Storm drain oil filtration system

Photo of Rachel Hennessey
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Written by

Eligibility: Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Eligibility: Date of Birth

September 16, 2004

Where are you located:

Jersey City, New Jersey 07407

Website or social media url(s) (optional): (our website)

Date Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)

1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."

We've decided to work on this specific project in order to help our community and just to better clean our city. Have you ever seen puddles of oil anywhere outside? We see it all the time and people don’t realize that it’s a huge problem. As humans, we never realize that one little thing could affect so much. The oil drips from cars goes down street drains when it rains. The runoff you see on the edge of the sidewalks go to sewers. The sewers leads to bodies of water, which then leads into the ocean and wherever else the sewer leads to, the sewage and waste of all kinds goes there as well. That’s where our team comes into play. Our team focuses on these two problems. Trying to reduce the trash that gets stuck into the sewers which slows down the flow of water and gets through to any body of water. Also we are trying to reduce the amount of oil that goes into our sewer system and ocean.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

When it comes to picking our topic, working with oil problems and trash simply caught our attention. We realize that it’s a huge problem In our environment oil is being left on the street by cars and people do illegal oil changes in the streets. This causes oil to go down the storm drains and into our waterways. Did you know one drop of oil can contaminate approximately 11 million gallons of water. Our team decided to do something about this.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Our team has started solving this problem. We first used a table in the basement of our school as a scale model of a city street. We put a scale model of a sewer drain on each end of the table and put a hose on top of the table and a bucket under the table. We then 3D printed our first prototype to see if it would get rid of the oil we put on the table. Through trial and error we made our newest prototype. In the prototype we have a layer of hydrophobic boom material and a matala filter sheet. The hydrophobic material absorbs oil and rejects water while the matala filter sheet catches debris or trash that tries to go along with the clean water. Now that we have done our trials we would like to test it in real life and with the help of the JCMUA, this is soon becoming reality. After we need to find a plastic company that will 3D print us a regular model, being that we need an industrial printer big enough and our school doesn't have one. Or we may possibly redesign the filter so that their is little to no 3D printing needed but that is only if we can't find a company. Then we want to sell our filter to as many places as possible so we get rid of the oil in our waterways.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Recently we connected with the JCMUA and adopted a catch basin outside of our school. Just last week we invited the JCMUA and representatives from the mayors office to come to our school and see our prototypes and help us. They were very impressed and told us we can go to one of their sites where they dump the oil. They said we can run trials because there are no people there so it is safe and the big circular pipe drains there that leads right to the river. This gives us the opportunity to finally imply our ideas and prototype in a real life scenario and get data and see if our filtration system functions the way we want it to. This really further out our research and data since we can finally work with the city and develop a more stable and accurate data than all the test we do with our city-like table that served as our trials.

5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

In our knowledge, throughout Jersey City where we live there has been no type of filtration for the oil to be separated from the water in the rain that came from cars, trucks and other auto-mobiles. We are a a group of teenagers that are trying to stop oil from the streets that eventually goes through the sewers and into the any type of body system. Along with oil we try to stop trash from going into our oceans. In addition, doing this will allow give back oil to gas companies and stop pollution which also allows us to recycle plastic and is beneficial to both humans and animals.

6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

So far we have been able to make notice of our projects to multiple organizations such as Sierra Club, The Office of Innovation (Jersey City), and STEAM Tank. We have been able to organize a meeting and presentation in front of The Office of Innovation people, and some of the engineers from the JCMUA that can help us and further educate us more about what we are doing. Also, we have participated in a STEAM based competition called STEAM Tank where we have to present all of our ideas and our team project. After all of this, we have heard days later that we are going to Atlantic City, meaning we have advanced into the next round of this competition. We have all thought about manufacturing our prototype in a real life scale and install it into one of our sewer grate. Once it is visible and it clearly works, we plan to work with the city and install one of our prototypes into the main sewer.

7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

We are hoping to build the life size prototype from our small version with bigger materials. We plan to receive an actual real storm grate for testing of our big prototype. Not only that but in the future we want to market our product to build more and spread them all over different places. We plan to partner with cities and businesses that owns a lot of parking lot such as malls, grocery stores, companies, etc. This will be such a great opportunity for us since it will give us the chance to work with others and may be the first one to solve or find a way to reduce the amount of oil that goes in our bodies of water. Instead of cleaning off the oil from bodies of water where it may have been killed animals we can just clean it at its source.

