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$780,000 Awarded for Innovative Research, Teaching, and Mentorship in Energy and the Environment

Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment (ACEE) have announced awards totaling $780,000 to support eight (8) innovative projects in energy and the environment. The awards follow a joint call for research proposals earlier this spring and will foster research, teaching, and mentorship in energy and the environment.

The awarded projects involve Princeton faculty from numerous academic units including the School of Architecture and the departments of chemical and biological engineering, civil and environmental engineering, ecology and evolutionary biology, electrical engineering, geosciences, and mechanical and aerospace engineering. Two of the eight projects are jointly funded including:

Climate Syndromes of Seasonality (Climate SoS): Perspectives on Future Climate Change

An interdisciplinary team including David Medvigy, assistant professor in geosciences; Ignacio Rodriquez-Iturbe, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering; and Elena Shevliakova, senior climate modeler, ecology and evolutionary biology, propose to research and model potential ecological services provided by seasonally dry tropical forests. Research to date indicates these forests are rich in plant biodiversity and play a significant role for regulating local climate, protecting topsoil, and providing ecotourism benefits. These forests are expected to be strongly impacted by climate change and long-term trends in precipitation seasonality have already been observed. The team will provide several year-round undergraduate research opportunities and will develop a new course -- Climate Syndromes of Seasonality.

Explorations in Electrochemical Fuel Delivery: balancing architecture and chemistry

Daniel Steingart, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, Michael Mueller, and Marcus Hultmark, assistant professors of mechanical and aerospace engineering, will develop new electrochemical technologies used in energy storage systems such as batteries. By incorporating their new concepts into an existing undergraduate course and in student research projects, the team hopes to inspire greater appreciation for thermodynamics as an important part of modern engineering and for solving energy supply challenges.

In addition to the jointly funded projects, PEI is supporting the following three research initiatives including two projects focused on Southern Ocean observations and modeling and a third on understanding the carbon metabolism of plants.

The Productivity of Polar Marine Systems and Their Response to Global Change

François M. Morel, the Albert G. Blanke, Jr., Professor of Geosciences, is receiving support to advance understanding of the mechanisms responsible for phytoplankton blooms in high-latitude oceans and to investigate how phytoplankton productivity may be affected by climate change. His proposed work will focus on the Southern Ocean which accounts for 20% of global phytoplankton production. Morel will provide opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to apprentice in his lab and will incorporate new ‘live-science’ applications into several undergraduate courses.

Southern Ocean Observations and Modeling

Jorge Sarmiento, the George J. Magee Professor of Geoscience and Geological Engineering, is further developing an undergraduate teaching and mentoring program he initiated last year with funding from PEI’s Climate and Energy Challenge. The project will engage a multi-university network of scientists led by Sarmiento, and provide opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in cutting-edge research on the Southern Ocean in a variety of oceanographic disciplines. Sarmiento will also incorporate a series of laboratory modules based upon new observations from recently-developed ocean observing systems into his introductory geosciences course, Oceans, Atmosphere, and Climate, building upon teaching programs developed in the first year of funding from PEI.

New Techniques for the Study of Plant Metabolism

Michael Bender, professor of geosciences, is developing precise measurements of plant photosynthesis and respiration. His research seeks to improve understanding of carbon metabolism in plants while bringing new experimental methods to bear in studying the effects of increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations on plants and ecosystems. As part of this project, Bender plans to integrate his work and experimental methods into undergraduate coursework, internships, and independent projects.

In addition to the jointly funded projects, ACEE is supporting three additional projects including two awards focused on design of energy efficient building materials and structures and a third award aimed at reducing environmental impacts associated with hydrofracturing.

Beyond Shading: New Materials, Technologies, and Forms for Cool Spaces

Forrest Meggers, assistant professor of architecture and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment; Claire Gmachl, professor of electrical engineering; Elie Bou-Zeid and George Scherer, professors of civil and environmental engineering; and Sigrid Adriaenssens, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, are leading a group of architecture and engineering students to design and construct a novel outdoor pavilion that will provide a cool space in the heat of Princeton summer without relying upon air conditioning. The prototype space will leverage three evaporative cooling generation techniques, including a new membrane system, which will be combined with three novel radiant cooling techniques that reduce the perceived temperature in the pavilion below the ambient without air conditioning and with minimal energy. The High Meadows Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment Director’s Fund, the Andlinger Innovation Fund, and the Parallax Fund are the primary sources of funding for this initiative.

Overloaded Structures: Bearing Multiple Loads for Sustainable Building Operation

Dan Steingart, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Forrest Meggers, assistant professor of architecture; Barry Rand, assistant professor of electrical engineering; and Claire White, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, all of whom are jointly appointed with ACEE, will experiment with the design of long-life, low-cost, and low-footprint functional structures which derive multiple functions from single components, referred to as “overloaded structures.” The team’s focus will be to create batteries embedded in concrete blocks for integration with a system of photovoltaics (PVs). The project has potential for utilizing materials and energy systems more efficiently and with demand for less space overall. The project will involve students in a new undergraduate course and several summer internship positions over the next two years. It is being supported with resources from the Andlinger Innovation Fund and the Curtin Stafford Fund.

Nanofracture Stabilization via in situ Precipitation

Claire White, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, and Sankaran Sundaresan, professor of chemical and biological engineering, will research methods for engineering tiny particles that maintain nanosized fracture openings created during oil and gas hydrofracturing processes. Improved performance by maintaining fracture openings would enhance the productivity of resource extraction, lowering costs and achieving greater efficiencies per well and lower environmental impact relative to yield. Graduate and undergraduate students will be involved in the experimentation and research outcomes will be incorporated into an undergraduate course.  Proceeds of the Andlinger Innovation Fund will provide support for this project.