The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather


    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower


    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships


    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

3 weeks ago

USA professor sets ambitious goal to improve wastewater infrastructure in rural Alabama

Dr. Kevin White, a professor and chair of civil, coastal and environmental engineering at South, and civil engineering graduate student Brandon Maliniemi in Mobile, Ala. (Mike Kittrell)

For years – 13, to be exact – Dr. Kevin White has been on a mission to improve wastewater management infrastructure in portions of rural Alabama. He’s discovered that, in some areas, more than half of the households have raw sewage in their yards, the result of either a failed septic system or having no system at all.

“The lack of proper wastewater management is both a health issue and an economic development issue,” White said. “Business and industry certainly will not locate to an area without functioning wastewater infrastructure.”

After years of research and testing, he’s ready to take the next step. Actually, several steps.


With support from a three-year grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, White, professor and chair of civil, coastal and environmental engineering at the University of South Alabama, has an ambitious agenda to significantly improve wastewater – and thus, public health – conditions for rural communities who need help. Chief among his goals is developing a guide for citizens who want to fix the unsanitary conditions; a guide based on his research findings and experience.

“For these rural communities, many of them poor and without resources and technical knowledge, the questions they have are, ‘Where can we get funding? What technologies should we use? How do we manage it? What are the regulations?’” White explained. “These communities want to help themselves, but it’s a real challenge to know where to start first, what to do next, and so on. And while private engineering companies are available to assist, few specialize in all of the areas needed to provide cost-effective wastewater infrastructure for these rural areas.”

The $755,761 grant came about largely because of a summary paper White and co-author Dr. Mark Elliott, assistant professor in the University of Alabama department of civil, construction and environmental engineering, submitted last year to numerous government officials and agencies, including the EPA.

Beyond the guide, the grant will also support White’s efforts to test and demonstrate the effectiveness of innovative and sustainable wastewater treatment options in rural areas.

He’s focusing on five counties – Dallas, Hale, Lowndes, Perry and Wilcox – that suffer from high levels of poverty and impermeable soils unsuitable for traditional septic systems. These conditions have resulted in failed septic systems and widespread raw sewage discharge to the ground surface.

“We are committed to implementing cost-effective, onsite wastewater treatment solutions in these areas,” White said. “We’ll focus on individual households for now; clusters of 15-t0-50 homes will come later if we’re successful.”

White also wants to explore alternative regulatory strategies that could provide more wastewater management options for households and communities with the most challenging soil and poverty conditions. “We want to provide some experimental treatment systems and test their viability,” White elaborated. “This may lead to changes where traditional methods don’t work.”

Civil engineering graduate student Brandon Maliniemi, who also earned his bachelor’s at USA, said he chose to attend grad school at South because of the opportunity to work on the EPA project with White. He’s assisting White in identifying funding options, management options and appropriate wastewater treatment technologies. “As the project progresses, we will be installing and testing the selected technologies to verify their effectiveness,” Maliniemi said, who added that he has a personal interest in the project’s success.

“Personally, the project is gratifying. I am thankful to have the opportunity to provide value to underserved communities in Alabama. A major reason why I chose civil engineering is the public service aspect, and this project allows me to help the community.” After graduating, Maliniemi said he intends to continue work in the water/wastewater engineering sector.

The final step in the process may provide the greatest help to the most people. It’ll be the creation of the how-to guide for local governments, utilities and residents in the affected counties.

“Some of these counties are so small, rural and isolated that they just don’t have the resources or information to make useful changes,” White said. “Once they have a blueprint they can follow, that’s an important step toward clean water, better health and opportunities for economic development.”

5 months ago

University of South Alabama supporting NASA’s deep space ambitions


“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Fifty years ago, astronaut Neil Armstrong’s remarks galvanized the entire world as he became the first person to walk on the moon. Fifty years later, the moon is again beckoning, but this time not as a final destination but as a launch point for something bigger.

“The United States will soon be able to launch people into space again,” said Dr. Samuel Russ, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of South Alabama. “It is in the nature of people to want to go farther and to explore, and I am excited that we, both in the U.S. and around the world, are continuing to do this.”


To that end, NASA and the National Space Grant Foundation selected ten university teams from across the country to design systems, concepts and technologies to potentially support NASA’s deep space exploration capabilities, including an orbital lunar outpost serving as a “gateway” to deep space. And one of those ten universities is the University of South Alabama.

“South has a College of Engineering that offers degree programs that are competitive with any similar degree programs in the country,” said Dr. Grant Glover, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at USA. “In particular, it is important to note that this is an undergraduate project, and in my opinion, I think it is rare to find such a unique opportunity at any engineering school.”

Glover, Russ and their undergraduate students are working on two separate projects for NASA.  Russ’s project focuses on automation and power management of an unmanned biological laboratory for the gateway, with a special interest in energy-efficient computing and software design. The lab would function with minimal support from a crew or mission control on Earth.

“Our students are building a robotic station that will grow plants and provide lighting, nutrients and water,” Russ explained. “The robot will plant, monitor and harvest the plants and send back status reports, and the automated system will control the lighting, water and nutrients. They are building a complete system to do this from scratch, including constructing the robot, the plant-growing pods and the control system.

“In other words,” Russ continued, “we want to develop a station that can run unmanned for years and grow crops in space.”

In Glover’s project, students are evaluating two custom-synthesized ionic liquid solutions for capturing carbon dioxide in a closed-air revitalization system. Since most of the air for astronauts is recycled within their spacecraft or habitat, a key part of this process is the removal of exhaled carbon dioxide.

“In the fall semester, the students worked to understand the problem, defined metrics of success, evaluated the options to test the ionic liquid, designed an apparatus to conduct the tests, and developed a test plan,” Glover said. “In the spring semester, the students have constructed the ionic liquid and are beginning to test the apparatus.”

It’s pretty remarkable to think that USA undergraduate students are playing an important role in NASA’s mission. “Working on a NASA project that can potentially contribute to further human space exploration is extremely gratifying,” said Benjamin Smith, an electrical engineering major from Saraland who’ll graduate this spring.

“Besides being able to say they developed equipment for a NASA space station, they are learning to do actual engineering,” Russ said. “This project is every bit as complex as a project they will encounter after they graduate, and this gives them a chance to see how engineering is done.” The project also exposes the students to some of the latest technology, including robotic agriculture and 3D printing.

They have until the end of the spring semester to work on the projects, and then comes their research presentation to NASA. Glover said the space agency utilizes a systems engineering approach to build and develop projects.

“In that regard this project is the same as any other NASA project with periodic program reviews, technical reviews and discussions,” Glover said. “NASA subject matter experts evaluate the progress of the project and review the results as prepared in a final report. All the presentations to NASA are completed by students.” Russ said they videoconference regularly with NASA, but the final presentation planned for May will hopefully take place in person at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

South and the other nine universities are part of the eXploration Systems and Habitation (or, X-Hab for short) 2019 Academic Innovation Challenge. The X-Hab initiative supports NASA’s research efforts to study sustained and affordable human and robotic space exploration while helping to develop the highly skilled scientific, engineering and technical workforce of the future.

“If our work with NASA helps motivate students to be interested in space exploration, even if they later work outside the field of engineering, then I think the work is rewarding,” Glover said.

“Universities should be places where innovation occurs,” added Russ, “and I am proud that South Alabama is helping to innovate human exploration.”

(Courtesy University of South Alabama)