Guilherme Pereira, associate professor in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department and adjunct associate professor in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, and Ihsan Berk Tulu, Wayne and Kathy Richards Faculty Fellow and assistant professor of mining engineering, received nearly $500,000 in funding to conduct research that will deliver an aerial robot-enabled inspection and monitoring system for active and abandoned coal ash and tailings or waste storage facilities.
The goal of the project is to find a way to detect leakages and failures at coal waste facilities before tailings and coal ash are released into the environment. Tailings are waste materials left behind after extracting coal from the earth that are stored above-ground behind earthen dams, whereas coal ash is a residue left over from burning coal at power plants. Coal ash is one of the largest U.S. supplies of industrial waste, containing metals such as lead, mercury, chromium, selenium, cadmium and arsenic, that never biodegrade and are dangerous to humans.
"Failure of these structures has been shown to be catastrophic, causing massive mudslides that have devastated entire communities and created irreversible environmental damage," Tulu said. "Industry and federal and state governments spend great effort and time inspecting these structures, finding hazards that might lead to wastewater leakages or failures."
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