Sunday, December 27
The majority of the group arrived to Costa Rica on Saturday and spent the evening at the hotel in Alajuela, getting acquainted with each other and enjoying a delicious meal. On Sunday, we had breakfast at the hotel before embarking on our first journey. We stopped at the supermarket and a farmers market to view some of the local products before heading to downtown San Jose. First, we ate lunch at a local restaurant, which consisted of casados– a plate full of rice, beans, meat, fried plantains, potatoes, and a salad– and cas juice. Next, we walked over to the National Museum of Costa Rica, where were learned about the history and culture of Costa Rica, making connections to American culture and engineering. One piece of history that Costa Ricans take much pride in is that Costa Rica abolished its army in 1948 (2). They also highly value their biodiversity, with a massive focus on engineering and living sustainably.
After walking around downtown San Jose for a while, we proceeded for the event of the evening– a bullfight! The final members of the group had arrived in the afternoon and were able to meet us at the fight. The atmosphere was incredible, with lots of audience engagement. There were many activities as part of the bull fight, ranging from bull riding to competitions to capture a ribbon or cloth pinned onto the bull, including a special portion of the fight dedicated to the cowgirls. We were thrilled to experience this cultural event and learn about a sport unfamiliar to many of us. What an awesome way to cap off our first day in the country!
Monday, December 28
In the morning, the students and faculty made the short trip over to Fabio Research Station to tour the anaerobic digester, constructed treatment wetland, laboratory, and walking trails. First, we saw the solar panels that heat water before it enters into the storage tank as a means of helping maintain the temperature of the thermophilic digester at 50C, the typical temperature of these that is high enough to kill pathogens (4). Water from the storage tank is mixed with a feedstock of chicken litter (80%) and food waste like pineapple and cucumbers (20%) as it enters the anaerobic digester. It is important to diversify the feedstock to provide the optimal nutrients for the microbes in the digester. The reactor is operated as a fed-batch mixed reactor, meaning feedstock is added in increments and the liquid is agitated by a pump. Gas produced by the microbial activity is captured, and the useful gases like methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) to run generators to produce electricity for the system while harmful gases like hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is burned off. (3) One team project is focused on reducing the amount of H2S produced by the anaerobic digestion system.
Next, we learned about the constructed treatment wetland system, which receives water from the anaerobic digester that has had solids removed and settled out. There are four cells through which the wastewater moves through as it is treated. The first cell is a sand filter through which water percolates and solids are removed. Water then flows to a vertical flow wetland where is passed vertically through a matrix of plants like iris, papyrus, and canna indica. Solids are captured on a geotextile to reduce clogging, and the water can be reapplied several times at the expense of losing some to evaporation. The next wetland cell is full of plants like water hyacinth and water lettuce on floating mats. These plants are also used in the final cell, except without the mats. The biggest issue with these last two cells is harvesting the vegetation for use and to allow the remaining plants to thrive. (5) This topic of constructed wetlands was very helpful toward both my individual project and the team project focused on reducing harvesting labor and time requirements (much more on this in other posts).
We finished out the tour at Fabio by walking around the facility and seeing and trying many of the local fruits before taking a quick look at the laboratory. The importance of sustainability to Costa Rica was quite apparent after the Fabio tour. We learned that in 2015, Costa Rica pulled 99% of its energy from renewable sources (1). The anaerobic digestion and treatment wetland system can reduce landfill waste and purify water almost entirely using solar energy or electricity that the system produces itself (6). When walking around the facility and seeing the amazing biodiversity of fruits that many of us take for granted, such as bananas, mangoes, and tangerines, it was easy to understand why Costa Rica would want to push sustainability in an effort to protect this biodiversity. On the road from Alajuela to Tilaran, we made two stops for lunch and ice cream. Once in Tilaran, we were free to explore the small city.
Costa Rican biodiversity information
Costa Rica history timeline
Fun facts about Costa Rica
Information on Costa Rica abolishing their army
General explanation of anaerobic digestion, note temperature classifications
Constructed wetlands information, from Purdue University
Introductory information for Tilaran
(1) Agence France-Passe. (2015, December). Costa Rica Boasts 99% Renewable Energy in 2015. Retrieved December 30, 2015, from http://phys.org/news/2015-12-costa-rica-renewable-energy.html.
