nuboso de la Reserva de Monteverde/Casey Urban y Malcolm Scobell en el laboratorio durante la clasificación de muestras de macroinvertebrados
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve/ Casey Urban and Malcolm Scobell in the laboratory during the macroinvertebrate sample classification

 

Malcolm Scobell y Casey Urban llegaron en junio a nuestro campus para realizar su pasantía con el programa de estudios en el extranjero de la Universidad de Lehigh, Pensilvania, donde actualmente cursan su tercer año de la carrera de ingeniería ambiental. La pasantía duró 7 semanas quedándose en casa de personas de la localidad de San Luis, ubicación de la sede satelital de la Universidad de Georgia en Costa Rica. Según comenta Casey, ella eligió este destino por su valor ambiental y fue recibida como parte de la familia en donde residió.

Malcolm Scobell and Casey Urban arrived in June to our campus to begin their internship with the study abroad program at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, where they are currently in their third year of environmental engineering. Their internship lasted 7 weeks and they participated in home stays in the town of San Luis, where the satellite campus of the University of Georgia at Costa Rica is located. Casey chose this destination for its environmental value and she felt like a member of the family at her home stay.

 Piranga olivacea (Cardinalidae) Fotografía de Martha Garro/Muestra Botánica de Crotalaria maypurensis (Fabaceae)
 Piranga ilovacea (Cardinalidae) Martha Garro Photography/Crotalaria maypurensis (Fabaceae) botanic sample

 

El objetivo de la pasantía es aprender a través de la experiencia, por lo que los estudiantes formaron parte de diversas líneas de investigación que se realizan dentro del campus, incluyendo el proyecto liderado por Martha Garro Cruz, el cual se enfoca en estudiar el comportamiento de las aves y tratar de reducir los choques contra las ventanas. A través de una búsqueda sistemática, ella ha registrado el comportamiento y señales de este fenómeno en una base de datos. También contribuyeron con el proyecto liderado por el pasante naturalista Riley Fortier, montando muestras botánicas del herbario de UGACR donadas por William A. Haber, logrando contribuir con un total de 274 muestras de plantas montadas.                                                                   

The objective of this internship was a service learning experience in which the students
participated in several lines of research carried out on campus, including the project led by  Martha Garro Cruz, which focuses on studying the behavior of birds around windows in order to reduce bird strikes. Through systematic observation, she has been recording information about these behaviors and signs of this phenomenon in a database. Casey and Malcom also contributed to the project led by resident naturalist Riley Fortier, mounting botanical samples from the UGACR herbarium donated by William A. Haber, managing to contribute a total of 274 mounted plant samples to the collection.

 

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Los estudiantes de Lehigh junto al profesor Donald Morris, especialista en ecosistemas acuáticos quien los acompañó durante el proyecto de calidad de agua en UGACR.
The Lehigh students with their Professor Donald Morris, who studies aquatic ecosystems provided guidance during the water quality portion of the internship at UGACR.

 

En la última semana de su pasantía todos los estudiantes que conformaban el programa (Grace Boak, Shrivats Agarwal, Mariah Matias, Natalee Castillo, Tristan Morales y Juan Camilo Arbelaez) junto con el profesor del departamento de Ciencias de la Tierra y del medio ambiente, Donald Morris, quienes estuvieron en otras áreas de Costa Rica, se reunieron con Casey y Malcolm en UGA Costa Rica para realizar la última fase de su aprendizaje a nivel grupal.

In the last week of their internships, the Lehigh students that were interning in other parts of Costa Rica (Grace Boak, Shrivats Agarwal, Mariah Matias, Natalee Castillo, Tristan Morales and Juan Camilo Arbelaez) along with Donald Morris, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, met with Casey and Malcolm at UGA Costa Rica to carry out the final phase of their learning.

 

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Los estudiantes reunidos en el laboratorio de UGACR para conocer los objetivos de su participación en el proyecto de calidad de aguas
The students meeting in the UGACR laboratory to learn about the objectives of their participation in the water quality project.

 

Los pasantes participaron del proyecto de calidad de agua de las tres cuencas predominantes en el Corredor Biológico del Pájaro Campana en Puntarenas, investigación activa de la UGACR donde aprendieron a recolectar, clasificar y analizar muestras de macroinvertebrados acuáticos y otros parámetros físicos y químicos del agua . El Dr.Thomas Shahady investigador principal junto con José Montero de UGACR co-investigador, lideran este proyecto, el cual tiene el objetivo de crear un índice confiable para la calificación de la calidad del agua dentro del Corredor Biológico, como una herramienta para monitorear la salud de los ecosistemas acuáticos de la región así como para la toma de decisiones y empoderamiento de las comunidades locales.

