Mines Center for Sustainable Solutions

Posted on: September 8, 2023   |   Category: News & Updates
Scientist Examines Water Quality for Sustainable Solutions

This piece was published from South Dakota Mines. By Mike Ray

Photo: Sadie Tornberg, who is completing her masters in atmospheric and environmental sciences at South Dakota Mines, spent part of her summer in the backcountry of Montana and Idaho studying water quality on the Kootenai River. Research like this is one example of many that fall under the new Center for Sustainable Solutions at Mines.

South Dakota Mines has created a new multidisciplinary Center for Sustainable Solutions. The center will be a hub for research and development around sustainability including water quality, emerging contaminants, agriculture, infrastructure, carbon capture, biofuels, bioplastics, environmental stewardship and more.

“As society faces increasingly complex problems, providing sustainable solutions requires integrative partnerships and approaches that build convergence of many disciplines with research and support for stakeholders at all levels,” says Lisa Kunza, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, Biology and Health Sciences and the director of the new center at Mines.

In the last five years leading up to establishing the Center for Sustainable Solutions, there have been nearly 50 faculty and researchers from eight departments on campus participating in the efforts. “As an institution of higher education, it is imperative to have many graduate and undergraduate students trained in the collaborative environment that the Center for Sustainable Solutions provides while tying the innovative efforts to support the needs of the people,” says Kunza.

The center will help serve the needs of a wide range of partners, from assisting the Department of Defense (DoD) in mitigating emerging contaminants to working closely with Tribal nations to ensure water quality to providing new tools for agricultural producers to increase yield to helping build resilient infrastructure that survives extreme weather to improving the management and capture of carbon emissions for a range of industries.

“Sustainability is much more than environmental protection: it’s about finding efficiencies that improve the bottom line for multiple industry partners, it’s about insuring future water supplies and other resources for our communities, it’s about creating infrastructure that survives extremes and supports economic growth for the long term, it’s about making sure our farmers and ranchers have all the tools they need to feed our country for generations to come,” says Mines President Jim Rankin. “We’re proud to launch this new Center for Sustainable Solutions, for research and education in these areas and so much more.”

“Today’s complex problems require integrated approaches across disciplines. Entities such as this Center facilitate such efforts,” says Laurie Anderson, Ph.D., interim vice president for research at South Dakota Mines.

Sustainable Solutions 3

PFAS and Emerging Contaminants

The new center at Mines will work closely with officials nationwide to assist in mitigation and remediation of PFAS and other emerging contaminants in water and soil. These chemicals were originally used in fire retardant and other products, and a widespread effort to deal with contamination at multiple military installations and other facilities is now underway. “At South Dakota Mines, we are working on developing bioinspired, environmentally safe, low-cost sprayable microbial solutions for coupled adsorption and subsequent biodegradation of PFAS in a way that does not generate harmful daughter products. This research is critical to erase this forever chemical that poses a danger to the health of people and the planet,” says Tanvi Govil, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Karen M. Swindler Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Mines.

Tribal Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)

The center will also partner with Tribal nations. Mines has maintained multiple agreements with Tribal governments in the region to assist in infrastructure development, STEM education and technical support. The university also maintains partnerships with tribal colleges supporting a collaborative environment for student learning at all levels and hosts the Tiospaye Scholar Program.  “Many of our Native American students are interested in various aspects of sustainable issues, especially where they may be able to help their Tribes. Dr. Kunza has been great to work with and we look forward to future collaborations,” says Carter Kerk, Ph.D., a professor of industrial engineering and the director of the Tiospaye Scholar Program at Mines.

Infrastructure and Construction

Sustainability is a crucial part of construction of new infrastructure. Mines faculty who will work in the new center lead a range of design, evaluation, assessment and monitoring efforts to insure infrastructure resiliency, safety and quality. This center will serve students and faculty across multiple departments including civil and environmental engineering and industrial engineering and engineering management. “Sustainable solutions also require sustainable construction processes and procedures. The faculty and students will work on development of these approaches in the multidisciplinary environment that construction managers excel,” says Mark Van Vleck an instructor and Construction Engineering & Management program coordinator at Mines.

Carbon Capture and Utilization

Mines is leading efforts to discover and utilize microbes that can revolutionize everything from mineral processing to the manufacturing of biofuels and biodegradable plastics. The university is also leading research to use microbes that capture carbon dioxide gasses to vastly improve carbon sequestration rates in underground caverns and rock layers. “Making beneficial use of captured carbon gasses opens up many economic opportunities for South Dakota and our region,” says Bret Lingwall, Ph.D., associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Mines. “We can not only help with the climate crisis but also spur economic development through microbially accelerated carbon sequestration and biogenic transformation of carbon gasses into beneficial products. With our agriculture-centered way of life sensitive to weather and climate it makes sense that Mines be a regional leader in mitigating carbon gasses that impact our climate and weather.”

“This issue concerns us scientists to not just to focus on removing the CO2 from the atmosphere but to find innovative ways to sequester it safely in underground reservoirs,” adds Gokce Ustunisik, Ph.D., associate professor of geology and geological engineering at South Dakota Mines.

Agriculture and Water Resources

Farmers and ranchers will benefit from the work in the university’s new Center for Sustainable Solutions. The university is also helping create a new spray on biodegradable plastic for use in optimizing organic crop growth as well as researching stock pond water availability and quality, which is essential for the livestock industry in the Great Plains. “The Center for Sustainable Solutions will leverage cutting-edge science to help develop strategies to address issues such as land use, food security, and water quality locally, nationally and internationally. The Center’s multidisciplinary/multi-partner approach creates innovative collaborations to address major challenges in agriculture, water resources and land management,” says Patrick Kozak, Ph.D., a research scientist at Mines.

Mines also has expertise in groundwater and surface water ecology. All of these efforts aim to improve and support the mission of the relevant parties while protecting water resources in the United States.