2014 awards

Congratulations to our newest Sustainability Innovation in Research and Education (SIRE) Award Winners! For the first time this year, the SIRE program now offers four award types to support projects that meet different aspects of the program’s goals.

SIRE-Educational Innovation Grants

SIRE-Research Initiation Grants

SIRE-Major Extramural Initiatives

SIRE-Research Experience for Undergraduates

SIRE-ED Grants

Teaching Climate Change On-Line

Climate Science Literacy, as defined by the US Climate Change Research Program is “an understanding of your influence on climate and climate’s influence on you and society.” The Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) seeks support to update, improve and evaluate an innovative on-line course in climate change which debuted during the 2013 spring semester through the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (AOS) department at the UW-Madison.  Improvements would include updating the course to IPCC 2013 standards and the development of additional pedagogical tools with sustainability-related content. Once completed, the course would be a perfect fit for the OS Sustainability Certificate.  CIMSS further plans to expand a research study comparing students enrolled in the traditional 100-level classroom offering of “Weather and Climate” to students enrolled in the on-line “Climate and Climate Change” course, building on a small study conducted by a UW-Madison graduate student that found that students in the on-line course were better able to effectively analyze climate science in the media. The study will leverage this effort to update content in a professional development course for middle and high school science teachers co-developed by five UW departments in 2008.

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An Experiential Curriculum to Teach Assessment of Dairy Production, Crops Production, and Integrated Livestock Production Systems Sustainability

There is a need on our campus to provide students with challenging learning opportunities that allow them to integrate science-based disciplinary knowledge to critically assess current societal issues related to sustainability. One such issue that students face daily are choices related to what they eat, where their food is coming from and how it was produced. A multi-disciplinary two-credit course will be developed and co-taught to provide an opportunity for inquiry, analysis, critical and creative thinking as related to the evaluation of the sustainability of food production systems. The course will be designed with a student-centered approach and will meet the expectation of a capstone. It will be open to junior, senior and starting graduate students from majors in CALS, L&S, and other majors that relate to food, health, and the environment across the campus (e.g., students in the newly created Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies; students in the global health certificate). The three course modules includes; (a) a discussion of the economic, environmental and social dimension of sustainability and published methods used to assess sustainability, (b) a team-based project through which students will conduct a sustainability assessment of campus facilities in which crops and animal (dairy) are produced and (c) an individual project that will culminate with the “publication” of an original scholarly study of a student-chosen topic. Project Assistant, Teaching Assistant, hourly students are budgeted to support course development (summer and fall 2014), implementation (spring 2015) and evaluation (June 2015).

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Behavior Change: Testing the Power of Social Media

This new course proposal introduces the importance of systems thinking to sustainability discussions and has students explore the power of social media to generate behavior change. In many ways, students need to move from understanding sustainability as a theoretical issue to one that becomes part of day-to-day decision making in a variety of institutions and organizations. This proposal funds the development of a class that investigates the power of social media to generate behavior change, and has students apply their skills in developing website content, short videos and other outreach materials on the subject of climate change. The real world experience, coupled with a grounding in systems thinking, will form the backbone of a new course, ES402 Systems Thinking and the Road to Sustainability, taught by Tom Eggert in Spring 2015.

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SIRE-RI Grants

Energy Technology Innovation Systems Policy Advancement in the US and Wisconsin

A robust energy technology innovation system can help advance United States policy goals to reduce greenhouse gases and develop sustainable clean energy solutions. Current national and state policy may not be adequate to achieve these policy goals. The proposed research will include a robust survey of existing policies impacting the energy technology innovation system. There is valuable existing research documenting the seven functions of completing a “successful” energy technology innovation system including entrepreneurial activities, knowledge development (learning), knowledge diffusion through networks, guidance of the search (sometimes including policy goals and targets), market formation, resource mobilization, and creation of legitimacy (counteraction to change). This project will utilize the seven functions of a successful energy technology innovation system as a way to guide targeted policy and systems thinking to address the overall challenge of advancing energy technology faster and smarter in these times. The research project will also evaluate energy technology innovation in the context of an evolution that is occurring in the electric utility sector. In the research, one hypothesis is whether electric utilities are a unique class of the eco-system in which energy technology innovation must occur? Similarly, is the infrastructure of the electric utility sector different enough that it creates a further distinction? Finally, consideration will be given to looking at the existing electric utility, industry as a whole, new energy company entrants, all in the context of whether special boundary conditions exists with the intersection of the “seven functions of a successful energy technology innovation system.” This research project proposes to partner with the Midwest Energy Research Consortium (a public/private partnership), the Citizens Climate Lobby, the Energy Center of Wisconsin, and other stakeholders.