They participated in an active water quality research project of UGACR that studies three prevailing basins in the Bellbird Biological Corridor in Puntarenas, learning to collect, classify, and analyze aquatic macroinvertebrates samples, and other physiochemical indicators of water quality. Dr. Thomas Shahady from Lynchberg University, is the principle investigator of this project, along with biologist and co-investigator José Montero from UGACR. The aim is to create a reliable index of water quality within the Biological Corridor as a tool to monitor the health of aquatic ecosystems in the region and to promote decision-making and empowerment of local communities.

 

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Durante el proceso de capacitación, explicación del cronograma a los pasantes
During the training process, explaining the schedule to the interns

 

Garro, facilitadora de programas académicos de UGA Costa Rica junto con José Montero investigador, Coordinador de Investigación, Instrucción y Pasantías capacitan, empoderan a los estudiantes, explicándoles la teoría y metodología a utilizar, brindándoles el conocimiento con respecto al trabajo de campo de recolección de muestras, así como también de las fases posteriores como de taxonomía y análisis de resultados.

Garro (facilitator of academic programs at UGA Costa Rica) along with José Montero (research, instruction, and internships coordinator at UGACR), guided the students by explaining the theory and methodology to be used – for example, the process of collecting samples in the field, as well as later phases such as taxonomy and analysis of results.

 

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Pasantes tomando datos para medir la corriente, la profundidad y el ancho del río/ Conteo de macroinvertebrados para calcular la calidad del agua
Interns taking data to measure the current, depth and width of the river/ Counting macroinvertebrates to calculate water quality in the laboratory

 

Las muestras de macroinvertebrados son tomadas en diferentes periodos durante el año abarcando los cambios ocasionados por los efectos estacionales. En este caso fue el tercer muestreo del año 2017. Los pasantes del programa participaron del trabajo de campo, aprendiendo a utilizar diferentes herramientas, recolectando las muestras e información de manera sistemática.

Samples of macroinvertebrates are taken at different periods during the year, covering changes caused by seasonal effects. In this case, it was the third sampling of the year 2017. Program interns participated in fieldwork, learning how to use different tools, collecting samples and information in a systematic way.

 

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Los estudiantes fueron divididos en tres equipos, en esta ocasión juntos(as) expusieron lo aprendido
The students were divided into three teams, this time explaining together what they had been learning

 

El último objetivo para los pasantes consistió en realizar una presentación del proyecto de aguas exponiendo las fases del proyecto, la metodología, los resultados analizados e interpretados a través de gráficos utilizando el método científico y apropiándose de su proceso de aprendizaje en UGA Costa Rica.

The last objective for the interns consisted of a presentation of the water project, using graphics to explain the phases of the project, the methodology, the analyzed results, and the interpretation using the scientific method. Through service learning here at UGACR, students were able to take ownership of the learning process.

 

Mariela Vásquez G. pasante de fotoperiodismo/ photojournalism intern

 

Hands on the Herbarium!

William A. Haber arrived in Monteverde in July of 1973 with a doctoral thesis in mind. Initially studying glass-winged butterflies and their hostplants, he did not immediately expect to curate some of the most crucial insect and plant collections in the history of the region. His goal within the botanical community was to create one of the most thorough Costa Rican plant collections. His success produced four duplicate copies of this particular collection: One at the Missouri Botanical Garden, two currently at the National Museum of Costa Rica, and one now with us, inherited from Haber himself in 2009.

CAB_2017_3080_JuneIf Haber didn’t donate his personal collection to us, we wouldn’t have the extensive herbarium that we have today. With a plant collection that is double the age of UGACR, it is crucial for us to maintain and improve his legacy.

The collection that can be seen in the herbarium is currently a closet full of dry plant samples organized in old 80’s newspaper clips and manila folders. The newspaper has scribbled handwriting on the outside, informing us of its origin and collection number. The current project is to go through every specimen to make sure each is mounted in a professional way and has a thorough description.

 

Dr. Ann Willyard is a systematic botanist that teaches at Hendrix College in Arkansas. This is her first year coming down to UGACR with the study abroad program that has been coming here for many years. Her knowledge in the complex taxonomy of the ever-changing plant families is much needed. She brings a lighthearted tone to this particular work.

