2012 AVF Grant Awards
The Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future selected 10 research projects for its 2012 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. ACSF awarded 10 AVF grants with total funding of approximately $735,000 for this cycle (a summary of these awards is also available in PDF format).
Ninety percent of the selections included investigators from three or more departments, and 80 percent of them encompassed two or more of the Center's sustainability themes of energy, environment, and economic development.
Impacts of Pathogens and Pesticides on Wild Pollinators in Eastern Apple Orchards
Apple growers typically use managed colonies of the European honey bee as pollinators, but wild bees are also at work. Bryan Danforth (ENT), Motoko Mukai (VTPMD), Eric Nelson (PLPA), and Andre Kessler (EEB) have detected more than 100 species of native bees in central New York apple orchards. This study will measure the impact of pesticides and pathogens—two major threats to native bee survival—on wild mason bees. The research promises to improve the profitability and sustainability of New York orchards by establishing how management practices can help wild bees to thrive.
Improving Energy Cost and Scalability of Algal Biofuels
Liquid transportation fuel is a critical part of the world's energy requirements, but most forms of alternative energy cannot meet this need. Biofuels can. Biodiesel derived from microalgae is an important alternative to plant-based biofuels, yet algal biofuel technology has a major limitation: current methods for removing water from the algae at harvest expend more energy than is harvested. Susan Daniel (CHEME), Roseanna Zia (CHEME), Beth Ahner (BEE), and Itai Cohen (PHYS) aim to solve the "dewatering" problem for an efficient and scalable algal energy harvest. This research promises a major advance in the search for sustainable transportation fuels.
A Hydrogen Test Bed at Cornell: Distributed-Scale Biorenewable Hydrogen Generation
Several auto manufacturers will release hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles before 2016. These hydrogen-electric hybrids require compressed hydrogen fuel, but relatively little is known about renewable methods of hydrogen production. The industry has recently focused on electrolysis as the most promising method of commercial hydrogen production. Led by Elizabeth Fisher-York (MAE), Paul Mutolo (EMC2), and Alfred Center (CHEME), this timely project will determine if an alternative, biorenewable way to produce hydrogen—converting biomass to synthesis gas (syngas), and then to hydrogen—can compete economically with electrolysis, offering more efficient regional production and delivery of compressed hydrogen fuel.
Sustainable Production of Staple Leafy Green Vegetable Crops in Sub-Saharan Africa
Sukuma wiki (leafy greens) is a nutritious vegetable enjoyed by millions in East Africa, but leaf damage from "black rot" can result in market losses of more than 50 percent for smallholder farmers. Cornell researchers are transferring resistance to black rot, caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris, into sukuma wiki by crossing the plant with resistant cabbage. Working with African partners, Phillip Griffiths (HORT), Jenny Kao-Kniffin (HORT), Helene Dillard (CCE), and Miguel Gómez (AEM) will field test sukuma wiki with enhanced resistance to black rot, develop production guidelines to suppress the disease, and introduce American collard greens.
Does a Healthy Diet Lead to a Healthy Environment?
Industrial agriculture, one of the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions and nitrogen pollution, places significant stress on the planet. Rising obesity rates pose a similar threat to public health. This holistic project suggests that what is better for human health may also be better for the environment. Robert Howarth (EEG), Christina Stark (NS), Ian Merwin (HORT), Laurie Drinkwater (HORT), and Jennifer Wilkins (NS) will assess how diet changes, waste reduction, and organic agriculture can affect greenhouse gas emissions, nitrogen pollution, and land use, yielding crucial information about the best diet for both human and environmental health.
Probing the Micromechanics of Shale under Varying Fluid Compositions
Shale gas is a growing part of the nation's energy production. Teresa Jordan (EAS), Shefford Baker (MSE), Alan Zehnder (MAE), and James Bisogni (CEE) aim to minimize environmental impacts of the hydraulic fracturing process by learning to predict shale's fracturing behavior more accurately. This pilot study will apply nanoscale methods developed for manmade composites to examine the fracturing behavior of shale—a natural composite—and then test alternative "fracking fluids" to determine how they interact with the rock. The research may lead to more precise control of fracturing and improved fluid treatments that reduce environmental risks.
Developing Species-Specific and Environmentally Friendly Insect Control
A fundamental problem with pest control is that most pesticides affect many organisms. Scientists are now able to use double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) to interfere with gene transcription in a single type of insect—and kill it. Unfortunately, real-world application of this technology has been limited, because dsRNA is highly unstable under field conditions. Led by Jeffrey Scott (ENT), Dan Luo (BEE), and Michael Hoffmann (ENT), this project will demonstrate that an existing biodegradable encapsulation technology works to stabilize dsRNA. The research promises to transform pest control by enabling species-specific, sustainable insecticides with virtually no adverse environmental effects.
Assessing Mycotoxin Exposure in Pregnant Zimbabwean Women
Malnutrition is responsible for more than two million children's deaths annually. Inadequate food may be only one reason. Exposure during pregnancy and early childhood to mycotoxins produced by crop molds may cause child stunting and other effects of malnutrition. Rebecca Stoltzfus (NS), Rebecca Nelson (PLPA), Dan Brown (ANSCI), and Karyn Bischoff (VTPMD) will work with mothers and babies in Zimbabwe to measure the relationship between mycotoxin exposure during pregnancy and childhood growth. The project will lay the groundwork for research to identify a causal mechanism—a breakthrough that could transform how the global health community fights childhood malnutrition.
Climate Protection as a Driver for Job Creation for New York State
Uniting climate protection and job creation, this project will build a Jobs-GHG Mitigation Index to assess the type and number of jobs required to meet the goals set by New York State's Climate Action Plan. Sean Sweeney (GLI), Lara Skinner (GLI), Huaizhu Gao (CEE), Kevin Pratt (ARCH), and Brandon Hencey (MAE) will use the index to develop a policy and administration architecture for a New York State climate jobs program modeled on New Deal public works programs. An effective climate jobs program will help New York State make the transition to a low-carbon economy—while putting
New Yorkers to work.
Energy Harvesting from High-Density, Small-Scale Turbines in Urban Areas
Large wind turbines have become familiar rural sights. This project will bring wind turbines built on a much smaller scale into the city. Charles Williamson (MAE), Edwin Cowen (CEE), and Kevin Pratt (ARCH) will design and test mini-turbines packed together into attractive visible arrays. Mounted on building walls and roofs, the turbines will interfere with each other constructively, creating wind flow for significantly increased power extraction. Incorporating reflective surfaces, color, and low-energy lighting, artistic arrays of mini-turbines have the potential to bring renewable energy production to the urban environment, while serving as memorable sustainability outreach tools.