2009 AVF Grant Awards
The Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future announces the spring 2009 awards from the Academic Venture Fund. Initiated in 2008, this fund is designed to stimulate original, cross-disciplinary research at Cornell in sustainability science, emphasizing work having the potential to involve external partners such as industry, government, foundations, and NGOs. CCSF awarded 5 AVF grants totalling over $500,000 for this cycle (a summary of these awards is also available in PDF format).
The 26 proposals submitted in response to 2009 AVF solicitation represent a vibrant, innovative, interdisciplinary movement at Cornell. Exceptionally broad representation was seen in the proposals, which included investigators from ten colleges, schools, and centers at Cornell.
Sustainability of Food Systems
Consumer interest in "eating local" has increased sharply in recent years, although locally grown food still accounts for a small share of food sales. Professors Miguel Gomez (AEM), Huaizhu Gao (CEE), Dennis Miller (FDSC), Ardyth Gillespie (NS), and Jonathan Russell-Anelli (CSS) are leading a two-part project that will yield a method for assessing the sustainability of local and conventional food systems. The group will develop an assessment model through a series of seminars and workshops, and then apply it in a study comparing the sustainability of one local and one conventional supply chain for a fruit and a vegetable. The project will quantify the overall sustainability of a shift from conventional to local food systems, shedding light on key policy questions about the nation’s food supply.
Assessing Carbon Sequestration in Complex Agricultural Landscapes
Major national and international initiatives are in place to address emissions from the energy and industrial sectors, but there are no comparable carbon provisions for agriculture. A significant barrier has been the absence of viable methods for assessing agricultural emissions, sequestration, and storage. Led by Cornell scientists James Lassoie (NTRES), David Wolfe (HORT), Alexander Travis (VET), Todd Walter (BEE), and Philip McMichael (DSOC), this project will provide a practical approach to landscape-level carbon accounting. The group will use statistical methods to identify the minimum data set required for rigorous but cost-effective monitoring of changes in soil health in complex agricultural landscapes. This new methodology will support emerging efforts to promote and regulate climate-friendly agriculture in the United States and around the world.
The Impact of Green Energy Development on Rural Community Sustainability
"Green energy"projects, such as wind farms and and biofuel agriculture, promise substantial benefits: reduced carbon emissions, energy sustainability, domestic energy security, and local economic development. These opportunities, however, may carry significant risks for rural communities, including impacts on ecological systems, land use changes, and a "boom/bust" cycle of economic development. Focusing on the Allegheny Plateau region, researchers Richard Stedman (NTRES), Rod Howe (CALS), Susan Riha (EAS), and Susan Christopherson (CRP) will develop a model for assessing the sustainability of rural communities in the face of a large-scale reorientation of the nation's energy supply. The resulting framework will aid the implementation of green technology by predicting likely impacts of development—both positive and negative—and pinpointing regions with greater resilience or risk.
Micropowdered Biomass Combustion
Converting solid biomass to liquid fuels is a primary focus of biomass energy research—but this conventional approach wastes much of the available plant energy. When the plant itself is burned directly to generate heat, the full fuel energy of the biomass is released. Burner design remains a challenge. Cornell researchers Robert Thorne (PHYS), Elizabeth Fisher (MAE), Frederick Gouldin (MAE), Ke "Max" Zhang (MAE), and Antonio Bento (AEM) will test a prototype of an innovative micropowdered biomass combustion system to characterize emissions and determine how to control pollutant levels. Initial experiments will use powdered hardwoods, the most abundant biomass feedstock in upstate New York. This clean combustion technology offers a local, sustainable energy solution with the potential to replace liquid fuels like heating oil, kerosene, and propane.
A Solar Cell Using Inorganic "Grass"
Silicon solar cells are versatile and reliable, but their high cost has limited the technology's adoption. Led by Professors Sandip Tiwari (ECE), Jiwoong Park (CHEM), and Christopher Ober (ENG), this project promises a new low-cost, low-energy technique for creating silicon solar cells. The group's innovative process—developed at Cornell—replaces expensive single-crystal silicon wafers with grass-like silicon nanowires grown on metal. In the course of the study, researchers will refine the mechanism for single-crystal nanowire growth on a metal substrate, demonstrate the technique’s characteristics, and develop appropriate production technology and prototypes. If proven comparable to current crystalline solar cells, nanowire solar cells will provide an inexpensive alternative to solar cells now on the market—a major step toward the goal of making clean, sustainable energy widely available.