Flint community solar, sustainable airport operations among 5 studies funded by U-M’s Graham Institute

May 18, 2023
Written By:
Alex Haddad, Graham Sustainability Institute
Five clear crystal balls on brown tree log. Image credit: David West, Unsplash.com

Five newly awarded sustainability “catalyst grants” from the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute will support a variety of projects designed to advance technical and behavioral interventions toward greater sustainability.

Engaging researchers from nine units across U-M and several other academic institutions, along with multisectoral partners, the projects will explore community solar, agrivoltaics, carbon-neutral building materials, aviation fuel waste reduction and sustainable archaeology.

Since 2017, more than 30 projects have received sustainability catalyst grant support from Graham for small-scale, collaborative, interdisciplinary sustainability research. Sustainability catalyst grants are open to all faculty and researchers across U-M’s three campuses. Each of the five featured research teams will receive $10,000.

“Graham’s catalyst grant program is designed to help faculty optimize the impacts of their sustainability work, a core part of the Graham Sustainability Institute’s mission,” said Jennifer Haverkamp, Graham Family Director. “The projects chosen for funding reflect the diverse talents of U-M faculty and benefit the communities and partners they serve. We are pleased to contribute to their success.”

The five newly funded projects are:

Empowering Flint solar: Exploring a cooperative model to increase energy sovereignty

This research team will assess the feasibility of community solar in Flint, Michigan, positing that a cooperative renewable energy installation would synergize existing work in Flint to improve climate resilience, increase energy democracy, and bolster the creation of an environmental sustainability plan. The catalyst grant will support benchmarking of comparable community developments and enable the research team to establish and compensate a steering committee composed of environmental, community and municipal leaders, residents from neighborhoods with space to site the installation, and technical experts.

Project team: Heather Dawson, principal investigator, UM-Flint; Mihai Burzo, UM-Flint; Pamela Carralero, Kettering University; Shirl Donaldson, UM-Flint; Karl Hoesch, U-M-Ann Arbor School for Environment and Sustainability; Mona Munroe-Younis, Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint; Stephen Turner, UM-Flint; Nayyirah Shariff, Flint Rising.

Eliminating the tradeoffs between farming and solar energy development: Testing semi-transparent solar cell technology at U-M’s Campus Farm

This catalyst grant will support a transformative concept of land-use sharing between solar power generation and agriculture that removes compromises where one use negatively impacts the other. The research will focus on Michigan crops that are economically important, providing a framework that can be expanded to other types of crops, climate zones and land use. By combining expertise in crop growth and ecosystem health with new semi-transparent solar cell technology developed by the researchers, the team aims to develop new products for specific agricultural applications adapted to the regions in which they are applied.

Project team: Stephen Forrest, principal investigator, electrical engineering and computer science, materials science and engineering; Jeremy Moghtader, Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum; Rachel Koltun, electrical engineering and computer science.

Dirt Cheap: Facilitating earth-building as a path to affordable green housing

Earth, used as a building material, has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide affordable housing. This project team will build on their previous research to develop a testing system called RapidSed, which would come in the form of a mailable kit and allow builders to identify and amend soils for use in earth construction. The team will partner with three industry end-users, each working at a unique point on the green building spectrum, to ensure that RapidSed will be accurate, efficient, inexpensive and useful. Ultimately, the team aims to devise a system that will help architects and developers take advantage of site soils as a building material, minimize greenhouse gas emissions, and provide sustainable solutions for low-income housing.

Project team: Roman Hryciw, principal investigator, civil and environmental engineering; Charlie O’Geen, architecture and urban planning.

Paradigm-shifting protection of ancient ruins: A sustainable, community-based plan to preserve the Notion archeological site in Turkey

Notion, an ancient Greek city on the west coast of Turkey, is richly endowed with natural and cultural resources. U-M has sponsored an archeological research project at Notion since 2014. At this point, additional stakeholder engagement is crucial to the success of the site’s long-term management. The catalyst grant will enable the team to travel to Notion and to convene local architects, conservators, public officials and residents to turn the proposal into actionable plans with the necessary grass-roots support. The research carried out at Notion will advance the development of collaborative and community-oriented strategies that can be scaled up, not only at the local level but also more widely at other sites around the Mediterranean confronted with similar challenges and opportunities.

Project team: Christopher Ratté, principal investigator, classical studies; Kathy Velikov, architecture and urban planning; Suzanne Davis, Kelsey Museum of Archeology; Hazar Kaba, Sinop University; Metin Kılıç, M+D Mimarlık; Yaşar Selçuk Şener, Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli University; Dürrin Süer, M+D Mimarlık.

Sustainable airport operations: A novel approach to reducing airline fuel waste

This research team is developing a new approach to modeling fuel waste reduction in airport operations that will meld statistical probabilities with categorical data collected from the San Antonio International Airport to tailor recommendations to achieve greater sustainability. From this work, the team aims to create an adaptive decision-making tool customized to mitigate fuel waste from at-gate surface congestion, runway queues and terminal airspace inefficiencies at the San Antonio airport. The researchers will work with airport stakeholders at multiple levels to ensure the tool they develop is widely embraced and deployed.

Project team: Wenbo Sun, principal investigator, U-M Transportation Research Institute; Max Li, aerospace engineering; Parth Vaishnav, School for Environment and Sustainability.