(2) Gonzalez Sanz, M. A. (2014, December). Costa Rica celebrates 66th anniversary of the abolition of its army. The Tico Times News.
(3) Liao, W. (2015, December). Anaerobic Digestion Discussion. Lecture at Ecological Engineering in the Tropics Study Abroad in Costa Rica.
(4) Moset, V., Bertolini, E., Cerisuelo, A., Cambra, M., Olmos, A., & Cambra-López, M. (2014). Start-up strategies for thermophilic anaerobic digestion of pig manure. Energy, 74, 389-395.
(5) Reinhold, D. (2015, December). Wetland Discussion. Lecture at Ecological Engineering in the Tropics Study Abroad in Costa Rica.
(6) Rodriguez, W. (2015, December) Fabio Research Facility Tour. Conversation at Ecological Engineering in the Tropics Study Abroad in Costa Rica.
Sunday, December 27– San Jose and Alajuela
San Jose is the capital city of Costa Rica and also the most populous. It is located near the center of the country and is a bustling place. For information about the city and some activities, please follow this link: http://www.anywherecostarica.com/destinations/san-jose.
Weather: 86F/72F, 10-15 mph winds, 20% chance precipitation
In the morning, we will be discussing the value of biodiversity on both a micro and a macro scale during a tour at the National Biodiversity Institute (INBio). Due to the extreme biological wealth found in Costa Rica, many organizations and facilities have been created to regulate and study the country’s natural resources. Founded in 1989, INBio is a private, non-profit research center near San Jose that studies ways to conserve biodiversity and enhance the quality of life for humans. INBio has received many awards for its contributions to sustainability and conservation in Costa Rica. While there, students will find an inventory of more than 3 million arthropods, mollusks, fungi, and plants. There are several ongoing projects involving chemical substances and genes found in these specimens, which have useful implications for food, agriculture, and other industries. More information about INBio can be found at its official website, http://www.inbio.ac.cr/en/.
After lunch, we will be visiting the National Museum of Costa Rica to learn about local culture. The museum was first founded in 1887 as a place to collect the country’s natural and artistic artifacts. It has been housed in four different establishments, including its current location in the Bellavista Headquarters in San Jose. There are many exhibits showcasing historical collections of everyday objects like furniture and personal artifacts and scientific objects. The barracks and old historical buildings are also on site and available for touring. During our visit, we will focus on how culture is incorporated into engineering. More information on the museum can be found at http://www.museocostarica.go.cr.
We will be spending the night in Costa Rica’s second-largest city– Alajuela, the same location as the previous night. Alajuela has the Rio Celeste waterfall (see below), Poas Volcano, Central Park, and coffee tours. Follow several of the links below for more information on activities in Alajuela.
Top Restaurants, including the #1 recommended, Jalapenos Central, a Mexican restaurant: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurants-g309224-Alajuela_Province_of_Alajuela.html
Poas Volcano National Park hiking and walking trails http://costa-rica-guide.com/nature/national-parks/poas-volcano/
Shopping at Central Market or Souvenir Museum Verdes and Colones. Other top activities include a zoo, coffee tours, and the La Paz waterfall. See below: http://costarica.com/destinations/alajuela/attractions/
Monday, December 28– Alajuela and Tilaran
Alajuela Weather: 85/71F with afternoon showers
Tilaran Weather: 80/70F with a chance of evening rain showers
During the morning, we will be touring Fabio, a research station in Alajuela affiliated with the University of Costa Rica. While there, we will see some of their natural resources-related projects, highlighted by the anaerobic digester and treatment wetland. There will be a detailed discussion about the facility in general and an introduction to our team projects. The website for Fabio is: http://eefb.ucr.ac.cr
Afterward, we will be traveling north to Tilaran, a 3-4 hour drive depending on traffic. Tilaran is a small town of about 2,500 people, located in the hills along the western shore of Lake Arenal. It is a fantastic location for outdoor activities like rafting, hiking, and especially windsurfing.
For more information on Tilaran regarding activities and restaurants, visit these websites:
Tilaran information and activities: http://www.govisitcostarica.com/region/city.asp?cID=63
Tilaran general information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilarán
Top local restaurants: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurants-g315766-Tilaran_Province_of_Guanacaste.html