November 2005

New twist in tale of glass

Sand has been an essential ingredient in glass-making for hundreds of years, but in a new twist, students at The University of Auckland are turning glass bottles back into sand for commercial use.

Three fourth-year engineering students: Jeff Mison, Angela Lee and Joshua Wong, will help Waiheke Island residents with their waste disposal problems as well as eventually provide a new commercial product for sale, by recycling their glass bottles into sand.

They are working with the Waiheke Waste Resource Trust, which originally wanted the students to investigate ways of reducing the cost of shipping bottles back to the mainland.

Waiheke’s 8,000 permanent residents produce 100 tons of bottles per month, at a cost of $100 per ton for shipping.

As well as eliminating this cost, the sand the team will produce has a host of commercial applications from use in certain types of cement, mortar and plaster, to asphalt and sports turfs.

This project is part of a new community service initiative to be formally launched at The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Engineering.

Four groups of students are involved in the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program. Auckland is the first university outside the United States to run an EPICS program.

Another group, also working with the Trust, may eventually help Waiheke residents sidestep rising fuel prices and further waste disposal problems by converting their used cooking oil into biodiesel. They have succeeded in doing this and started testing the biodiesel in an engine.

A further team of engineering students is working to automate the rotation of Auckland’s iconic Stardome. Another is looking at water conservation and treatment at Auckland Zoo, the largest user of water in Auckland.

Dr. Heather Silyn-Roberts, EPICS program director at the Faculty of Engineering, says that EPICS projects are long-term and run over several years. Next year, new interdisciplinary groups of predominantly fourth-year students will build on the progress achieved this year.

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