2010 AVF Grant Awards
The Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future selected 6 research projects and 2 workshops for its 2010 Academic Venture Fund Awards. 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 8 AVF grants totalling nearly $600,000 for this cycle (a summary of these awards is also available in PDF format).
The 25 proposals submitted in response to the 2010 AVF solicitation represent a vibrant, innovative, interdisciplinary movement at Cornell. Exceptionally broad representation was seen in the proposals - Over 90% of the proposals involved investigators from more than one college or school, and over 40% included faculty from three or more colleges or schools.
Development of Biochar-Based Fibers for Personal Protective Equipment
Protective clothing is essential for workers exposed to toxic chemicals. Replacing current technologies for chemical protective liners with biochar—a stable charcoal product—may provide a greener route to the next generation of chemical protective clothing. Cornell researchers Anthony Hay (BIOMI) and Juan Hinestroza (FSAD) will test several biochars’ capacity to absorb organic pollutants, measure their suitability for incorporation into nonwoven biochar fibers, and identify promising fiber combinations for further study and potential mass production. In addition to their application in chemical protective gear, biochar-based fabrics may later serve as geotextiles for containing toxic spills and as sampling devices for assessing contamination on solid surfaces. Wider use of biochar will reduce our reliance on petroleum products and fight climate change.
Modeling, Systems Engineering, and Risk Analysis for Carbon Sequestration
Geologic carbon sequestration (GCS)—injecting carbon dioxide deep underground, beneath impermeable caprock—promises to be a powerful tool in the mitigation of climate change. Although natural accumulation of carbon dioxide underground and the oil industry’s successful engineered disposal of carbon dioxide suggest that GCS is safe, public concern continues about injected carbon dioxide causing air or groundwater contamination. Led by Christine Shoemaker (CEE), Philip Liu (CEE), and Teresa Jordan (EAS), this project will develop a model for analyzing, quantifying, and monitoring the risk of GCS. This methodology will inform decisions about initiating carbon sequestration projects and maintaining them safely. Making GCS more cost-effective and reliable will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, promoting a sustainable climate and cleaner environment.
Monitoring Air and Water Quality in Marcellus Shale Drilling Sites
Natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale is already under way—and likely to begin soon in New York—yet systematic monitoring procedures are not in place to protect natural resources and public health. A monitoring program will assess any damage caused by drilling operation accidents or poor practices, establish accountability, and yield critical information about effects on adjacent industries, such as agriculture and tourism. Susan Christopherson (CRP), Kieran Donaghy (CRP), Albert George (MAE), and Susan Riha (EAS) are developing procedures and protocols as the groundwork for programs to monitor air and water quality in the Marcellus Shale region. The project promises to raise public awareness of the full range of costs associated with natural gas extraction and lead to more informed policy decisions.
Replacing Antibiotics in the Food Animal Industry with Bacteriophages
Replacing antibiotics for food animals with naturally occurring bacteriophages—viruses that infect bacteria—would decrease environmental contamination with antibiotics. Bacteriophages are the perfect antimicrobial agents: specific to a few bacterial species or even strains, they are nontoxic to mammals. Research scientists Rodrigo Carvalho Bicalho (VTPMD), Peter Frazier (ORIE), and Thorsten Joachims (CS) will isolate and evaluate new bacteriophages and develop mathematical models to optimize a phage cocktail. The study will culminate in a clinical trial on 900 dairy cows, leading to an economic model for evaluating the cost-effectiveness of phage therapy for commercial dairy farms. This research promises to harness the antibacterial power of bacteriophages, replacing antibiotics for the treatment of common bovine diseases—and may eventually lead to phage therapies for human diseases.
Thousandfold Improvement in Solar Photobioreactors Using Advanced Photonics
The natural photosynthetic process—using solar energy to capture carbon dioxide and produce biofuel and oxygen—provides the ultimate model of sustainable energy generation. An emerging strategy for harnessing photosynthesis is the direct conversion of carbon dioxide to biofuel using photosynthetic bacteria, such as cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), but the technology is limited by current reactor designs. Led by David Erickson (MAE), David Sinton (MAE), and Largus Angenent (BEE), this project will develop a proof-of-concept photobioreactor at least three orders of magnitude more efficient than current reactors. The new photobioreactor will make solar biofuel generation feasible year-round, even in climates like New York State—promising energy security for the United States and environmental sustainability on a global scale.
Water Governance in the Mediterranean Basin and Middle East
The Mediterranean and Middle East are among the regions most severely affected by the global water crisis. This project, led by Gail Holst-Warhaft (A&S) and Tammo Steenhuis (BEE), will assess the adequacy of water legislation in the Mediterranean basin, research the reasons behind poor compliance, and develop effective monitoring systems and local enforcers' capacity to promote compliance. Cornell researchers will partner with United Nations Development Programme's newly established Water Governance Program for Arab States and University of Newcastle's Rural Economy and Land Use Program, hosting a workshop on water governance to be held at Cornell Law School in the fall of 2010. Knowledge gained from the Mediterranean will be of immediate use in other water-short areas of the world, including the United States.
Self-Powered Wireless Solar Tiles for a Renewable Energy Future
This project will focus on wireless solar tiles—recently invented at Cornell—that can be set by computer or iPhone to perform different functions, including harvesting solar energy or wind, redirecting light for natural lighting, sensing temperature to regulate home energy use, and even listening to radio frequencies in outer space. A research group led by Amit Lal (ECE), Anil Netravali (FSAD), Kevin Pratt (ARCH), and Hod Lipson (MAE) will build a prototype system and host a workshop in the fall of 2010 to promote the tiles and report on research challenges. Despite the new tiles' advanced capacities, initial prototyping suggests that the cost may be lower than covering rooftops with passive solar cells—bringing personalized, sustainable energy within the reach of individual homeowners.
University Collaboration on Wind Energy
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has set the ambitious goal of generating 20 percent of the nation’s electrical power from the wind by 2030. This project aims to build a community of researchers—a team of universities, national laboratories, and industrial partners—that will collectively present a proposal to the DOE to launch a long-term research program in wind energy. Lance Collins (MAE), Christopher Clark (LABO), Alan Zehnder (MAE), and Philip Liu (CEE) will host a workshop to organize key university partners to join Cornell in promoting a new wind-power research program. A DOE-sponsored, cooperative research effort has the potential to overcome existing technological and environmental barriers to wind energy, allowing the nation to rise to the goal of “20 percent by 2030.”