3/6/19 Luciano Castillo research

Professor Luciano Castillo’s plan proposes the United States and Mexico build a 1,954-mile energy park along the U.S.-Mexico border instead of an entire wall.

A professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue recently presented his research team’s idea of an alternative, environmentally friendly border wall to U.S. representatives and a senators after two years of work.

Luciano Castillo’s work, along with the 28 other scientists and researchers across the U.S. collaborating with him, appeared in a Scientific American article on Feb. 14.

The plan incorporates wind, solar and natural gas energy to create a border of potential instead of a massive inert barrier.

“A contentious, costly, no man’s land would be transformed into a corridor of opportunity,” the article elaborated.

Castillo’s design, if implemented, would include building wind turbines, solar panels, water pipes and gas lines along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. The existing border wall would connect these power plants.

Castillo said he got the idea when the political dialogue about a border wall was in its first stages.

“I started asking what we can do as scientists that will make the lives of other people better,” Castillo said.

Before the government shutdown in January, the plan had been tabled due to the small team running into some roadblocks. After Castillo witnessed firsthand the consequences of the shutdown while in an airport in Puerto Rico, he was inspired to take up the project again.

“I called my colleague and said, ‘Jay, we have to go revive this project.’” Castillo said.

Castillo emphasized the multitude of untapped solar and wind energy the border area receives, saying “(it) has the best solar resources in the US.”

He also cited the arid climate along the border, mentioning that water desalination plants and pipelines to transport the clean water would have a massive benefit to thirsty cities near the border.

The design may be able to pay for itself. The cost of the current border wall plan and Castillo’s are comparable, and Castillo’s would continue to bring in revenue from the energy generated at the power plants.

The new design would also be advantageous for international relations. Jay Gore, a Purdue professor of mechanical engineering, has contributed significantly to developing the plan.

“The two countries have so much to learn from each other,” he said. “My dream is that it would be just like our border with Canada where we have power generators from the Niagara and ... cities that are really great friends.”

The two professors outline an ideal situation where collaboration is the first priority.

“What we are suggesting is that we change the conversation,” Castillo said.

He hopes that one day, the border could be a zone of education and innovation that combines contributions from both countries.

Despite the controversy over the project, they recognize the challenges ahead.

“We also are very, very aware of how difficult it is — particularly in today’s environment — to present this idea,” Gore said in a phone interview.

Funding, security and other logistical research are still areas of concern. Castillo mentioned that his team is constantly adding new experts in a wide variety of areas to work on the project to improve its quality.

Moving forward, the team hopes to host more workshops and studies as well as fund research to refine the plan. Castillo mentioned that they may introduce new classes, so Purdue students could be a part of finding better designs and solutions. He remains optimistic about the great potential for the design.

“Instead of having us versus them,” he said, “let’s create something that benefits everybody.”

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