Enviro-span: Researcher studies eco-friendly culvert system designed by college instructor that minimizes habitat impact, maximizes economic opportunities

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Lethbridge College researcher John Derksen and his students are studying an environmentally friendly, modular culvert system suitable for use in parks, trails and ecologically sensitive areas. Results of their study so far show that the system, which was designed by Environmental Sciences instructor Ron Hammerstedt, can be installed with minimal impact to the natural environment and to local species and habitat.

“This project will provide significant benefits beyond the study itself,” says Gina Funicelli, dean of the Centre for Applied Research and Innovation at the college. “It offers experiential learning environments for students, cost-effective and environmentally-friendly walking paths for the Lethbridge community and economic opportunity for industry.”

Hammerstedt, who has a background in biology and forestry, devised the system to fill the need for an alternative to traditional steel arch culverts. The product, developed through his company, Enviro-Span, is made of a strong and flexible plastic that is more durable and longer lasting than steel.

Hammerstedt and Derksen are collaborating on the project with the City of Lethbridge. Last year, working with ParksManager Dave Ellis, they coordinated the installation of an Enviro-Span culvert across a creek in the Six-Mile Coulee area, along the southwestern edge of the city.

“We looked at the spot where they wanted to put in a new crossing, and it was about the right width for our culvert to accommodate it,” says Hammerstedt. Prior to installation of Enviro-Span, there were only some makeshift, substandard crossings put together by trail users. Construction of proper bridges in the area would have been very expensive.

“We know people use it,” says Ellis, “but it’s a very narrow segment of the population. It’s important to us to open that up and let the general public have access. In order to do that, it needs to be safe and accessible. Our goals are cost avoidance and opening up the area to the public. This is a future benefit for a small investment.”

The Enviro-Span installation has been praised by Bill Halley, Technology Development Advisor for Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures. “The City of Lethbridge has shown it can embrace innovative ways to solve practical problems,” Halley says. “The support of innovation, grounded in a strong collaborative regional network is, I believe, a model for other regions.”

Derksen and Hammerstedt are exploring additional applications and installation possibilities for Enviro-Span, and they hope their efforts demonstrate to industry and investors, through research, its value as an earth-friendly system.

“The Enviro-Span project typifies a level of cooperation we have become accustomed to in Lethbridge,” adds Halley. “There is no doubt in my mind that support for entrepreneurism is growing stronger in southern Alberta. This is evident in the changing culture towards innovation and the emphasis on applied research so ably supported by Lethbridge College.”

Lethbridge College’s Centre for Applied Research and Innovation facilitated the collaboration and obtained funding for the project through a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Industrial Research Assistance Program grant totalling approximately $30,000. With partner contributions – both cash and in-kind – the total project is valued at around $200,000.

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