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Forecasting Human Response to Lake Environment Due to Climate Change

The lake environment is a dynamic system, which represents an integral ecosystem service to the surrounding populations. Climate change will have a significant impact on the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of these vital systems. Paramount to effective environmental policy is thorough understanding of the integrated behavior of the lake environment and human populations. Integrated models of the physical and social systems will enable and promote holistic management of these indispensable ecosystems. The project has two major aims:

1) Develop an interactive, online tool which can be used by lake managers, researchers, and students to forecast the human response to climate-induced lake changes (e.g. ice cover, thermal structure, water quality, etc).

2) Develop a major research grant proposal that will be submitted in 2015 to secure external funding for basic and/or applied science on the management of lake ecosystems and intersection of human and environmental systems.

The results of this project will be disseminated in multiple ways, including: a) two external grant proposals, b) an interactive, online GIS tool to analyze the human response to lake changes under varying climate and policy scenarios, c) participation in campus and community sustainability and climate conferences, and d) a report detailing recommendations for effective policy and adaptation strategies.

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Assessing the potential of geometric-tiered electricity pricing to mitigate carbon emissions

Electricity generation is among the leading causes of global carbon emissions. Several investigations have examined the use of incremental tiered rate structures based on price elasticity to limit demand as a policy tool to mitigate carbon emissions from electricity generation in capacity-abundant OECD economies. These studies indicate the potential to be rather modest, and that price elasticity is highly dependent on population demographics, local climate/weather patterns, etc.

On the other hand, in capacity-limited conditions such as South Asia, and developing economies like Africa, such effects have not been definitively studied. In fact, the gravest scenarios of climate change are projected when the global per-capita consumption reach such levels as in capacity-abundant economies. In this context, we propose to study the impact of geometric-tiered electricity pricing in newly emerging electrified markets in curbing demand growth to reasonable levels that meet human development goals. In a geometric-tiered pricing policy, the unit price of electricity at the consumer level will grow geometrically as the consumer’s demand grows. Such high levels of price discrimination have become accepted practice in the airline ticketing business after deregulation, pricing for the use of fast lanes in congested highways, bids for the right to automobile ownership, etc. All these are capacity-limited conditions in different business segments. Therefore, we propose to examine the data sets from these cases to develop a model for studying the impact similar pricing strategies in the electricity retail business.

Our goal is to develop a preliminary assessment of potential of geometric pricing for electricity pricing in developing economies as a demand growth regulation mechanism to mitigate the effects of climate change.
To realize this goal, we will conduct a meta-analysis of the literature and a preliminary field study, and develop a model relating electricity pricing, consumer behavior, demand regulation, green house gas emissions.

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Climate and land-use changes at the Third Pole: Reciprocal influence between climate and land-use changes & The impact on future development policy

The impact of global climate change over the Himalaya, also known as the Third Pole, has been catastrophic. Hydrology, phenology and public health have all been adversely affected. Another important issue concerns agriculture, the population in this region is highly dependent on crops. There is an urgent need on a better understanding of how climate change may impact the agrarian economy. In parallel, the Himalaya has also seen a massive rise in development projects due to the very fast industrial growth of the last decade. With this growth have come large-scale land use changes, mainly due to the implementation of hydropower plants, road construction and commercial agriculture development. However, it isn’t well understood yet how these land-use changes impact the changing climate. This knowledge gap needs to be addressed as soon as possible, because the Himalaya directly impact about 2 billion people, which is a third of humanity, a lot of whom are very vulnerable. In order to, first, evaluate the impact of climate change on agriculture, we will use a framework combining the large-scale conditions from a subset of simulations from CMIP5 (Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5; Taylor et al. 2012) and the agro-ecosystem model EPIC (Williams et al. 1990). Then, we will use local and satellite observations as well as CMIP5 simulations in order to quantify and understand the mechanisms driving the impact of land-use changes on cli mate. The ultimate goal of the project is to understand the nexus between climate and land-use changes. A clear definition of this dynamical relationship will be crucial for the development of national climate sensitive policies for industrial and agricultural investments in the region. In the same scope, this will also be essential for fostering cross-border collaboration for problem solving in the Himalayan region.

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Exploring the Co-Digestion of Food Waste Generated at UW–Madison in the Anaerobic Digesters at the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District

The Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District currently purchases about $2 million of electrical energy from Madison Gas and Electric Company each year for its Nine Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant. The District has set a goal of becoming energy independent and has implemented numerous projects to reduce energy purchasing. For example, the District runs anaerobic digesters that produce a gas used to fuel multiple engines and boilers at the plant. The goal of this project is to investigate the feasibility of collecting source-separated organics, such as pre- and post-consumer food waste, at the UW–Madison campus and using these materials in a co-digestion process at the Nine Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant. The project seeks to gain knowledge from a literature review of similar co-digestion practices, as well as from pilot-scale experiments conducted to simulate the conditions that are specific to the Nine Springs digesters.

