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How to Make a Better Dam? Add Recycled Plastic, says Bentley Student Showcase Winner

Bentley Systems has sponsored this post.

Simplified model of hydroelectric dam by Rodman Paul Cordova Rodriguez, winner of Bentley's student competition at YII 2021.

Every year at Bentley’s annual Year in Infrastructure (YII) conference, the company hosts an awards program where their users can shine and showcase their projects. Last month’s Going Digital Awards in Infrastructure at YII had a new category for students, with the Future Infrastructure Star Challenge .

The Future Infrastructure Star Challenge was launched as part of Bentley ’s new education program announced in May of 2021. The Bentley Education program provides Bentley software and resources for students and educators in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.

In 2021’s challenge, students were asked to conceptualize a world-changing infrastructure project addressing a global environmental issue using Bentley applications. The program received 144 entries from more than 60 countries, and 10 finalists were selected to design and present their conceptual idea to the public and a judging panel of experts.

The 10 finalist projects ranged from solar power, reducing energy consumption, smart water, sustainable buildings and communities and clean energy.

With so many impressive projects, it must have been tough for the judges. Thankfully, they had some help from the public—at least for the Peoples’ Choice award. And without further ado, the awards go to…

The Peoples’ Choice award winner was Rodman Raul Cordova Rodriguez for his innovative dam and hydroelectric project. He is originally from Bolivia and is pursuing a Ph.D. in geotechnical engineering at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. His area of study is earth and dam monitoring.

Cordova Rodriguez’s project focuses on implementing infrastructure for clean energy generation and a better water supply.

Peoples’ Choice Award Winner Rodman Raul Cordova Rodriguez. (Image courtesy of Bentley.)

Cordova Rodriguez had some fascinating ideas for this project, including the use of plastic recycled asphalt and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors.

His idea of using plastic recycled asphalt is brilliant. “I came up with an innovative idea for a sustainable earth dam that uses plastic recycled asphalt for the dam’s core,” he explained. The material is perfect for waterproofing and to prevent water seepage through the core of the dam.”

The recycled asphalt is a flexible inductive viscoelastic plastic material that is able to withstand displacements and seismic loads that could lead to the formation of cracks. The asphalt core will remain flexible, durable and waterproof for the lifecycle of the dam.

Another interesting aspect of the project is that it will require very little maintenance using Internet of Things sensors and drones. The dam will have many external and internal sensors such as seepage monitors, corner reflectors and a weather station on the dam to measure and monitor different conditions, including water pressure, displacements, humidity, soil moisture and wind speed. The dam also includes sensors to determine the presence of harmful gases and a drone station connected to the weather station and dam sensors. When the reservoir is at a low water level, the drones fly into the clouds to generate rain, according to Cordova Rodriguez.

All the data collected by the sensors will be sent to the data center in real time with a 5G connection to be shared with users, owners, public institutions and local authorities in a web-based environment. The digital platform provides 24/7 secure access, with alarms to alert any issues and automated report generation.

Cordova Rodriguez used Bentley ’s PLAXIS software for geotechnical design and analysis to validate the feasibility of the sustainable dam. On a side note, Bentley acquired PLAXIS in 2018, which is a 2D and 3D finite element software for geotechnical analysis and used in more than 100 countries worldwide.

PLAXIS was able to handle the different types of information involved in the project. Using PLAXIS Designer, Cordova Rodriguez generated a 3D model of the structure with a crest length of 200 meters and height of 58 meters. He exported the model to PLAXIS 3D to create and integrate a groundwater model to analyze dam seepage, and a slope stability model to analyze and ensure structural integrity of the dam and the slopes of the reservoir basin. Some cross sections of the dam were analyzed utilizing PLAXIS 2D to determine that the upstream and downstream slope of the dam was safe.

With Bentley’s PLAXIS applications, Cordova Rodriguez achieved his vision of the project and verified not only the technical feasibility but also the scalability and longevity of the dam infrastructure.

This author liked his idea of the recycled asphalt, though I did wonder if it would work—and was glad the software was used to answer this question. The technical analysis proves the recycled asphalt will functioning as desired and require little or no maintenance.

What inspired Cordova Rodriguez to tackle such a massive project? “More than 3 million people do not have access to water and more than 2 billion are living with extreme water stress,” answered Cordova Rodriguez.

With this project, Cordova Rodriguez helps address that crisis. Based on his findings with Bentley’s software, the dam infrastructure project can produce hydroelectric power and address the global energy crisis and water shortage in a sustainable, environmentally friendly and economically efficient manner.

By reusing and recycling materials, the dam obtains clean hydroelectric energy in a sustainable, profitable, safe and reliable manner, aiming to preserve natural resources and achieve economic scalability.

