RENEW provides seed funding to four environment-oriented research projects

RENEW seed funding will help fund research by Diana Aga, professor of chemistry, on how emerging contaminants travel through wastewater systems and into surface waters.

Release Date: October 16, 2014

Alan J. Rabideau

“We anticipate that each of these projects will lay the foundation for successful grant applications in the emerging nexus of food, water and energy.”
Alan J. Rabideau, environmental engineering professor and first Research and Economic Development Leadership Fellow
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Four research projects have received funding under RENEW, the University at Buffalo’s new interdisciplinary environmental research initiative.

The projects involve:

  • Developing a cost-effective way to turn salt water into drinking water.
  • Studying offshore wind energy.
  • Tracking emerging sources of water pollution.
  • Examining how the demand for renewable energy is affecting farmland.

Led by UB’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, RENEW stands for Research and Education in eNergy, Environment and Water.

“The first RENEW seed projects address exciting new areas of investigation for interdisciplinary teams of UB investigators working across four decanal units,” said Alan J. Rabideau, PhD, a UB environmental engineering professor and the institute’s first Research and Economic Development Leadership Fellow. “We anticipate that each of these projects will lay the foundation for successful grant applications in the emerging nexus of food, water and energy.”

UB launched the institute in February, with the goal of tackling the most difficult and pressing issues that society faces in trying to create a more sustainable world. The university plans to invest $15 million in RENEW in the next five years by hiring 20 new faculty members, creating new academic programs, and hiring a world-class scholar and researcher to direct the institute.

The institute will eventually engage more than 100 faculty members from six university schools and colleges. Faculty will specialize in fields like environmental engineering, chemistry, geology, law, architecture, community health and sustainable business practices.

The four research projects, which will share $120,000 in university funding, are:

Tracking emerging contaminants in the Great Lakes

Advanced manufacturing will help revitalize Western New York’s economy. But just like 20th century manufacturing, it poses pollution risks, especially to freshwater.

Researchers will gather data on how emerging contaminants (such as pharmaceuticals, heavy metals used in engineered nanomaterials and carbon nanotubes) travel through wastewater systems and into surface waters.

In the lab, the team will evaluate:

  • How effective common wastewater treatment technologies are at removing or transforming these emerging contaminants.
  • Whether the transformation products are of ecological concern by testing how these materials affect the metabolism of plants and other biological organisms that may be exposed to them.
  • The design and efficiency of engineered nanomaterials for solar energy harvesting, and energy conversion and storage.

The project’s principal investigator is Diana Aga, professor in the Department of Chemistry.  Co-principal investigators are David Watson, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, and Ning Dai, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering. Jill Jedlicka, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper executive director, is a collaborator.

Offshore wind energy in the Great Lakes

The project brings together a team of engineers, ecologists and policy experts to examine wind farm systems in terms of integrity, performance, ecological impacts and policy issues.

Specifically, the project will address:

  • Potential energy production from offshore wind turbines in the Great Lakes.
  • The effect of underwater foundations on the integrity and performance of wind turbines.
  • The influence of turbine foundations on aquatic ecological communities.
  • Policy and governance that provide the context and constraints for leveraging wind energy potential in the Great Lakes.

The project’s principal investigator is M.V. Sivaselvan, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering. Co-principal investigators are Kathryn Bryk Friedman, director of international research at UB’s Regional Institute and a research associate professor of law and policy in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning; Sarah Delavan, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering; Helen Domske, associate director of the Great Lakes Program at UB; and John Hall and Sonjoy Das, assistant professors in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Energy efficient seawater desalination and food processing

Reverse osmosis is a water purification method that uses a semipermeable membrane to desalinate seawater into drinkable water. While promising, it’s a relatively expensive technology.

UB researchers are addressing the problem by developing nanostructured materials with sub-nanometer pores that could enable the membrane to catch more salts as water passes through. The improved membrane is also designed to cut in half the amount of energy required to operate it.

The project’s principal investigators are Haiqing Lin, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Bing Gong, professor in the Department of Chemistry.

The new agriculture: From food farms to solar farms

Across the U.S., government agencies and energy developers are looking at agricultural land to develop renewable energy resources like wind and solar.

Researchers will examine the policy shift from protecting farmland at all costs to promoting renewable energy over other uses. They will begin with a case study from California, which favors renewable energy development instead of agriculture, and make policy recommendations that could be applied to renewable energy development in Western New York.

The project’s principal investigator is Jessica Owley, associate professor in the UB Law School. Her collaborator is Amy Morris, an environmental scientist at Aspen Environmental Group, a West Coast-based environmental organization.

 

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