8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?

We plan to get a material which wont get easily damaged by any debris and wont get affected by water which would wear it down. Funding can be able to help us get such a material and keep production going once we get it into market. We can also develop our prototype better and more efficient to work with the community. In order to make our vision a reality, we need an iron sewer grate that we can work on, but the JCMUA may be able to make getting the sewer grate possible. We also need the matala filter and hydro booms which are the most important materials. If we had our own industrial 3D printer we would be able to produce our model or if we had more material for the printers to give to the company.

9. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Mentors/advisors

10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.

How we could partner with other changemakers is if they have anything to do with oil, trash, recyclables or water bodies. For example (When we actually put our prototypes into actual sewer grates) since we are trying to separate oil, trash, and recyclables from water another group could be collecting bottles to make their prototype. If they are trying to mass produce their prototype or are in a desperate need of bottles, bags, etc... then we could supply it for them as we are not using it and it could help out another team. Our team has five members ,including myself, worked on this project for a while and we've had our teachers supply us with this project and we had other Steam based teams in our school help us with community outreach from events they organized.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French) (6)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • No, I do not identify with an underrepresented community

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • Other

Evaluation results

10 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 88.9%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 11.1%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 66.7%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 33.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 77.8%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 22.2%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 83.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 100%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 16.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 80%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 10%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 10%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ariyan Miller

Hey There Fellow Changemaker,

Congrats on moving to the next phase. I wishing you the best of luck ! & I am sending love and light to all the positive things that you do.

Photo of monika robinson

I love this idea! its an awesome way to take care of a real problem! grateful to see young people taking initiative in their communities for bigger picture problems like oil leaking into larger bodies of water. I agree with Elliott and think there are definitely resources for government funding you should look into. you can also find recycled filaments on amazon really easy.

Photo of Elliott D

With part of your city on board with your project already, you should look into getting a government grant to help fund your project! It's really great and I love that your first one was 3D printed. On a large scale maybe they can all be 3-D printed using filament from recycled materials making it eco friendly as well

Photo of Rachel Hennessey

We have tried to incorporate our design into a real life scenario. We have had the time to meet with the JCMUA of Jersey City and have the opportunity to talk to the office of innovation in jersey city as well. All we need is someone to fund it to actually have the time to help our community.

Photo of Irma

This is a great project! Keep going!

Photo of Rob O'Donnell

Great work and recent outreach. Looking forward to your data in an actual sewer drain.

Photo of Melissa Anna

Love this and love this team! So proud of you guys xoxo

Photo of courtney mcmahon

This idea is very innovative. What a great way to assist in improving our environment.

Photo of Erin Borders

Very well thought out. Looking forward to it being put to good use someday!

Photo of Linda Nuzzi

This project is amazing. Love to see young people trying to bring about positive change in the environment

Photo of Jacqueline Nuzzi

Amazing idea!

Photo of suzanne SLASINSKI

Great idea ! We need to do everything we can to help the environment.

Photo of Cathy Hennessey

That’s a great idea and will be very helpful to the community.

Photo of nick n

Seems pretty cool, especially since. Hate when the sewers get clogged.

Photo of Matt McMahon

Great idea...we all see so much oil in the streets after long periods without rain. This would eliminate a lot of pollution

Photo of Mark Hennessey

Smart idea should be on every sewer to get rid of the oil polluting our ocean

Photo of Rachel Hennessey

Very innovative idea seems very effective!

Photo of joaquin pollard

Great idea for our community. Hope you guys advance and this should really get the attention of others.

Photo of Camila Juliet Nunez

Awesome!! So intriguing, would like to see more!!

Photo of ProjectReservoir .

What other materials would you use to make a street drain oil filtration system? Did you do testing of this design? Does it catch oil before it gets into our sewer system? Thanks.

Photo of Rachel Hennessey

We actually used a 3D printer to print out our prototype. We've had multiple trials and errors making our prototype (Scaling was incorrect, printer jammed, print was not physically supported.) We have run multiple test with different prototypes and the one that worked the best was the one used often. The best one was put through multiple test with different solutions for oil filtration or different amounts of oil and water (sometimes small trash.) For example, one of the solutions we used in our prototype was sawdust. The prototype along with the solutions does catch the oil but we still try to come up with more efficient ways to completely catch the oil as some oil slips by because the booms can only absorb and hold a certain amount.