2008 AVF Grant Awards
The Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future announced the 2008 Academic Venture Fund awards in October 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 12 AVF grants totalling roughly $800,000 for this cycle (a summary of these awards is also available in PDF format).
Of the 35 proposals submitted, the leadership selected seven research projects (to demonstrate proof of principle, seek insights and tools, or establish new approaches to specific sustainability problems) and five workshops (to bring faculty together from across Cornell, to address specific sustainability challenges).
These research projects were are designed to demonstrate proof of principle, provide insights and tools that can be used to address needs, or establish new and innovative ideas and approaches to specific sustainability problems. CCSF is particularly interested in promoting a collaborative, synergistic, and integrated system-approach to complex sustainability issues, but also encourages truly paradigm breaking or disruptive ideas.
Improving the Stability and Productivity of Algal Bioreactors for Biofuel Production
Aquatic microalgae offer several features that make them an attractive prospect for biofuel production, including rapid growth and the ability to thrive on marginal land and in brackish water. Despite this potential, no large-scale facilities for commercial algal biofuel production currently exist, due to significant profitability and scale-up problems. Using a well-studied algal species, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, the research team of Beth Ahner (BEE), Ruth Richardson (CEE), and Maureen Hanson (MBG) will focus on the production of a high-value industrial enzyme, along with oil and carbohydrate accumulation. They will develop diagnostic proteomic methods for algal culture monitoring involving rapid detection of specific proteins in a complex background - a new tool that stands to increase output of both the enzyme and lipids or oil for biodiesel.
Integrated Digital Design Environment for Sustainable Architecture
Commercial, industrial, and residential buildings are responsible for approximately 48 percent of the total energy use in our country. Architects need tools for life-cycle analysis, material evaluation, and energy modeling in the early stages of the design process, when decisions that affect the long-term sustainability of buildings are made. The research team of Don Greenberg (JGSM, ARCH), Kevin Pratt (ARCH), Dana Cupkova (ARCH), Ken Torrance (MAE), and Brandon Hencey (MAE) will develop interactive visual and analytic tools that will integrate architectural form finding and environmental analysis in a seamless three-dimensional digital environment. The group will create new visualization methods for energy simulations, verifying the simulations with field measurements in a number of Cornell's new buildings.
Forecasting Disease and Economic Consequences of Climate Change
C. Drew Harvell (EEB), Laura Harrington (ENTOM), Kelly Zamudio (EEB), Stephen Ellner (EEB), Art DeGaetano (EAS), Carla Gomes (CIS, AEM), and Katherine McComas (COMM) have formed a Disease and Climate Network at Cornell to address the critical challenges of climate change on species diversity, conservation, and health. The team will develop algorithms and computational tools to forecast climate-driven disease outbreaks in corals, amphibians, and mosquito-borne infections in humans, which will serve all researchers interested in human and wildlife infectious diseases. They ultimately aim to project climate-driven damage to biodiversity and human health and estimate the economic impacts of disease outbreaks driven by climate change, with a larger goal of promoting international policy change.
Environmental, Energetic and Economic Potential of Biochar
Modern bioenergy systems can produce biochar, a stable charcoal product. When applied to agricultural fields, biochar greatly enhances crop yields, while reducing the need for traditional chemical fertilizers - and the environmental impact on croplands. Cornell scientists Johannes Lehmann (CSS), Norm Scott (BEE), Antonio Bento (AEM), Stephen Younger (NS), Janice Thies (CSS), John Gaunt (CSS), Lindsay Anderson (BEE), Drew Lewis (CUAES), and Francis Vanek (CEE) aim to quantify biochar's potential as a tool to fight climate change. Their integrated economic, energy, and life-cycle data analysis will provide a framework for further research to establish biochar as a major option within the dominant and emerging bioenergy technologies that currently provides carbon-negative energy and safe sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Understanding aflatoxin accumulation in maize
Mycotoxins - toxic compounds produced by fungi - contaminate an estimated quarter of the world's food supply. Chronic exposure to one of the most potent mycotoxins, aflatoxin, has recently been shown to suppress the immune system and stunt growth. Professors Michael Milgroom (PLPA), Rebecca Nelson (PLBR, PLPA), and Charles Nicholson (AEM) will examine aflatoxins in maize in East Africa, with an initial emphasis on low-resource maize-growing farm households. The ultimate objective is to identify the most effective and feasible interventions to reduce aflatoxin exposure for high-risk populations. The team will also conduct a pilot project to begin to quantify the relative impact of agronomic, environmental, and behavioral factors on aflatoxin accumulation in maize and exposure in humans.
