Task Problem Statements and FAQs Below

General FAQs


The contest is over. When will we see the judges' comments? (Posted 4/22/2021)
We are working on a new way to report your scoring that will give you more detail and show you your strengths and weaknesses. Please bear with us, as this is a complex task.

We will email you when the judges’ comments are ready for you to view.

Can we find out which judges we will talk to during the Bench or Poster Session? (Posted 4/5/21)
Yes! The schedule listing judge names has been posted to the Team Schedules page.
Are Faculty Advisors allowed to attend a team event? (Posted 4/5/21)
We do not encourage it, but at the virtual contest, we allow it. We will also record each session, allowing the advisor to watch it after the event is over. We will allow the faculty to be present in the Zoom meetings as long as they: 1. do not speak, unless they are needed to help teams with logistical issues. 2. keep their video turned off at all times. Why is it not encouraged? Because judges have noticed over the years that teams can become guarded when presenting in front of their advisor, preventing them from giving their best presentation. With the virtual contest, we believe the Faculty’s presence is less noticed by the teams.
What is the attire? (Posted 4/5/21)
For the Bench-scale Discussions: either lab coats/laboratory attire or business casual.

For the Orals: Formal Business.

For the Poster Presentations: Business Casual

When unsure, choose formal over informal.

Zoom Test Meeting (Posted 4/4/21)
You are invited to a Zoom Test Coffee and Doughnut Hour on Monday, 5 April from 11:30 – 1:00 MDT.

Use the “Scored Event” link (the link you register for) to access the Zoom Test.

The test is optional and will be used to test your team’s virtual background and our Breakout Room procedures.

I hope you can attend, but it is not mandatory. Bring your own drinks and snacks!

Is everyone supposed to register separately for the Zoom meetings? (Posted 4/4/21)
Yes! Each person must register separately. You will not be allowed into the meeting unless you register for yourself.

Be sure to use the name and email address associated with your WERC Team Site account. This will help us prepare for your arrival and let you in to the meeting in a timely manner.

The link you were sent was for all scored events.

  • If you are a Bench-scale Division team (Tasks 1, 3, 5, 6), use the link for your April 6 Bench-scale Demonstration and your April 12 Oral Presentation.
  • If you are a Desktop Division team (Tasks 1D, 3D, 4D, 5D, or 6D) or Task 2 (Bench-scale Division), use the link for your April 12 Oral Presentation and your April 13 Poster Presentation.
Team Countdown Calendar with Instructions (Posted 4/4/21)
Go to tab: “Team Schedules” for the Final Countdown calendar. This includes all submission dates, notice of extensions, details about submissions.

Team Schedules

On the same page, you will also find your time slot for your team’s scored events. Note: Included in the Countdown Calendar is notice that we will need a Team Photo. We would like to post this during the Awards Ceremony when a team wins an award so everyone can see the people behind the award.

Teams need a virtual Zoom background for all scored events (Posted 4/4/21)
a. All team members, including the Faculty Advisors must use the same Zoom background.

b. Include your University colors and logo.

c. This helps the judges and our staff tremendously as we interact with you.

d. All of our staff will use the official WERC background to help you identify us.

May the Advisor attend Scored Events? (Posted 4/4/21)
You may attend all of your team’s scored sessions. You are asked to be an observer only. If an advisor answers a question that the team should be answering, there will be a deduction in the team’s final score (20 points out of a possible 180 for a given presentation). An exception to this is helping the teams with technical difficulties or offering to contact a team member who is missing. The teams need to focus on their presentation, and it would be helpful for you to be there as their backup for logistical items.

We scheduled the Bench-scale Discussions and the Poster Presentations with a 45-minute (minimum) break between the first and the second session, giving the team a chance to re-group, discuss strategy, etc., in preparation for the next group of judges to enter their breakout room. Some faculty members attend the first presentation and advise the teams during the break.

What should we do for the Team Video? (Posted 4/3/21)
The sky is the limit (as long as it is “clean”). The video will be shown during the Opening Ceremony to introduce your team.

Show any or all of:
• your team’s personality
• your research lab
• your school mascot
• your team discovering something fascinating, or playing around, or whatever.

Submitting the video:
We prefer that you use WeTransfer.com and send the video to vlad23@nmsu.edu.
There is also a submission tab on the WERC team site, but your file might be too big for it. Better play it safe and send via WeTransfer. It is free and you do not need to sign up for an account to send a file.