“The mounting part is more like an arts and crafts project than a science project,” Ann Willyard says. The students mount the plants using glue and then compiling the families together. Each dried plant sample is glued with a paper notation of who collected it, when and where. Any seeds or extra valuable plant material is placed in an envelope. The project goes from family to family, working its way all through the herbarium cabinets. When the project is finished, there will be a hearty collection of around three thousand plants, all pressed and organized together by family.

 

Resident Naturalist Riley Fortier is guiding the students through the whole process. He specializes in the study of tropical plants here and is taking initiative to mediate the process, along with Herbarium and Carbon Offset Coordinator Lucas Ramírez. After dedicating time to study and shadow our staff and researchers, Riley is turning into a Plant-O-Rama connoisseur and has been leading trainings on identification and plant components. His hand has been felt in the online community as he identifies species on more than one database.

CAB_2017_1422_Fit4Earth“Not many people know what an herbarium is to begin with, so being able to directly help in the preservation of ours makes me really excited. I think the students have fun mounting the plants, and even artistic people enjoy it… It’s really nice to have all of that help, because we made a huge dent in the work thanks to those students.” – Riley Fortier

Riley is a protagonist for UGA Costa Rica’s growing citizen science program, branching out to facilitate the process of peer review and crowd-sourcing information. It’s a gratifying step in a long-term interest of his.

“In college, most of my interest was in plants just because we have so many trees in Oregon and our campus is a certified arboretum… But I think it all started in my middle school, Sunnyside Environmental School, where a large part of our curriculum was environmental science and service learning. We had a native plant garden right outside our school and one of the things we had to do was learn more of our native plants each year.” – Riley Fortier

 

Riley uses the Tropicos database from the Missouri Botanical Garden that sets the standard for botanical taxonomy and classification. The vast majority of the plants in the Missouri collection have been identified down to the species level, which is the most precise. In our collection, they are often only identified to the family level. Riley has to use the online database to identify each specimen down to the exact species name, referencing the standard that the Missouri Botanical Garden sets.

One of the challenging parts is incorporating the newest annotations and changes to scientific names, based on the most recent taxonomy. These annotations indicate when the species, genera, or even families have been changed or reclassified.

 

The samples that were previously in newspaper might last 15 or 20 more years, but using the grease paper to mount and store them correctly will preserve them for easily over a century. With only a handful of herbariums in Costa Rica, the preservation of a unique collection is the compelling aspect.

“Many schools who previously had herbariums had to get rid of them just because they didn’t have anybody maintaining them. Botanists are in short supply these days, so we’re pretty lucky to have one here” – Riley Fortier

The Hendrix students are taking full advantage of their lab time. Their project includes finding, pressing, drying, and mounting their own plant collection. Not only are they focused on plants, but they’re pushing their mounting skills to the next level with personal insect collections. The collections of these young scientists may also last for centuries to come!

 

Post and photos created by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll

 

Night Hikes: A Second Helping of Dessert

At UGA Costa Rica, the forest floor is crawling with completely different life after the sun goes down. This is why night hikes are one the naturalists’ favorite activities to host and one of the most unpredictable as to what guests may find. Plus, having so many nocturnal species gives us thousands of reasons to pack a flashlight.

Our jungle is a city that never sleeps, where animals showcase many sensory abilities that are beyond what humans typically rely on. Leaf cutter ants work all night long, following the pheromones of their group to keep trails back to their colony.

Students and ecotourists are shown a perspective of wildlife that prompts different questions from any other activity. Flashlights and headlamps reflect the eye shine of spiders, mammals, and many other species that are usually looked over or hidden during the day. Even some species of worms only glow in the darkness. Night hikes show a contrasting side to our lush ecosystem.

The insecurities of being in a mysterious jungle turn into a sense of reassurance. With the right knowledge and equipment, we learn to stay out of harm’s way in a diverse jungle that supports the life of various spiders, poisonous insects, snakes and even cats. Night-hiking serves as a great model of living along side life that we often see as dangerous.

Night hikes give guests the opportunity to learn outside of the comfort zone that they are used to in the daylight. That type of uneasiness in the darkness transforms into a gratification in the ability to see more of the elusive species that aren’t active during the day.

We invite you to tune into a different frequency by turning off the lights. Take a couple minutes to listen and look at the stars under an open canopy – hear the sounds. Adding a human harmony to the twilight orchestra creates a song that is unique to this activity.

 

Photos and words contributed by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll