Published August 29, 2017
Imagine a thriving community built around manufacturing jobs where the production methods and processes not only minimize waste and mitigate negative environmental impacts, but also address health risks posed to residents and workers.
How do we get there? Who needs to have a seat at the table?
A new partnership, facilitated by The JPB Foundation, aims to address these questions and more through the formation of the Collaboratory for a Regenerative Economy (CoRE). Led by UB’s Department of Materials Design and Innovation (MDI), CoRE is a collaboration with Clean Production Action and Niagara Share.
CoRE will bring together scientists, manufacturers, community partners and other key stakeholders to understand the challenges in building a self-sustaining economy in rapidly expanding and evolving industries.
“This is an unusual project — with its emphasis on the interplay between science, technology, and their interaction with human behavior to impact social change,” says Krishna Rajan, Erich Bloch Endowed Chair of MDI.
While the initial focus of the project is on solar panel manufacturing, the findings will serve as a testbed that can later be scaled and used for other industries.
“Our project seeks to lower the barriers to the adoption of production processes that are environmentally friendly and offer the potential to improve community health,” Rajan says.
“We will use cutting-edge discoveries in materials science and engineering to develop innovative and transformative approaches to design data-driven, green-manufacturing processes that will reduce the use of toxic chemicals and/or those derived from fossil fuels in the solar panel manufacturing industry,” he says.
This data-driven approach to designing alternate materials for industrial use will include human and environmental health factors.
“Our aim is to not only reduce the use of harmful chemicals in industrial production, but also reduce the health hazards arising from the exposure to toxic chemicals, both during production and when products are decommissioned,” says Mark Rossi, executive director of Clean Production Action, which is based in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Since low-income families make up a significant portion of the frontline communities that are impacted by industrial and energy production, the project aligns closely with The JPB Foundation’s focus on health and poverty.
“This unique partnership among the academic research community, non-governmental and community outreach organizations brings together complementary expertise — in research, market analysis, policy formulation and social innovation — to support the transition toward a safer materials economy,” says Liesl Folks, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Key features of the CoRE initiative include industry and community-targeted workshops, an MDI Summer Institute and a traineeship program that links MDI students with community organizations and other constituencies.
A “change agent” program will provide industry and community leaders with the tools needed to understand and analyze these technologies, the inherent risks and cost-benefits involved, and the best methods for adopting new approaches.
“The project embraces both scientific advancements and social innovation, underlining the importance of bringing together people and resources in new, more effective ways to create resilient networks that can drive new innovation and value for our communities, businesses and local economies,” says Alexandra McPherson, principal of Niagara Share, a Buffalo-based nonprofit.
Adds Robin Schulze, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences: “This project aligns with MDI’s core mission of addressing societal needs through significant acceleration of design and discovery of new materials in a socially responsible manner.”
UB’s Department of Materials Design and Innovation is a collaboration between the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.