More details coming in the Annotated Contest Timeline (watch your email on April 4).

Examples—2020 Team Submissions in YouTube Playlist:
See 2020 Team Videos—the teams had only one week to put a video together. See what they did:

Presentation Schedules posted. (Posted 4/2/21)
Find updated Contest Timeline and Detailed Presentation Schedule (see “Team Schedules” tab).

• Flash Talks

• Remaining Deadlines

• Detailed Schedules for Bench-scale Discussions, Oral Presentations, and Poster Discussions.

You will be emailed an annotated contest timeline by April 4, 2021. This will contain important instructions and helpful hints for submissions.

Technical Report–What to include (Updated 3/18/21)
This information is also downloadable from the Guidelines page. (See red button: “Guidelines for Preparing Front Matter and Audits”)

For your technical report, please submit pages in this order:

1) Cover page. Use the format specified in your Team Manual. The Team Manual erroneously also listed a title page in addition to the cover page. Please use only a cover page and no title page.

2) Table of Contents.

3) Executive Summary. Follow the formatting specifications in the Team Manual.

4) Technical Report body, including abstract and references. Follow the IEEE template format

5) Three Audits. No specific format is required.

It may be easiest to create a pdf for each item above and stack them together into one file when all are finalized.

May we have more than four presenters at the Oral presentation? Posted 3/15/21
The limit of four presenters reflects veteran judges’ experience. We want you to succeed, and each transition is a potential for technical difficulties, especially if you are switching the screen share too. More than four presenters can lead to a disjointed presentation with pauses that are too long, leaving judges frustrated or confused about the issues being discussed during the presentation. We have seen teams in the past lose points over this. We do care about you and want you to have the best experience possible.

If you have a large team, we understand that you want to give each person on your team experience. The best way to do this is to have one group present the oral report and the other group conduct the bench-scale demonstration with the judges (or the Poster discussion, if you’re a Desktop team). Since judges will come to the latter event three times (each time a smaller group of 2-3 judges), you could even switch off who does the Bench-scale/Poster discussion with each new set of judges.

If, after knowing the above, you still want more presenters at the Orals, we will allow you to decide how many will present, but we recommend no more than 5 people.  If you divide the presentation up so much that each person gets fewer than 3 minutes of presentation time, it may not be as valuable an experience as you hope, and it could lead to a poor experience for your team.

No matter how many you have on the team, rehearse your transitions. It should require only: “Now Sydney will address environmental hazards,” Then Sydney starts in right away. Not breaking up the flow with additional introductions (Don’t say, “Hello, I am Sydney.”)  Just keep the flow going. Be cautious of passing off the screen sharing – this can cause delays that could spoil your presentation – Can you keep the flow going better with one person operating the slides while others speak? It is your choice.

Desktop Division: What are the logistics for the Poster Discussion? (Posted 3/14/21)
The format is exactly the same as a traditional bench-scale demonstration. This ensures that teams in the Desktop Division have the same interaction with the judges as those who are in the Bench-scale division.

1) The judges will come to your breakout room in groups of 2-3, for a total of three sessions with the judges.

2) There are no limits on the number of students who can speak to the judges during each session. We leave it up to you to decide how to best manage your team during this event.

3) You may either:

a) print out a poster (see manual for specifications) and have your Zoom camera positioned to allow team members to approach the poster and point out information, as needed.

b) prepare a brochure (see manual for specifications). Upload your brochure to the WERC team site for judges to download. During the Discussion, you can refer the judges to portions of the brochure (make sure it is numbered in a way to allow you to refer to specific portions of the brochure). You may also share your screen with the judges.

Desktop Demonstration Schedule (Posted 3/12/21)
We will soon send a detailed schedule to all teams. If your team is registered under the Desktop Division, this is the general schedule:

1) March 29–Submit Technical Report by 11:59 PM

2) April 11–Opening Ceremony (Team videos shown)

3) April 12–Oral Presentations

4) April 12–Flash Talks (optional)

5) April 13–Poster/Brochure Discussion and address questions brought up by judges during the Oral Presentation.

6) April 14–Awards Ceremony

Bench-scale Demonstration Schedule (Posted 3/12/21)
We will soon send a detailed schedule to all teams. If your team is registered under the Full Bench-scale Demonstration Division, this is the general schedule:

1) April 5 or 6–Bench-scale demonstrations and Poster Presentation

2) April 11–Opening Ceremony (Team videos shown)

3) April 12–Oral Presentations and address questions brought up by judges during the Bench-scale/Poster Presentation.