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Nutrient Recovery from Wastewater by Electrodialysis

Used on farm as essential plant nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus are consumed and excreted into the waste stream where wastewater treatment plants are required to contain these nutrients to prevent environmental damage. These nutrients are both derived from finite resources and improvements in their cycling are required for sustainability. The researchers have designed and built an electrodialysis stack to concentrate ammonium ions from the wastewater and recover ammonia fertilizer. The behavior and fate of phosphorus is unknown in this system and will be considered as a special student project with the intent of additional nutrient recovery from the electrodialysis stream.

In conjunction with current grants:

  • USDA SBIR – Phosphate Fertilizer Recovery
  • EPA P3 – Nutrient Upcycling of Ammonia into Fertilizer
  • NCIIA ETeam – Nutrient Recovery and Upcycling
  • USDA-Hatch – Fertilizer-grade phosphorus recovery from wastewater treatment plants, Part 2

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Summertime Response of Air Emissions to Ambient Temperature in the Eastern United States

Higher daily surface temperatures in the eastern United States drives residential and commercial energy use, and subsequently NOx, SO2, and CO2 emissions, in those states and those surrounding. Using North American Regional Reanalysis meteorology and out-of-the-stack emissions from the EPA’s Clean Air Markets database of power plants, over the summers of 2003 through 2012 in several states, including Ohio, Kentucky, and New York, this relationship has already been proven in preliminary work. More research must be done to show if these quantified relationships hold year to year in the distant future, and can be verified by other meteorological and emissions monitoring sources.

In conjunction with current grants:

  • NASA Air Quality Applied Sciences Team – Climate, Energy, and Air Quality

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Identifying insects with the help of computers: can it be done?

Land-use change has significant effects on biodiversity with potential
consequences for the goods and services it provides to society. The ability to accurately catalog and enumerate species is key to monitoring and conservation planning. However, species identification for difficult groups such as insects has largely been the purview of a small number of specialized taxonomists. In this proposal, we aim to develop a computer-assisted insect identification tool for species-level identification of insects with >95% accuracy, is easy to use, and is scalable to large datasets. This project will assist in evaluating how bioenergy cropping systems affect native bee communities.

In conjunction with current grants:

  • USDA NIFA/AFRI – Developing sustainable perennial bioenergy crop management for birds and pollinators: effects of harvest, refuges and landscape context

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Fueling the Future: Examining the impacts and sustainability of biofuel alternatives in Uganda

97% of Uganda’s population relies upon charcoal or firewood to meet their basic energy needs. As fuelwood resources become increasingly expensive and increasingly scarce, biomass-dependent communities have been forced to consider alternative sources of energy, such a micro-scale anaerobic digesters that transform organic wastes into clean-burning renewable energy. Are these biogas systems having an appreciable impact on fuelwood demand in Uganda? With the support of SIRE-REU, Environmental Studies undergraduate, Anna Meding, will have an international, sustainability research opportunity under the mentorship of two Nelson Institute PhD students working to answer this question in an ongoing USAID-supported research project. Project Duration: May 19, 2014 – December 8, 2014. Approximately 220 hours of research assistance from Anna Meding.

In conjunction with current grants:

  • USAID Development Innovations Ventures grant – Sustainable Alchemy: Transforming Africa’s Waste Problem into
    Energy and Fertilizer Opportunities

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Conversion of monosaccharides and polysaccharides to furan-based precursors for hydrocarbon fuels

HDA (Hydrolysis-Dehydration-Aldol Condensation) is a one-pot process for converting lignocellulose to drop-in biofuels developed in the PI’s lab, supported by NSF. The proposed research for the REU student is to elucidate the reaction mechanisms of biomass cellulose and hemicellulose during the HDA process using monosaccharides (glucose and xylose) and polysaccharides (glucan and xylan) as model compounds. The project will develop and enhance the student’s research skills such as literature search and review, experiment design, lab techniques, analytical instruments operation, written and oral presentation, and team work.

In conjunction with current grants:

  • NSF CBET – Fundamental understanding of HD process: one-step conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to furan-based precursors for drop-in liquid fuel

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Effect of cropping system on soil water holding dynamics and resilience to climate change.

Soil water holding and retention capacities are important factors influencing how well crop production systems are buffered against the challenges of climate change, and may be influenced by agricultural management practices. The SIRE-REU student will conduct distributed soil water content measurement across several different cropping systems, during the 2014 growing season, to explore the effects of cropping system on soil water retention. The student will further participate in and contrast his or her work with complementary projects
underway within the same experimental system.

In conjunction with current grants:

  • USDA-AFRI – Climate change mitigation and adaptation in dairy production systems of the Great Lakes region
  • NSF SEES – Translating agricultural greenhouse gas flux modeling into decision making on landscapes

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