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Institute for Energy and the Environment Seed Grants

May 08, 2014

Reducing carbon emissions, improving efficiency of the power grid and using ultrasound to treat contaminated water are just a few of the research goals being pursued by the first round of projects funded by the A.J. Drexel Institute for Energy and the Environment. In all six projects received seed funding totaling $270,000 to investigate topics related to environmental protection and sustainability.

“These six projects rose to the top from a competitive pool of applications,” said Joe Hughes, PhD, interim director of the Institute and dean of Drexel’s College of Engineering. “They represent the breadth and quality of research that we expect to be a hallmark of the Institute as it continues to establish itself as a resource for questions surrounding the environmental sustainability and the new energy economy.”

The research represents the collaborative work from professors in Drexel’s College of Engineering, College of Computing & Informatics, College of Arts and Sciences, School of Public Health, Center for Hospitality and Sport Management and Westphal College of Media Arts & Design.

One team, that includes Chika Nwankpa, PhD, and Nagara Kandasamy, PhD, researchers from the College of Engineering, and Spiros Mancoridis, PhD and Marcello Balduccini, PhD, from the College of Computing & Informatics, is investigating ways to make smart grid technology more secure. They are developing terminology that will allow researchers and operators to better communicate about smart grid technology. This will pave the way for creating technology that can better detect problems and cyber attacks.

In a related proposal, Nwankpa, Dagmar Niebur, PhD, and Karen Mui-Miller, PhD, from the College of Engineering, will join Alison Kenner, PhD, and Mimi Sheller, PhD, from the College of Arts and Sciences to continue research that would use Drexel as a test platform to study smart grid interactions. The group plans to conduct interviews and workshops to gather information on Drexel’s energy management practices and create a framework for the Center City Campus to become an energy efficient “smart campus.”

Another project will create a set of recommendations for the city to significantly reduce its carbon emissions by the year 2050. Patrick Gurian, PhD, Emin Aktan, PhD, Charles Haas, PhD, Franco Montalto, PhD, Sabrina Spatari, PhD, Jin Wen, PhD, researchers from the College of Engineering, along with Richardson Dilworth, PhD, and Christian Hunold, PhD, from the College of Arts and Sciences, and Eugenia Ellis, PhD, from Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, will collaborate on this research in hopes of helping Philadelphia meet greenhouse gas reduction goals laid out by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2011.

A set of proposals will look at natural gas extraction, specifically, mitigating the deleterious effects of operational malfunctions and regulatory violations on human and environmental health. These issues are of growing concern as gas wells continue to emerge along the Marcellus Shale gas deposit that bisects the state.

Researchers from the School of Public Health and College of Engineering, including Carol Ann Gross-Davis, PhD, Jennifer Taylor, PhD, Patrick Gurian, PhD, and Mira Olson, PhD, will strive to assess health risks that could result from operational failures and regulatory violations in the natural gas extraction process. They plan to use data from previous chemical spills and violations in the region, as well as interviews with industry workers and regulators, to understand exposure risk and the health issues that could arise as a result.

Christopher Sales, PhD, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering, and Rohan Tikekar, PhD, an assistant professor in the Center for Hospitality and Sport Management, are working together on a way to decontaminate flowback water from the hydraulic fracturing process that is used to extract natural gas from shale formations. Their proposed system would use a combination of microorganisms and ultraviolet light to rid the water of chemical and biological contaminants.

A similar proposal would look specifically at helping people whose drinking water wells have been contaminated with methane gas as a result of the hydraulic fracturing process. Steven Wrenn, PhD, and Peter DeCarlo, PhD, researchers from the College of Engineering, are developing a way to use ultrasound radiation to remove dissolved methane from water by a process of “acoustic boiling.” Once the interaction between ultrasound waves and dissolved methane are clarified through this research process, the treatment method could also be applied to flowback water from hydraulic fracturing.

The seed grants are the first step for the Institute, which opened in the fall of 2013, in its mission to be a resource for creating and disseminating scientific, evidence-based knowledge that informs and shapes a sustainable energy future.