RENEW Institute Awards 2016/17

Four research projects received RENEW Institute funding in 2016/17.

RENEW Director Amit Goyal said these seed projects by interdisciplinary teams of UB investigators address exciting problems in urban infrastructure and groundwater, air-pollution, green-infrastructure and stormwater management, and development of lower-cost solar cells.

Towards improving the sustainability of urban infrastructures and groundwater usage in growing cities

  • Estelle Chaussard, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Geology
  • Kallol Sett, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering
  • Zoé Hamstead, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning

Urban growth is often accompanied by land subsidence resulting from settlement, building load and the increase pressure put on water resources to satisfy water demand. Land subsidence leads to fracturing of the ground and damage to infrastructure and, when taking place near rivers or coastal areas, it increases the occurrence of flooding. The goal of this project is to quantify the processes that create, influence and result from land subsidence, and develop a workflow to improve hazard mitigation plans and water resources management. Leaders of the project aim to achieve this by:

  • Conducting a remote sensing analysis of ground deformation in two cities Jakarta, Indonesia, and Buffalo, New York, and in one agricultural area near Hermosillo, Mexico.
  • Characterizing the associated flooding hazards by integrating environmental parameters.
  • Estimating the stress in the subsurface through a geotechnical analysis to evaluate how subsidence relates to the development of ground cracks and building vulnerability.
  • Quantifying groundwater well pumping rates through hydrological modeling of the observed deformation.
  • Identifying indicators of social vulnerability and developing a vulnerability assessment framework for subsidence and associated hazards.

Modeling ambient air pollution using optimal sensor placement and multiscale spatiotemporal data fusion

  • Eun-Hye Yoo, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Geography
  • Tarun Singh, PhD, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
  • Wenyao Xu, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering
  • Lina Mu, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health

Research on the adverse effects of air pollution on human health and environment has benefited from monitoring stations that routinely collect data on air quality. However, monitoring networks are sparsely located and preferentially placed. Relying only on data from these fixed stations restricts study regions and leads to uncertainty in estimates of human exposure to air pollution. Leaders of this project propose a supplementary data collection strategy and a geospatial data fusion approach that will improve air quality estimates and increase their resolutions. To achieve this goal, leaders will:

  • Develop low-cost air quality sensors using recent technological advancements in sensor developments.
  • Determine optimal monitoring locations for low-cost environmental sensor placement.
  • Investigate a novel geospatial data fusion approach to combine air quality information obtained from various sources at multiple spatial scales.

Integrated decision support for urban land use, green infrastructure and stormwater management

  • Zhenduo Zhu, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering
  • L. Shawn Matott, PhD, computational scientist in UB’s Center for Computational Research
  • Zoé Hamstead, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning
  • Alan Rabideau, PhD, professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering

Green infrastructure, such as rain barrels, permeable pavement and green streets, can help revitalize communities by reducing sewage overflows, beautifying neighborhoods, increasing property values and improving the health of nearby lakes and rivers. However, determining the proper green infrastructure investment to balance competing land uses is challenging. Leaders of this project will develop new tools for applying mathematical optimization to aid in stormwater management and green infrastructure planning.

They will also develop a decision support framework in which these tools can inform and be informed by a holistic stakeholder-driven collaborative planning process. As such, the framework will incorporate a variety of socio-political factors and tradeoffs that are not easily or traditionally incorporated into mathematical optimization. Leaders will demonstrate the framework and associated tools by applying them to a holistic suitability analysis for vacant land use in Buffalo, New York.

Emerging light-trapping strategies and new lead-free hybrid perovskite layers for clean energy

  • Qiaoqiang Gan, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering
  • Mark Swihart, PhD, professor in Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
  • Eva Zurek, PhD, professor in the Department of Chemistry.

The use of perovskites as light-harvesting layers has become an important technology for low-cost solar cells that are capable of converting more than 20 percent of sunlight into electricity. The basis for such solar cells are the properties of lead-based hybrid perovskite layers, including very high absorption of solar light and great electrical properties. Unfortunately, as these products degrade, they create significant environmental concerns. This limits their potential for large-scale implementation. Therefore, researchers are working to develop lead-free metal halide perovskite materials and corresponding solar cell architectures to optimize their performance. Leaders of this program aim to achieve this by:

  • Exploiting novel light-trapping structures to achieve broadband, polarization and angle-insensitive absorption enhancement in lead-free perovskite layers.
  • Fabricating ultra-thin methylammonium tin triiodide (MASnI3) layers in complete photovoltaic devices for tests.
  • Performing first-principles calculations to identify other lead-free perovskite materials with optical and/or electronic properties suitable for use in these photovoltaics devices.