4) April 12–Flash Talks (optional)

5) April 13–No events –This is a change from the original schedule. Explanation will be sent in the detailed schedule.

6) April 14–Awards Ceremony

Heads up: Bench-scale demonstrations that run longer than a couple of hours will need to use a webcam for remote monitoring of the apparatus. You will provide a link to WERC. We will share this with the judges and competing teams who can drop in at any time. You will record the bench-scale run and provide it to us only upon request.

May we see some sample technical reports? ( Posted 2/18/21)
Yes! We have posted a few sample technical reports from teams that won first place over the past few years. Please find these reports on the “Guidelines” page of our website: https://iee.nmsu.edu/outreach/events/international-environmental-design-contest/guidelines/

Note that our formatting requirements for the body of the paper have changed since those reports were submitted.

Technical Report Front Matter Guidelines (Posted 3/1/21)
The Team Manual specifies the format for the body of the technical report, but omits instructions for preparing the front matter (Title page, Table of Contents, Executive Summary, and Audits). Please go to the WERC website Guidelines page to download specifications for the front matter and audits.

Guidelines page: https://iee.nmsu.edu/outreach/events/international-environmental-design-contest/guidelines/

Audits, and Who can be an Auditor? (Posted 2/16/21)
We have received some questions about the three audits required in your paper. Here is clarification:

• The audits are mandatory. Arrange for auditors as early as possible, but have them wait to review the technical report until it is in near-final form. We suggest that you hand the auditors your draft three weeks prior to the submission date (see Team Manual, “General Paper Preparation Hints.”

• The purpose of audits is to help you find problems with your report. It is to your advantage to select auditors who have not been deeply involved in your design process. Faculty at the university could qualify, but the faculty advisor who is directly mentoring you on your project is not a good resource because that person may not be able to see issues that fresh eyes could see.

• WERC will not investigate the level of involvement of your auditors prior to them auditing your report.

• Audits are required in three separate areas: 1) Economics, 2) Health Issues, 3) Legal Issues. One auditor should address Economics, a second auditor should address Health issues, and the third legal issues.

Can we have our Preliminary Report reviewed twice? (Posted 2/10/21)
If you submit your report sufficiently early, and if the reviewer comments warrant a second submission, then this is possible. If your task did not specifically require a preliminary report, this does not apply to you.
Desktop Division Page Number Correction (Posted 1/15/21 )
The desktop-study technical report should total no more than 17 pages, including title page, executive summary, figures, and references. Note that this is a one-page increase from the 16-page limit stated in the task problem statement. An early version of the Desktop Division Manual incorrectly stated the number of pages for the written report, but this officially corrects the error.
Due Date Changes (Posted 1/15/21)
Task 6 (Open Task) Test Plan: Due Feb. 25, 2021

Preliminary Report: Due February 25, 2021

No ESP Required in 2021 (Posted 1/12/21)
WERC is not requiring the ESP for any task in 2021, since your team will not be running your bench-scale demos in Las Cruces.

All teams running bench-scale demos should follow your institution’s lab safety policies. NMSU teams are expected to submit an ESP through Juanita Miller.

Optional WERC Short Course:

Government Regulations and Safety

This 4-session course is designed to help teams gain solid understanding of judges’ expectations for addressing government regulations and safety protocols needed for full-scale design implementation.
Short Course RequestRequest Links to Recordings.

What: Optional webinar Short Course to help your team establish strong regulation & safety sections of the technical report.

When: December ’20 & January ’21

Recordings: Did you miss the live sessions? Recordings of the sessions are available. Contact us to receive links.

Contact Us: To obtain links to the Zoom recordings or to request a live session in February.

Task Track A:  Government Need

  Task 1: PFAS DestructionProblem statement pdf will download. Task updated 10/13/20.


Task 1D: PFAS Destruction–VirtualDesktop Study
Task Sponsor: CDM Smith

Task 1 FAQs

Groundwater Source & Treatment Train
Task 1 sets up a scenario of sourcing from groundwater. Your team may set all parameters:

• You may decide the quality of the water at the pumping source.

