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University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Micro-Grants Help Smog-Eating Concrete, Garden Projects

At first glance, a garden irrigation system and smog-eating concrete have little, if anything, in common. But both concepts aim to incorporate sustainability into academics, each winning this year’s micro-grant competition at UALR. The ideas will now become full-fledged and fully funded projects thanks to the Sustainability Committee.

Smog-Eating Concrete – A Modern Solution to Air Pollution

Dr. Amin Akhnoukh, a professor in the Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology, proposed research to create smog-eating concrete. While a proprietary version was recently used in a Missouri interstate rehabilitation project, Akhnoukh’s goal is to develop non-proprietary smog-eating concrete mixes in the UALR Concrete Materials Lab with the support of the Nanotechnology Center.

According to Akhnoukh, smog-eating concrete is a new type of concrete that incorporates such nano-particles as silicon and titanium dioxide, which enable the concrete to absorb and break down smog and air pollutants into a form that washes away when it rains.

He hopes that the research will help students better understand air pollution and kick off a boom of projects to devise modern solutions to air pollution. Akhnoukh said there is potential application for the smog-eating concrete on Arkansas highways, particularly in West Memphis where air quality doesn’t comply with EPA regulations. The research will be shared with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department for possible implementation through a Federal Highway Administration grant.

Campus Garden – A Sustainable Method of Gathering Water

campus gardenThe second project, proposed by Dr. Krista Lewis in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, would create a rainwater catchment and irrigation system for the UALR campus garden, which was founded in spring 2012 on Fair Park Boulevard.

According to Lewis, garden volunteers will construct a roof over an existing structure so that they not only have an on-site storage facility, but can also install a rainwater catchment system – a sustainable method of gathering water. Lewis said a system is needed in drought-prone Arkansas.

campus gardenThe combined rainwater catchment and irrigation system and the plants it establishes will be used in educational demonstrations, Lewis said, adding that the campus garden is also interested in bringing community organizations into the project. Garden volunteers have already cultivated a relationship with the World Services for the Blind. In exchange for use of their greenhouse, garden volunteers planted food for them and beautified their campus under the guidance of Laverne Davis, master gardener.

The Sustainability Committee decided to pursue a sustainability rating for the campus through the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

The AASHE sustainability rating system for colleges and universities is the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, & Rating System (STARS).  The STARS program outlines more than 135 criteria or standards for campus sustainability. The committee offered the first competitive micro-grant awards in 2009-10. Through the implementation of these and other STARS standards, UALR received a bronze rating in 2012. The committee continues its work to implement more STARS standards with the goal of improving UALR’s rating.