Man invents machine to turn zebra mussel shells into sand

PULASKI -- Zebra mussels are a scourge on the Great Lakes as their shells litter beaches, but one inventor from Pulaski is turning them into sand.

On beaches near the Great Lakes, what was once shoreline, is now a resting place for invasive zebra mussels.

RJ Elsing watched them pile up. Within months, several feet high on his property in Dyckesville. "They're an eyesore.  You can't use the beach the way, I think, God intended it to be used.  Also, the stagnant water is harboring all sorts of bacteria," Elsing said.

Elsing invented the Beachmaker. Like turning straw into gold, his machine turns shells into sand. "When we change that into sand, it takes care of these problems, and you can walk on (the beach) barefoot again," Elsing said.

The machine works by vacuuming the shells, then crushing them. "When the shells are in here, they swirl around. There's like a miniature tornado in here," Elsing said.

The Beachmaker mimics the waves' erosion on the shells, but where it takes the waves centuries to turn the shells into this, it takes the machine only moments.

But is it safe?  That's what Kimberly Busse with UW-Oshkosh wants to find out. "We just want to be sure that this product isn't affecting water quality. Then, you have recreational activities on the beach.  We just want to make sure those are safe," Busse said.

Busse says she'll work with Beachmakers, testing the sand they make. She wants to see what happens to the bacteria the shells are carrying. "Seeing how much bacterial contamination is in there and then if the shell sand is actually contributing to bacteria concentrations, or eliminating, or staying the same," Busse said.

Elsing hopes his patented invention passes the University's tests. He says his machine can help make shorelines fun again. "Allow people of all ages, especially kids to be able to play on our beaches," Elsing said.

The team will be testing the Beachmaker into October. The DNR says the invention is unlikely to have a negative impact on the environment, and that Elsing complies with all appropriate laws.