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Sustainability grants target fracking, biochar fibers, wireless solar tiles and more

Cornell will lead a workshop to build a team of academic, government and industry partners to propose a long-term wind energy research program funded through the Department of Energy.

Improving bioreactors that create biofuels by a thousand-fold and developing a model for studying the risk of sequestering carbon dioxide deep underground are among six projects and two workshops that the Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future (CCSF) is funding this year to stimulate original, cross-disciplinary work in sustainability science.

The Academic Venture Fund, now in its third year, emphasizes work with the potential to involve such external partners as industry, government, foundations and NGOs. CCSF awarded $598,027 this year to eight proposals out of 25 submitted; more than 90 percent of the proposals involved researchers from more than one college or school.

The research projects are:

Researchers will investigate the utility of Cornell-developed wireless tiles powered by sun and wind and will build a prototype system.

  • Developing biochar-based fibers for personal protective equipment: Biochar fibers may provide a greener option for protective clothing to reduce a wearer's exposure to toxic compounds. Researchers will test 20 biochars for their capacity to absorb organic pollutants, suitability for nonwoven fibers and for their use in containing toxic spills, among other applications.
  • Modeling, systems engineering and risk analysis for carbon sequestration: Geologic carbon sequestration (GCS) -- injecting pressurized carbon dioxide deep underground beneath impermeable caprock -- holds promise for mitigating climate change. To address public concerns over the procedure, researchers will use systems engineering to develop a model for analyzing, quantifying and monitoring the risk of GCS.
  • Monitoring air and water quality in Marcellus Shale drilling sites: With controversy about the potential environmental damage caused by hydrofracking, a technique for natural gas drilling in Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, this project will develop procedures and protocols to monitor air and water quality in counties where drilling occurs.
  • Replacing antibiotics with bacteriophages in the livestock industry: Heavy antibiotic use in dairy cows and other livestock has led to drug-resistant bacteria, but bacteriophages -- viruses that infect bacteria -- hold promise as highly specific and nontoxic antimicrobial agents. This project will isolate and produce relevant bacteriophages and then evaluate them in a clinical trial of 900 dairy cows.
  • Improving solar photobioreactors by a thousand-fold using advanced photonics: An emerging technology harnesses sunlight to convert carbon dioxide to biofuel through such photosynthetic bacteria as blue-green algae, but the technology is limited by current reactor designs. This project will develop a proof-of-concept photobioreactor that uses algae to convert carbon dioxide to biofuel with three times the efficiency.
  • Improving water governance in the Mediterranean Basin and Middle East: As the Mediterranean and Middle East experience growing water shortages, competition for water could lead to conflicts or opportunities for cooperation. This study will assess water legislation in the Mediterranean Sea and its basin, research the reasons behind poor compliance, and develop effective monitoring systems and strategies for enforcing compliance.

The workshops awarded grants are:

  • Self-powered wireless solar tiles for a renewable energy future: Researchers will investigate the utility of Cornell-developed wireless tiles powered by sun and wind, build a prototype system and host a workshop this fall to promote the new tiles and report on research challenges.
  • University collaboration on wind energy: This workshop will seek to build a team of academic, government and industrial partners to propose a long-term wind energy research program funded through the Department of Energy.


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