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RENEW awards seed grants to four projects

Downtown Jakarta, Indonesia, during the floods of 2007. The area flooded each year extends further inland due to rapid land subsidence, which brings the coastal areas closer to the sea level.

By CORY NEALON

Published February 7, 2017

We anticipate that each of these projects will lay the foundation for successful grant applications in the areas of energy, environment and water sustainability.
Amit Goyal, director
RENEW Institute

Four research projects have been selected to receive funding from UB’s RENEW Institute, an interdisciplinary institute dedicated to solving complex environmental problems.

“These RENEW seed projects address exciting problems in urban infrastructure and groundwater, air-pollution, green-infrastructure and stormwater management, and development of lower-cost solar cells by interdisciplinary teams of UB investigators working across decanal units,” says Amit Goyal, director of RENEW, which stands for Research and Education in eNergy, Environment and Water. “We anticipate that each of these projects will lay the foundation for successful grant applications in the areas of energy, environment and water sustainability.”

Led by UB’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, RENEW promotes interdisciplinary research activities to position UB as a global leader in select areas of energy, environment and water.

“Through RENEW’s programming, these projects will further our research capacity across energy, environment and water sustainability,” says Venu Govindaraju, vice president for research and economic development.

RENEW’s interdisciplinary focus — involving the faculties of the School of Architecture and Planning, College of Arts and Sciences, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, School of Law, School of Management, School of Public Health and Health Professions and the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences — is designed to foster new collaborations and produce new ideas.

The initiative, which taps the leadership and vision of deans and more than 100 faculty members at these seven UB schools and colleges, plans to hire 15-20 new faculty members over the next five years. RENEW’s overarching goal is to advance energy, water and environmental sustainability as a foundation for a regenerative economy.  The institute will accomplish this goal via research and education in five interdisciplinary scientific and technical focus areas that have emerged from the strategic planning process: (1) Next-Generation Materials and Technologies for Energy, Environment & Water; (2) Sustainable Urban Environments; (3) Freshwater Coastal Ecosystems and the Blue Economy; (4) Environmental Exposures, Genomes and Health; and (5) Climate Change & Socio-Economic Impacts.

The research projects will share $135,182 in glue funding, which is funding designed to bring together interdisciplinary teams of investigators to tackle complex issues. The funding, which comes in response to the institute’s strategic investment initiative, will support the following efforts:

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

Urban growth is often accompanied by land subsidence resulting from settlement, building load and the increased 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 — 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.

The project’s principal investigator is Estelle Chaussard, assistant professor in the Department of Geology. Co-principal investigators are Kallol Sett, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, and Zoé Hamstead, assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning.

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

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.

The project’s principal investigator is Eun-Hye Yoo, associate professor in the Department of Geography. Co-principal investigators are Tarun Singh, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; Wenyao Xu, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering; and Lina Mu, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health.

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

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 also will 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 sociopolitical 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.

The project’s principal investigator is Zhenduo Zhu, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering. Co-principal investigators are L. Shawn Matott, computational scientist in UB’s Center for Computational Research; Zoé Hamstead, assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning; and Alan Rabideau, professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering.

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

Conceptual illustration of a new photovoltaic device with nanopatterned light-trapping electrodes on the top and bottom interfaces of the active material layer.

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.

The project’s principal investigator is Qiaoqiang Gan, associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering. Co-principal investigators are Mark Swihart, professor in Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Eva Zurek, professor in the Department of Chemistry.

Additional details on the projects will be available soon on the RENEW website.