Advanced Manufacturing Center gives university composting facility a lift

Marshall University opened the state’s first commercial composting facility earlier this spring, which features world-class technology at the Norway Avenue location in Huntington. The ingenuity of mechanical engineers and interns at the Marshall Advanced Manufacturing Center (MAMC) was instrumental in configuring the technology and getting it up and running.

“The compost facility is the first of its kind in West Virginia,” said Amy Parsons-White, Marshall’s sustainability manager. “We have an aerobic digester with the capacity to take in five tons of organic material a day. … We are composting food waste, cardboard, white paper, lawn waste and horse manure from Marshall’s campus and Heart of Phoenix Horse Rescue. In addition to the digester, we also have a worm bin that will be used with partially finished compost to produce worm castings, which are considered black gold in the gardening and farming communities. The compost produced will be used on campus by our grounds crew and also sold to the public by the bag or in bulk.”

To get the facility functioning, MAMC Design Engineer Morgan Smith and Treston Withrow, then an engineering intern at the MAMC, were enlisted to configure the conveyor system that carries material to and from the composter. Installation of the conveyors initially posed a challenge to the team, as they were to be installed seven feet off the ground while supporting the weight of the materials to be composted. Determining the proper angles in the confined space required a series of precise measurements and a combination of physics and engineering know-how to ensure proper operation.

Smith and Withrow then built brackets to support the elevated conveyor system and assembled the units onsite, working with the sustainability staff to ensure the conveyors were installed to specifications.

“It was great to work with [MAMC],” said Parsons-White. “The engineers we worked with were excited about the program and eager to help in any way they could. Morgan worked directly with Caroline Copenhaver, our compost facility coordinator, to make sure that the conveyors were assembled, placed and operated exactly as they should.”

The new composting facility will benefit the local community, as farmers and gardeners can use the compost to improve their soil quality, which could lead to better yields and crop quality. The facility also is helping divert food waste away from landfills, which lessens the university’s overall carbon footprint. Bins for the composting facility can be found throughout Marshall’s campus and university kitchens will be composting their food waste using the new facility.

“Currently, the facility is only accepting organic waste from the university,” Parsons-White said. “However, we will be offering composting workshops and scheduled tours of the facility to the public and schools in the coming months.”

White also mentioned future sustainability initiatives that are in the works at Marshall. “We are working on several projects that are in different stages of completion. They focus on different aspects of sustainability such as food security, energy use reduction and financial savings for the university.”

To learn more about the composting facility or other university sustainability efforts, visit www.marshall.edu/sustainability.

May 31, 2023

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