Ecological Engineering in the Tropics

Costa Rica – MSU / UCR – December 27, 2014 – January 10, 2015

Dec. 29 – Alajuela – Dana

Alajuela City

¡Hola! On December 29th, we will be in the city of Alajuela.


Introduction: Alajuela city is the second largest city in Costa Rica. It serves as a large metropolitan area and is also the capital of the provice of Alajuela. Alajuela is   described as a “laidback city with a friendly Tico (colloquial term for native Costa Rican) population”.

History and Significance: Costa Rica, along with the rest of Central America, never fought for independence from Spain. However, Alajuela city served as a strong supporter for independence. Following the end of the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821) the authorities in Guatemala declared independence for Central America.

In 1856, Filibuster William Walker overthrew the Nicaraguan government and attempted to claim other countries within Central America. Alajuela is most famous


A statue of Juan Santamaria in Alajuela, source:

for being the hometown of Juan Santamaria, a Costa Rican national hero who sacrificed his life in a battle against the forces of William Walker.

Quick facts:

  • Home to the Juan Santamaria International Airport
  • Trade center for cattle and sugar
  • Famous coffee growing region called “Sabanilla” is in Alajuela

Things to do:

  • Enjoy the nice weather in the city’s central park.

What can we expect?

  • A buzzing metropolitan area with a lot of local transportation
  • Statues and landmarks in dedication to Juan Santamaria
  • Fabio Tour – During this day we will get a tour of the Fabio station and learn more about the Anaerobic digester and the treatment of wetland. We will also begin preparing for our team projects.

For more information on Alajuela:

Tileran, Guanacaste:

In the afternoon, we plan to travel to the Guanacaste Province. We will be staying at Hotel Guadalupe.


Map showing Tilaran, Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Source:

Our Day:

8 AM: In the morning we had a traditional Costa Rican breakfast. We then departed for Fabio station to learn more about wetlands and anaerobic digestion.

9 AM – 2 PM: Fabio Experimental Station

Fabio station is a center developed with the University of Costa Rica to test out experimental theories on a large scale. Two main parts of the station are the wetland and the anaerobic bio digester.  We began by discussing how solid waste such as food waste and plant matter are broken down through a series of steps to generate two main products: biogas and fertilizer. From this chemical and biological process, toxic water is created. To clean this water, a wetland system is set up to remove toxins from the water.


Schematic of the anaerobic biodigester at Fabio. This schematic shows all the different unit operations in the process such as the holding tanks, fermentation tanks and separation systems.

Because dead organic matter will reintroduce toxins to the wetland environment, a maintenance cycle is done on the system. This means that approximately every week, one square meter of the plant matter in the wetland is removed and replaced. This insures that the plants stay healthy. We got the chance to help remove some of the plants from a floating mat in the wetland.

After this, we went on a hike through Fabio station to explore the other parts of the station. One very unique aspect of Fabio station is the various plants grown for experimental research. It is through this research that the University of Costa Rica hopes to gain a better understanding of agriculture and agricultural, environmental, and ecological engineering.


Fabio research facility


Working to remove a floating mat in order to harvest the plants.


Harvesting the plants from a floating mat.

10863476_854225874627385_687330171_n - Copy - Copy

An image of some of the research plants at Fabio.

961491_854225894627383_1294098194_n - Copy - Copy - Copy

An almost completely empty floating mat after harvesting. As seen here the floating mat is made of PVC piping. In the future, a new construction material may be explored since PVC piping is expensive in Costa Rica.

2 PM-3 PM: We ate traditional casado lunch at Cafe David.


A peacock observed outside of the restaurant. This shows the biodiversity in Costa Rica and the country’s efforts to preserve the wildlife.


Eating a traditional casado lunch in Cafe David.

3 PM-6:30 PM: Drive to Tileran, Guanacaste

The drive to Tileran took approximately 3.5 hours with a helado (ice cream) break. We arrived to Hotel Guadalupe in the evening and had dinner.


Hotel Guadalupe in Tilaran, Guanacaste.


A group picture outside of Hotel Guadalupe. Go Green!

8:30 PM-9:00 PM: Group Discussion:

In the evening, we met to discuss an article that we all were required to read. This article highlighted many of the truths and difficulties of environmental and ecological engineering. One of the main takeaways from this discussion is the differences between environmental and ecological engineering. At the end of the discussion a question was posed: are humans part of the ecosystem? It was largely decided that in fact we as humans are an important part of the ecosystem and should consider this when making engineering decisions.

9:00 PM-10:00 PM: Team meetings

To end the night, we met with our design groups to begin brainstorming ideas for a solid liquid separator that would help filter solids entering the wetland at Fabio station.


2 thoughts on “Dec. 29 – Alajuela – Dana

  1. Can you define what you mean by toxins? Are there non-toxic pollutants treated by the digester and/or wetland that one of environmental concern?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think that “nutrients” may be a better word when describing what dead organic matter can reintroduce to the wetland system. The wetland works to naturally remove nitrogen and phosphorus from the system. These nutrients are the main cause of contamination in water because of algae.

    Similarly, the bio digester uses different processes to eliminate pathogens found in different wastes.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s