Vibro-Wind Technology: Alternative Wind Energy Systems for Buildings
Francis Moon (MAE), Ephrahim Garcia (MAE), Hod Lipson (MAE), Charles Williamson (MAE), Wolfgang Sachse (TAM, MAE), and Kevin Pratt (ARCH) will investigate the principles and feasibility of vibro-wind power: harvesting energy from the wind as it flows around commercial and residential buildings. An alternative to conventional wind turbines, vibro-wind power extracts energy from small vibrating elements mounted on the structure, converting kinetic energy into electrical energy that can be used in the building's operation. The group will analyze the effects of wind on single and multiple interacting flexible structures, from the millimeter to the meter scale. This new technology for integrated power generation may complement solar energy, especially in regions like central New York where solar availability is low and in areas of high building density.
Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) have launched an electrified transportation sector. K. Max Zhang (MAE), Tim Mount (AEM), Bob Thomas (ECE), Lindsay Anderson (BEE), Oliver Gao (CEE), Ying Hua (DEA), Andrew Hunter (CHEME), Francis Vanek (CEE), and Ray Zimmerman (AEM) will evaluate the effects of electrifying transportation on energy use and emissions. They will study PHEVs as distributed energy systems, assessing their potential to accommodate renewable energy and link the transportation, utility, and building sectors. The project will culminate in a symposium on the electrified transportation sector and its implications for New York State.
The workshops were designed to bring together Cornell faculty from across the campus to discuss issues posed by specific sustainability challenges, to prioritize needs, and to strategize potential approaches. A workshop may include outside experts and a variety of stakeholders. Workshop outputs might include, for example, a plan for research or for gathering more information; alternately attendees might produce a "white paper" to inform policy makers of options. The objective is to clearly articulate issues and to initiate responses by forming collaborations with appropriate external partners.
Cornell Workshop on Large-Scale Wind-
Wind power represents the most rapidly growing renewable energy source in the United States and an important growth industry for the state of New York. Led by Professors David Caughey (MAE), Zellman Warhaft (MAE), and Alan Zehnder (TAM), this workshop will bring worldrenowned experts in the field of wind power to Ithaca to consult with Cornell faculty interested in developing a major program in this area. Through plenary lectures open to the public and in-depth working groups, the event will address critical research issues that must be resolved in order to meet the U.S. Department of Energy's ambitious goal of generating 20 percent of the nation's electrical power from the wind by 2030.
Managing Sources of Uncertainty for
Sustainable Resource Management
Evan Cooch (NTRES), Bernd Blossey (NTRES), Daniel Decker (NTRES), Richard Stedman (NTRES), Jery Stedinger (CEE), Jon Conrad (AEM), Cliff Kraft (NTRES), Carla Gomes (CIS, AEM), and David Shmoys (ORIE) will host a workshop on adaptive resource management (ARM), an approach for progressively reducing uncertainty through management actions, for researchers in a wide range of disciplines. While the basic tenets of ARM are well established, several important technical challenges remain. The group will devise a structure for accurately describing the uncertainties in real-world systems and identify the most robust and efficient methods and tools for optimal decision making in uncertain conditions.
Building Social Networks for Biological
Inventories and Information
We are more likely to value and protect the organisms around us when we understand them. Recent information technology that leverages social networks offers a powerful strategy for promoting positive behavioral changes toward the environment. This workshop, organized by Harry Greene (EEB), Janis Dickinson (NTRES, LabO), Shorna Broussard (NTRES), Josh Donlan (EEB), Geri Gay (COMM), Johannes Gehrke (CS), Steven Kelling (LabO), Kathleen O'Connor (JGSM), and Brian Wansink (AEM), will play a central role in developing the first social network for the environment, simultaneously reconnecting citizens with their environment and aggregating biodiversity data for improved management.
Urban Trees for Sustainable Cities
This workshop - the first step in the larger Cornell Community Forestry initiative - will bring together urban forestry and sustainability experts from Cornell and across New York State to define a research agenda and methodology for understanding the social and ecological outcomes of urban tree planting in New York City. It will be led by Marianne Krasny (NTRES), Keith Tidball (NTRES), Nina Bassuk (HORT), Shorna Broussard (NTRES), Janis Dickinson (NTRES, LabO), Gretchen Ferenz (CCE-NYC), John Nettleton (HE-NYC, CRP), Stephan Schmidt (CRP), Richard Stedman (NTRES), David Weinstein (NTRES), Nancy Wells (DEA), Thomas Whitlow (HORT), and K. Max Zhang (MAE).
Environmental Sustainability in an Aging
Although the nation's rapidly aging population has potentially enormous implications for environmental sustainability, little research exists on the topic. This workshop will launch the Cornell Aging and the Environment Collaboration (CAEC), laying the groundwork for a program of basic and applied research on the relationship between aging and environmental and energy issues. Led by Professors Karl Pillemer (HD), Linda Wagenet (DSOC), and Nancy Wells (DEA), an interdisciplinary network of Cornell scholars will meet to determine a research agenda and plan the next steps in development of the research program, in preparation for seeking additional external funding.