The BioEnergy Project team is composed of two undergraduate students at the University of California San Diego, Enid Partika and Will Tanaka. Their shared passion for the environment inspired them to construct an anaerobic digestion and composting system to convert food waste from overfilling landfills into biogas for electricity generation and organic fertilizer to grow fresh produce. The team, whose combined knowledge of nanoengineering, chemistry, and environmental science, designed the system to have its own set of niches, with the composting system handling more fibrous materials and the anaerobic digestion system handling more proteins, grains, and dairy products. Biogas generation and utilization was inspired from the idea of closed-loop systems used in greenhouse gas sequestration, in which carbon dioxide is collected in a greenhouse facility where it is sequestered via photosynthesis. For their inventive efforts in solving the food waste concerns affecting our environment, the team won the 2019 $10,000 “Eat it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize.
Enid Partika grew up in Benicia, CA and is The BioEnergy Project’s design and project lead. Enid has always been enthusiastic about exploring ways to mitigate harmful effects on the environment through technology. She learned to appreciate the precious natural resources that humanity has taken for granted through her work restoring national parks with the Student Conservation Association. She also gained a passion for renewable energy technologies after learning about the costs associated with renewable energy drilling methods, while interning at Orkaterra LLC, an international geothermal company based in La Jolla, CA. This experience led her to create a video lecture series, “Bending the Curve,” in collaboration with the system-wide University of California Office of the President and UC San Diego’s Bioregional Center for Sustainability Science, Planning, and Design (BRC). The series helps educate students and the community on renewable energy technology and its connection to natural systems in curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2016, Enid has been a fellow with the Carbon Neutrality Initiative, a program originated by the University Office of the President to reach the University of California system’s goals of zero waste by 2020 and carbon neutrality by 2025. She focuses her research in anaerobic digestion and net zero carbon emission energy solutions to redirect and repurpose food waste. Outside of UC San Diego, Enid has spent her time volunteering at Ocean View Growing Grounds (OVGG), a community garden in a food desert in southeast San Diego. She has also taught eighth graders about bioenergy through connections with UC San Diego’s Social Innovation Fund, and helped construct a water treatment system in Tijuana, Mexico with graduate students from UC San Diego’s political sciences and anthropology departments. Enid plans to graduate from UC San Diego in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Systems and Environmental Chemistry.
Will Tanaka is from San Rafael, California and enjoys integrating his knowledge from chemistry, engineering, biology, and craftsmanship, to design and build innovative solutions to address environmental challenges. His passion for environmental conservation has led him to pursue interests as a compost specialist and garden steward at UCSD’s Roger's Urban Farm Lab, where the BioEnergy system was developed. Will gained experience in building robust composting systems as an intern with the BRC at UCSD. He also became interested in big data after working as a Data Entry Technician with Glaucoma Specialists in San Francisco, which inspired him to analyze the data from the garden’s composting program. Will’s hobbies and interests in chemistry and craftsmanship led him to build a fume extractor, and design archery gear from natural materials. Will regularly volunteers at RCG by giving tours and teaching garden volunteers about the logistics and science behind composting, harvesting, and planting in raised beds and hydroponic systems. He also volunteers at OVGG along with Enid. Will is a nanotechnology major and plans to graduate from UCSD with a bachelor’s degree in 2021. In his free time, Will enjoys mountain biking, mushroom hunting, and going to the beach.