497-240: Using Vermiculture to Repair and Replace (Lost) Topsoil

Meeting Days/Time
Mondays from 6:25 to 9:05 pm
Robert Pontarelli (ID) (bob@cbarts.com)
Appropriate Majors
All interested students are welcome, Biochemistry, Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Business, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, Social and Economic Development Policy
Technological Innovation

This IPRO has terrific opportunities across a broad range of disciplines in the sense that we are looking to solve a serious problem regarding topsoil loss globally-meaning that although our focus may be local-perhaps immediate community-surrounds of IIT and in the US, the proposed solution or results of research are not by any means limited to the US. As such this IPRO may also be attractive to the industrial engineering side, logistics as well as software and industrial management.

We will be looking at all options for mass production of new, largely organic topsoil manufacturing and this includes but is not limited to architectural, facilities design and management, ecology, biology, engineering categories at several levels and so on.

Ultimately though, students will get to choose (achievable goals), based upon their own research as to whether to execute a single facility well within the community or a design series of interconnected facilities of any size, city, nation-wide or globally, that add to topsoil repair and replacement.

If current trends continue, there may be only 60 years of topsoil left globally, according to a recent article in the Scientific American. Outside of organic farming as a possible (viable) soil-remediation option, the question remains as to what method will be used to mitigate this loss of topsoil in the face of farming with chemicals, deforestation (causing erosion), climate change and further population growth.

Vermiculture is the process of creating soil-nutrient-supplementation by providing a compost-type habitat for earthworms to propagate, essentially using their scat as organic plant food. Organic farming greatly favors the use of vermiculture to provide suitable organic base for soil supplementation; however, providing purely organic compost-essentially as worm food, is a challenge (for obvious reasons).

One current reliable option is to mine ancient peat bogs for a purely organic compost base that is then added to a suitable black dirt mixture in a batch processing method. Peat bogs however are a limited natural resource and will eventually run dry.

Another option is to manage the in-flows of organic biomass resulting for example, from organic produce processing and then using this material in the place of peat to provide a suitable base material for a worm-growth environment. Yet this option is greatly challenged due to authentic organic content requirements. How might one “guarantee” the nature of incoming biomass such that organic certification even becomes possible?

Currently there is no private or public initiative/plan in place to effectively mitigate the ever more rapid loss of topsoil and certainly no scalable factory-type system that can produce an as-yet-to-be-determined quantity of high-quality topsoil (at an as yet to be determined rate such that rapid topsoil loss be effectively staved-off, hopefully extending that 60-year window).

This course will research the current state of affairs in topsoil loss, accurately determine the rate of loss such that a number for potential, suitable rate of topsoil replacement can be reached. This replacement number (likely a very large number) will be used as basis for inventing a sustainable, reliable, predictable and systematic production method that can be replicated in a variety of environmental and geographic locations in the service of attempting to repair and replace existing topsoil.

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