BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -- Members of the council and the public learned how a visit to the mayor by some curious youngsters turned into a project and a competitive idea the team could take to a STEM competition. 

Mayor Angie Devanney told the council at its Nov. 18 meeting of a visit by three members of the Columbia Middle School  First Lego League Team a few months earlier “asking about problems we might be having,” and solutions they might come up with to help the town. They came to the council meeting to show the mayor and council the results of their research.

The students, Arav Misra, Siddherth Gohel of New Providence, and Aurit Mukherjee, members of Team Techno Brains, are participating for the second year, in a global robotics competition. Their project focused on reducing the electricity bill at the township’s wastewater treatment plant. The annual bill is about $300,000.

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The students said they looked at three ways of generating renewable electricity to cut the cost -- solar, wind and methane. Each had pros and cons, which they detailed on slides. They said they concluded the use of anaerobic digesters to treat and reduce biodegradable waste, followed by microbial processing of sludge to generate methane would leave the township with a clean and renewable source of energy. This methane could be captured and used to power the wastewater treatment plant, reducing and, perhaps, eliminating the electric bill, while at the same time keeping waste from landfills, and enhancing the community’s soil.

The boys thanked the mayor and Wastewater Treatment Plant Director Tom McAndrew for helping them in the project.

The students received a standing ovation from council members who wished them success at their first competition this year.