DU Sustainable Alums (INSPIRATION!)

Written by Sophie Fitzgerald, ESLLC 2016-2017

This past quarter I worked for the Crimson Callers, DU’s student call center.  I called hundreds of alumni from NSM over the course of ten weeks for fundraising purposes, but ended up talking to many people who contributed substantially to DU’s sustainable initiatives, who currently work in the field of environmental science, geography, or sustainability, or who knew Don.  They offered extremely good advice and examples of working in the industry during our 25, 35, 45+ minute conversations and are examples and inspiration for what we can accomplish.  They come from the same background and still accomplished major feats regarding sustainability and research, so we can do it, too.

Robyn Powers was an environmental science student a few years ago and now works full time researching the ecological impact of renewable energy exploration sights.  She is currently employed at HT Harvey and Associates, who operate as a sustainability consult for alternative energy companies.  She informed me that all renewable energy companies are required to have their impact on the environment monitored, so her job is to review the sequential effects that occur within an ecosystem populations after solar farms or wind turbines are erected.  For her, this entails observing and tracking changes among fox and raptor/avian populations using a special method she personally refined: dogs.  She told me confidently that using dogs to monitor scat from foxes and also to find bird bodies is a significantly more accurate method of obtaining population numbers.  She loves what she does, and also told me a noteworthy fact: the solar installations she works at don’t negatively impact the fox communities living there, and according to her research, wind actually has more of an impact on raptor deaths than her solar.  She was incredibly interesting to talk with and loved her time at DU, a lot in part to the professors she had – one of whom was Don!

Mr. Langseth is a DU grad of 1975.  With a degree in civil engineering (something we no longer have), he left DU and went to work for the Rocky Mountain Arsenal after graduation.  His journey through and post DU with this job and various others led him to start his own engineering firm.  Currently, Langseth Engineering operates on the east and southern coasts of the US working on numerous energy projects, which he views as the most important undertaking of his life to date.  In Louisiana, Langseth is developing a biomass made from the byproducts of the sugarcane industry.  By taking sugarcane and intensely drying it into a compact, superheated “coal”, it can be used to fuel electricity and essentially burns carbon neutral (because biomass uses recent carbon instead of introduced carbon like fossil fuels).  He compared this to other biomass methods, such as an industry in the Northeast that logs and sends wood to Europe for their “white pellet” biomass, saying his process was overall more sustainable.  The problem with biomass, he introduced, was that currently biomass plants do not have the same electrical efficiency rating as coal plants, with a 25% efficiency compared to a 35% electrical energy output per unit.  All of this led Langseth to consider a new project, where a synthetic gas is created from biomass (similar to how coal used to be gasified and run through pipelines, ex. gas lamps).  The issue with gasifying, however is that it is extremely dirty.  He hopes that if he can refine the process of gasifying with biomass he can achieve the ultimate goal: surpassing a 40% electrical efficiency rating and forcing coal power into obsoletion with numbers.

The second major undertaking of Mr. Langseth is that he is very interested in reshaping waste management.  Just recently, he has contracted with a landfill in Bristol, VA to sort their garbage for 10-15 years using Zoukos robots, separating all non-biodegradables from the organics.  All of the plastics and non-biodegradables will go to Trex to become synthetic decking, and he plans on turning all organics into biofuel to create faux-diesel, hopefully to make a positive impact on the trucking industry and other diesel using vehicles.

Other alumni who’ve I’ve been able to speak with include a co-founder of Students for Sustainable Food who now works marketing commercial solar energy in Connecticut, a previous Alpine Club officer who is currently working in climatology field research, and a NASA scientist (I just thought this was cool).  I also spoke to many people who work for the EPA.  Some repeated advice: stay persistent, stay motivated, find the right way of applying yourself, and reach out (networking is advantageous and the DU alumni are receptive!)

Lastly, I have a guy with a good story about Don.  His name is Tom Burke, and he had Don for his senior seminar, on which Tom stole a road sign and also brought along a keg.  Basically, he tormented Don with his antics and loved sharing all of these stories with me.  Tom, a two-time transfer student before landing at DU, was one credit short of graduating a few weeks before the end of his time here.  He reached out to Don, and apparently Don forgave him for the senior trip insanity, and literally gave him 1 credit for counting all the rings of a huge tree cross-section.  Amazing.

Tom now works in the public school system as a Geography teacher.  Although his work is sporadic, he is still extremely enthusiastic about his life and DU.  He spent most of his time on the phone with me praising the environmental science department and its professors, repetively enforcing that we have been given a serious opportunity by going here.  Hopefully these stories inspire you to keep working towards whatever sustainability goal you have, because we really do have a lot of opportunities for our area of study here at DU.



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