• If your design requires a specific and unusual water quality after RO, you must show it possible by citing published RO product specifications. Product specs are not needed if you are assuming traditional RO with FF upstream.

• You may decide to completely eliminate the suggested treatment train of RO followed by FF, but your alternatives must provide feasible means of concentrating the PFAS.

• The requirement that all processes be in proximity to each other is provided in the task statement for logistical and economical ease of treatment in the field. If your team has a better alternative, you may propose it.

•We do not want the parameters to constrain your solution. They were set up to reduce your team’s need to think about the upstream processes and instead concentrate on PFAS destruction.

Sample Number and Sizes
When you conduct your bench-scale demonstration for the judges, plan to collect three 250-mL samples of your effluent, after it has passed through your bench-scale apparatus.
Q1. Will there be a virtual-only option for this task?
Yes. You may move ahead with a virtual solution to this task.

Posted 2/10/21


Task Track B:  Internet of Things (IOT) for Environmental Applications

  Task 2: Transpac Ocean-Atm SensorProblem Statement pdf (Updated 10/13/20) Task Sponsor: X2nSat

Task 2 FAQs

Q1: Will there be a virtual-only option for this task?
A1: You may request it, but based on the nature of the task, we think that each team member can work remotely on different portions of the task. If this is a concern for you, please contact us!


Task Track C:  Industry Need

  Task 3: Sorbing Metals using Ag By-productsProblem Statement pdf–Updated 10/13/20


Task 3D: Sorbing Metals Using Ag By-productsProblem statement pdf will download.
Task Sponsor: Brown & Caldwell

Task 3 FAQs

May we provide routine maintenance, such as backwashing the system periodically? (Posted 3/16/21)
The reality is that all passive systems require routine maintenance. A team is allowed routine maintenance. ‘Passive’ in the context of the problem statement, refers to the lack of electricity, pumps, active water treatment for the full-scale system.
Teams will prepare their own contest synthetic solutions using the Sample Preparation Table below
Each team will prepare their own synthetic solution for testing at the contest. The Task 3 Sample Preparation Table is provided since waters of hydration can vary depending on the chemical’s source. If the source sulfate differs in number of waters of hydration from the list shown in the leftmost column, it will be necessary to recalculate the amount of the available hydrate needed. As an example, the rightmost column shows the mass of the pure sulfate needed in each case (zero waters of hydration). Teams will collect and send to WERC both a pre- and post-bench-scale sample of their synthetic solution for analysis to ensure proper starting chemistry.

Task 3 Sample Preparation Table

Correction to task: overall metal loading
Task outcome should read: “Reduce the overall metal loading by at least 90%.” (There should be no reference to As, Cd, or Pb <1ppm as those are already below 1 ppm)
Q1: Can we use a mixture of two by-products or are we limited to one?
A1: You are not limited to one. Use any combination of ag. by-products you wish.
Q2: Are electrical components like air pumps and heaters permitted in a passive treatment system?
A2: Sorry, they are not. A passive system should not require any type of input or outside intervention.


Task 4: Mine Tailings ReuseProblem Statement pdf–Updated 10/13/20


Task 4D: Mine Tailings Reuse-DesktopProblem statement pdf will download.
Task Sponsor: New Mexico Mining Association

Task 4 FAQs

Q1. Is there water in the mine tailings when they're ready to be processed into a product?
A1. Yes, the tailings slurry has 45% to 50% water by mass on average when it is sent to the tailings dam for impoundment. Teams will receive near-dry tailings samples.


