Thursday, March 30, 2017

MSOE students use We Energies fly ash in concrete canoes

Hearing the words “concrete canoe” you worry it might not float. But these boats are expertly crafted by engineering students to be buoyant. The students put a lot of trust – and hard work – in their craftsmanship. And with a little help from fly ash from We Energies power plants, they are making innovations in concrete use that have implications beyond the canoe competition.

All dry materials are pre-mixed so the team can just add water and liquid admixtures to create concrete. The orange bucket [bottom right] contains We Energies fly ash. 

Holly Denfeld is one of these students. She’s a senior at Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), pursuing Bachelor of Science degrees in architectural engineering and construction management. And she’s the co-captain of MSOE’s American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Concrete Canoe team.

“I got involved right away my freshman year of college,” she said. The next year, the MSOE team placed 14th out of 18 teams. In 2016, they placed fourth. This year, they have their sights set on nationals, which would require being one of the top two teams in the region.

Canoes are judged at the regional and national levels. The Great Lakes Region has 19 teams with 18 participating in this Friday’s competition at Veterans Park in Milwaukee. The judging is split into four equally weighted quarters: canoe workmanship and aesthetics, overall racing scores, an academic paper submission that includes technical documentation, and a formal oral presentation overviewing the entire process.

“Since I’ve been involved, we have always gotten materials from We Energies, which is really helpful and really great,” Denfeld said. She praised fly ash for its use in this project, as well as others. “We have reached out to We Energies specifically for fly ash. Fly ash in concrete mixes – not just in the concrete canoe process but in the industry in general – as a substitute for some of the portland cement, reduces the density of the mix.” She added, “Finding the ideal balance between fly ash and portland cement was something we did a lot of experimentation on this year.”

This year, MSOE’s team named their canoe “Hathi,” which means elephant in Hindi. Elephants represent power, strength, longevity, knowledge and happiness, and are considered lucky, especially when depicted with their trunks up, Denfeld explained. “Our team values these things,” she said, “and we wanted to be backed by happiness and a little bit of luck.”

Spectators are welcome at this weekend’s ASCE Great Lakes Student Conference. Denfeld and the MSOE team will present Hathi for the workmanship and aesthetics portion of their score starting at 8 a.m. on March 31, with races to follow at 10 a.m. and other ASCE events at Veterans Park until 3 p.m. The formal presentation will take place at MSOE’s Grohmann Towers on Saturday, April 1.

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