What’s also super impressive is that by integrating scalable technology in the form of sensors and IoT, Cordova Rodriguez’s dam can be replicated in indigent areas where it is needed to tackle and avoid water scarcity, as well as contribute to the generation of electricity and have a positive impact on the health of the communities.

2021 Future Infrastructure Star Challenge winner by popular vote was awarded to Rodman Raul Cordova Rodriguez by Bentley Systems.

“I am very happy with my project because it has been proven that it is technically feasible with the use of technology, in this case, Bentley’s PLAXIS software,” said Cordova Rodriguez.

He should be happy—and proud. A project of that scope and sustainability deserves a huge round of applause—which it received in the form of close to 200,000 votes and USD 2,000 in prize money.

Watch Cordova Rodriguez’s presentation below.

There were two winners announced at YII in the Future Infrastructure Star Challenge. The Judges’ Choice Winner was Elif Gungormus Deliismail Izmir, who is studying for her PhD in chemical engineering at the Institute of Technology, Turkey, for her mini-modular-plant for digitized sustainable campus.

Judges’ Choice Award Winner Elif Gungormus Deliismail Izmir. (Image courtesy of Bentley.)

Deliismail’s project shows how a mini-modular plant, coupled with smart centralized energy management and low-carbon fuel sources, can change energy use at a rural academic campus. She selected a rural university campus because delivering energy to remote locations far from the main energy grid can be inefficient. With this project, Deliismail is able to demonstrate how to consider climate change and still deliver the energy needed.

Addressing Sustainability in Campus Infrastructure

“Sustainability seems to be the most plausible solution to expand and achieve energy security. It is impossible to ignore the importance of sustainability,” Deliismail said.

The main concept for her project is to design a mini-modular plant for a digitally sustainable campus, making university buildings self-sustainable so that electricity, water and fuels could be properly utilized, minimizing the supply infrastructure. The major challenge that she faced was constructing a safe, flexible and easy-to-operate modular plant system that takes up minimal space and can be easily scaled to achieve or increase capacity by integrating additional modules with existing ones. The ultimate goal is to distribute and adapt these modular systems, or mini plants, to improve the circular economy.

She selected her own Izmir Institute of Technology campus, consisting of 32 buildings with a population of 7,655, to pilot her modular energy solution. The mini plant will produce methane for heating, as well as water, hydrogen and oxygen, using hydrogen to generate electricity. In addition to relying on renewable resources, the system integrates carbon dioxide and biogas as feedstock to produce dimethyl ether as an alternative to diesel fuel for generators and transportation. With the ability to simultaneously generate electricity, heat, water and clean fuel through digitalization, this futuristic system delivers self-sustaining buildings to achieve sustainable campus life.

Each mini-modular plant includes both internal and external equipment, ranging from reactors, and piping and control instruments, to a carbon dioxide capture system and storage tanks. To design the plant, Deliismail first needed to define the campus boundaries.

“The first step is to define the campus boundaries, take measurements using drones and create a 3D reality campus model with ContextCapture,” Deliismail said. Using ContextCapture, she processed 689 drone-captured campus images into a 3D reality model. She used MicroStation to model the plant design.

“The 3D campus model and digital modular plant were combined using LumenRT for animated visualization,” said Deliismail. The application enabled her to deliver a dynamic presentation of her proposed energy concept. Using the models to perform detailed chemical engineering design calculations, Deliismail confirmed the modules’ viability for energy distribution using renewable resources and biogas production from garden waste and animal manure.

The total energy requirement for the campus buildings, including transportation fuel, uses 1,429.6 tons of oil equivalent annually. Through digital modeling and analysis, Deliismail determined that her proposed plant design could achieve self-sustainable buildings by installing 60 modules that would fulfill campus energy demands for heating, electricity and transportation fuel.

Advancing Digitalization for Smart Energy Management

Deliismail used ContextCapture to generate a reality model not only of the original existing campus, but also of the campus with all the modular plants operating in its vicinity. By integrating Industrial IoT, artificial intelligence and sensors, she transformed the modular energy plant into a smart-energy system through the creation of a digital twin. The digital twin optimizes energy usage on campus, enabling the monitoring and scheduling of energy supply based on activity levels.

Through digital intelligence, operations and management can observe and identify asset risk, implementing predictive maintenance processes to ensure asset reliability for each of the mini-modular units. As an alternative to installing an individual mini-modular system per building, Deliismail also determined that a vertical centralized energy system could be organized to save space, creating a smart centralized energy plant on campus.

Regardless of which smart-energy solution is used, however, both ensure self-sustainable buildings and a greener alternative to traditional electricity, fuel and water supplies. “What I focused on in my project is sustainability in the infrastructure framework. Self-sustainable buildings are the next generation that can improve the quality of our lives, protect our ecosystem, and preserve natural resources,” commented Deliismail.

To see this presentation, along with all top 10 finalists, check out

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