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Sustainable Futures Institute
1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, Michigan 49931
Phone: 906.487.1210
Fax: 906.487.2943
e-mail: sfi@mtu.edu 

Southern University
and A & M College

Nelson Mandela School of
Public Policy and Urban Affairs

410 Higgins Hall
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70813
Phone: 225.771.3092
Fax: .225.771.3105

 
Research
 
2008 - 2009 RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

 

Students from Michigan Tech University and Southern University – Baton Rouge have been working in multi-disciplinary collaborative groups on specific sustainability-related topics. 

Specific topics investigated were:

i) Role of nanotechnology in sustainable manufacturing;
ii) Biofuels technologies in the United States;
iii) Systems thinking and water resource management;
iv) The impacts of e-waste recovery in developing countries.

As a result of these collaborations, four papers were produced and published in the conference proceedings of the Global Conference on Sustainable Manufacturing in Busan, South Korea. The papers were presented by IGERT trainees Michael Brodeur-Campbell, Meredith Ballard and Julio Rivera.

The IGERT students from MTU and SUBR have created a framework for conceptualizing indicators of social impact that could be incorporated into existing life cycle assessment tools. The framework considers a range of stakeholder groups (i.e., employees, customers, stockholders, community members, supply chain partners, and governmental organizations) and the needs of those groups (i.e., basic, safety/security, affiliation, esteem and self-actualization needs). The students have generated a list of potential indicators that address each combination of stakeholder and need, and these indicators were used to establish a survey. The survey is currently being used as part of a Delphi study, with the panelists drawn from academia, industry, government, and non-governmental organizations. The end result of this study will be a comprehensive list of social sustainability indicators that are suitable for a U.S. business to incorporate into its decision-making processes. 

 

2007 - 2008 RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

 

IGERT students from public policy (SUBR), and mechanical, chemical, and environmental engineering (MTU) have established a modeling framework for sustainability that incorporates relationships for society, the environment, and the economy. The new model structure is quantitative, and considers the dynamic nature of the systems, including such effects as societal perceptions, policy and governance, media effects, cultural influences, technology, and education. This framework is guiding the creation of decision tools such as the one developed by an environmental engineering IGERT trainee. The trainee collaborated with an epidemiologist from the London School of Tropical Health and Medicine, the NGO ACDI/VOCA, and communities of the Yungas region of Bolivia to construct a decision tool for choosing appropriate sanitation methods based on matching community and technology characteristics. The work accounts for site considerations, costs, technology complexity, and community socioeconomic capacity.

As part of a larger activity to investigate the cellulosic processing of forest biomass to produce renewable fuels, an IGERT trainee and faculty members from the Chemical Engineering and Forestry departments have learned that a genetically modified poplar has higher total sugar content than poplars occurring naturally in the wild. The team is employing a pathway that includes a pretreatment and enzymatic processing to release sugars, which are subsequently converted to ethanol via fermentation. The investigation secured samples of wild-type poplar; genetically-modified poplar plantings were synthesized and grown. All samples were processed by dilute acid hydrolysis pretreatment and enzymatic hydrolysis and were analyzed to identify the total sugars liberated. Results revealed that the genetically modified poplar samples have higher total sugar content than the naturally occurring samples.

During the reporting period, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was established to formalize a research partnership between Southern University-Baton Rouge, University of Alaska-Anchorage, and Michigan Technological University. The partnership leverages research capabilities and resources of the partners, all focused on better understanding the effects of the Earth's warming climate system on the rapid retreat of the Bering Glacier; water shortage problems in the Great Lakes Region; water quality in the Gulf of Alaska; and sea level rise. Based on a study during summer 2007, an aerial map of the retreat of the Bering Glacier was constructed using hand-held GPS technology. Observations revealed that the Bering Glacier retreated 520 m between 2006 and 2007, corresponding to an average release of 30,000 cubic feet per second of freshwater into the Pacific Ocean. Such a result has global implications in terms of sea level rise, including loss of coastal wetlands in Louisiana.

 

2006 - 2007 RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS


One goal of the Sustainable Futures IGERT project was to nurture the development of the science of sustainability. We have made some progress in this regard, specifically as it relates to the infusion of life-cycle thinking and analysis tools to the examination of sustainability issues.

Achievements include:

i) Expansion of the knowledge base associated with manufacturing process descriptions: in effect, we have added modules to a standard life-cycle analysis software tool so that analyses that incorporate the manufacturing stage now provide fuller and more complete results,
ii) Development of initial versions of some rudimentary social life-cycle analysis software tools that complement the economic and environmental information more easily obtained via standard life-cycle analysis
iii) Improved contaminant transport models for hydrologic systems.

A second goal of the SF IGERT was to surmount the disciplinary barriers associated with the three pillars of sustainability: society, environment, and economic/industrial development. To achieve this goal, every SF trainee is mandated to address each of the pillars to some degree in their dissertation research. Our assessment results show that the SF IGERT students are achieving this goal as reflected in their writings and research. Example achievements include an environmental engineering dissertation that includes policy recommendations for wastewater treatment in response to endocrine disrupting chemicals and a recent journal paper that provides best practices for urban metabolism with application to slums in the developing world.

Traditionally, graduate students are immersed in their work and collaborate only with peers in similar areas. To break free of this paradigm, a third goal of the SF IGERT was to achieve interdisciplinary research by having graduate students work with faculty and other students from other disciplines to facilitate the development of knowledge, methods, and tools that promote and enable sustainability. We have been successful in expanding the collaborative networks of students and their faculty advisors. Michigan Tech and Southern have benefited from these new interdisciplinary collaborations by establishing large projects in the energy and water areas. The energy project has SF IGERT students working with students and faculty from such diverse disciplines as chemical, mechanical, and environmental engineering, as well as social sciences, business, and forestry. The water project involves participants from public policy, environmental engineering, and geological sciences.

 
       

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