Task Track D:  Environmental Public Health


Task 5: Produced Water Treatment TrainTask updated 11/12/2020



Task 5D: Produced Water Treatment Train—Desktop StudyProblem statement pdf will download.
Task Sponsor: NGL Water Solutions
Task 5 FAQs
Topping off with DI water
We want to make sure that your team remembers, while mixing up the synthetic solution, that you need to top it off with enough DI water to make the formula equal to 1.0 liters of solution.Posted 3/1/21
Solution Mixing update. (Updated 3/1/21)
We have been using a power drill with a paint-mixing attachment to mix the synthetic solution. We recommend that you:1) Place all chemicals in a 5-gallon bucket2) use a power drill with a paint-mixing attachment. Mix for 5 minutes. This will reduce the amount of oil lost to the blender jar, since the solution can now be measured and mixed into one container and never transferred.If you have already invested time using a blender for mixing your solution, you may proceed with that. We are always looking for ways to improve a process and believe that the paint mixer/drill may be a better solution, but with the pre-screens in place (testing the solution prior to your bench-scale demo and your microscope photo), any differences in mixing will be equalized.
Having trouble dissolving your sea salt?
The sea salt we will send you will be: Sigma-Aldrich, catalog number S9883.This dissolves in DI water within a few minutes.
How can we ensure that the mixture is homogenous?
We are initiating these changes in the homogenizing procedure to ensure that all teams use comparable synthetic solutions in their bench-scale apparatus: 1. Double the amounts of each component in the oil phase (to allow for some oil adhering to the mixing vessel). 2. Please see updates above for mixing technique. Place your solution in a kitchen blender. Blend on highest speed for 5 minutes. 3. During the contest, at this point you will collect a sample of the solution and ship it for TOC testing to determine oil/water ratio. 4. Immediately place a portion of the solution on a slide with a grid and photograph the oil droplets using a microscope with attached camera. Expect the droplets to be on the order of 1 micron in diameter on the slide.
TrueSyn 200I source:
We have 40 grams ready to ship to you. Contact werc@nmsu.edu to request yours.If you need more than 40 g, the manufacturer, RB Products generously offers to ship this to you for only the cost of container, packaging and shipping.Contact: micah@rbproductsinc.com (and thank him profusely!)
Arizona Test Dust sources:
We have 10 grams ready to ship to you. Contact werc@nmsu.edu to request yours.Option 2: If you need more than 10 grams, the best price we have found in small quantity is from Powder Technologies Inc (Contact: levi@powdertechnologyinc.com). They offer 4 kg for $60 (+ shipping + $20 surcharge for small order). It cost us $96 for 4 kg.
Bentonite Clay source:
We will test your bench-scale apparatus using AquaGel sodium bentonite drilling clay. The manufacturer is Baroid Industrial Drilling Products. It comes in very large quantities. We have 40 grams (or more, on request) ready to ship to you. Contact werc@nmsu.edu to request yours.
Task Correction: DI Water amount
The amount of DI water in the synthetic solution should be 750 mL.
Instructions for Mixing the Oil Phase:
It is very important that this oil be mixed quite vigorously before treatment.  The oil in this produced water is in very small droplets that did not separate in the battery tanks over a few days.
Q1: I am surprised at the low values for TrueSyn200i, Xylene, and Hexadecane. Are these correct?
A1: Yes. The production lines from shale wells producing oil go to battery tanks.  Further separation of oil and water occurs in these tanks.  The oil is recovered, the water then goes for disposal in UIC Class 2 disposal wells or might be treated for recycle.  The water coming off the battery tanks may have 70 – 150 ppm of oil.
Is there an error in the amount of solids in the synthetic solution?
No, it is not in error. This is why: When the shale formation is fracked, immense quantities of ultra fine solid particles are created and carried to the surface with the PW. The larger particles easily gravity separate. We are interested in removing the very fine particles that remain.
Q. Can our treatment result in a reduction in salinity?
A: The task is not explicitly a desalination task. Since most non-desalination pretreatment technologies have little impact on salinity levels, your results are not expected to reduce salinity. However, it is fine if your treatment does reduce salinity.


Track E:  Open Task

  Open Task–Teams select a challengeProblem Statement pdf–Updated 11/12/20


Open Task – Desktop DivisionClick for Problem Statement
Task Sponsors: El Paso Electric Company and Arrowhead Center, NMSU

Task 6 FAQs

Q1. What should be in the Preliminary Report?
A1. Your Preliminary Report includes the Task Plan and the Test Plan. You may submit it prior to the due date. This will allow our staff more time to plan for your bench-scale operations. The emphasis is content, not flowery prose. Make it brief and to the point. Use bulleted lists when appropriate.

Task 6 FAQs


The 2021 WERC Environmental Design Contest in Las Cruces, NM. April 11-14, 2021

Flash Talk Competition

Helping schools meet new ABET Student Outcome 3–Teams will give a 3-minute Flash Talk to members of the local community, engineering professionals, faculty, and other students.

Monday, 12 April, 2021.

See TEAM Manual for details: 2021 WERC Team Manual (coming soon)

Archives of the WERC Environmental Design Contests

Here you can find tasks for previous years, as well as the teams that won them.

Platinum Sponsor

Gold Sponsor

Silver Sponsor