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Six U-M Carbon Neutrality Acceleration Program Projects Awarded a Total of $1.2M

Professor Allison Steiner joins a project to create a first-of-its-kind framework for analyzing energy burdens and strategies for decreasing carbon emissions.

Written By Alex Haddad, Graham Sustainability Institute. Original article published by the University of Michigan.

Professor Allison Steiner among U-M faculty selected to advance strategies to drive greenhouse gas emissions to zero

Six Carbon Neutrality Acceleration Program faculty research projects have been awarded a total of $1.2 million by the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute.

The interdisciplinary research teams include 16 U-M faculty members from 10 disciplines. CNAP is a multiyear program created in 2020 with a $5 million gift from anonymous donors. Including the latest grants, CNAP has a 20-project portfolio totaling nearly $3 million.

The new projects augment the CNAP program’s portfolio, which addresses six critical technological and social decarbonization opportunities: energy storage; capturing, converting and storing carbon; changing public opinion and behavior; ensuring an equitable and inclusive transition; material and process innovation; and transportation and alternative fuels.

“As the CNAP portfolio grows, so does its impact,” said Jennifer Haverkamp, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute. “Our new projects are ambitious and solutions-oriented. Each one has the potential to propel decarbonization quickly toward a far more sustainable—and equitable—future.”

The six newly funded projects are:

Innovative Modeling to Help Ensure Energy Equity, Nationally and Locally ($160,000).

Bryant Community Center, Ann Arbor, MI. Image credit: Community Action Network
Bryant Community Center, Ann Arbor, MI. Image credit: Community Action Network

Project team: Michael Craig, School for Environment and Sustainability (PI); Allison Steiner, Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering; Parth Vaishnav, School for Environment and Sustainability; Missy Stults, city of Ann Arbor.

To help guide future policy and technology toward equity, this project team will create a first-of-its-kind framework for analyzing decarbonization strategies and energy burdens that couples large climate ensembles with innovations in power and building modeling. The researchers will apply this framework to the contiguous United States and to Ann Arbor’s Bryant neighborhood, where 75% of residents are considered low-income. They will generate broad and textured insights into how decarbonization strategies will interact with climate change to drive future residential electricity demand, decarbonization success and household energy burdens.

Assessing the Future of Pumped Hydro Storage in the Great Lakes ($200,000).

Pumped Hydroelectric Storage Facility in Ludington Michigan. Image credit: US Government, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Pumped Hydroelectric Storage Facility in Ludington Michigan. Image credit: US Government, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Project team: Jeremy Bricker, Civil and Environmental Engineering (PI); Andrew Gronewold, School for Environment and Sustainability; Jon Allan, School for Environment and Sustainability; Travis Brenden, Michigan State University; Marc Gaden, School for Environment and Sustainability.

Pumped hydro storage is the dominant mode of energy storage domestically and globally thanks to its high efficiencies, large achievable capacities, long lifetimes, low unit costs and low lifetime carbon emissions. This project team will collaborate with stakeholders to seek a pathway for acceptance of next-generation PHS in the Great Lakes as an effective emissions-reduction tool. The team will also assess the technical, economic, social and environmental feasibility of PHS, conducting the first U.S. assessment of its kind and the only assessment to address pressing Great Lakes issues, such as shoreline erosion.

Looking to the Past to Encourage Responsible Governance, Public Acceptance of Nuclear Energy ($200,000).

Project team: Denia Djokić, Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences (PI); Shobita Parthasarathy, Ford School (Co-PI); Molly Kleinman, Ford School of Public Policy; Barbara Peitsch, Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences.

Image credit: Djokic
Image credit: Djokic

Many argue that a stable, carbon-free grid is technically impossible without nuclear energy, yet there is significant public hesitancy about the widespread adoption of this technology. This project team posits that public acceptance of the technology will only come about with responsible governance, which will require examination of its complex sociopolitical, ethical and equity dimensions. The researchers aim to fill that knowledge gap by analyzing case studies of analogous technologies. This novel approach, developed through the Ford School’s Technology Assessment Project, has already been applied successfully to facial recognition technologies, COVID-19 vaccines and large language models.

Image credit: Gronlund
Image credit: Gronlund

Beyond the Bottom Line: Monetizing Improved Health from Home Weatherization ($200,000).

Project team: Carina Gronlund, Institute for Social Research (PI); Parth Vaishnav, School for Environment and Sustainability.

Inefficient residential energy use, which often occurs in conjunction with low-quality housing, raises greenhouse gas emissions and negatively impacts health. Weatherization can help ease this burden by improving indoor air quality and reducing home energy usage. Current federal subsidies for weatherization are based only on utility savings calculated by an energy auditor. This project team aims to quantify the carbon emission reductions and health savings of weatherization using a novel dataset of linked housing, weatherization and Medicaid emergency department visits. They will monetize the outcomes and share their findings with state legislators and federal policymakers.

Image credit: Tuteja
Image credit: Tuteja

Breakthrough Anti-Frost Coatings Help Heat Pumps Through Harsh Winters ($200,000).

Project team: Anish Tuteja, Materials Science and Engineering (PI); Parth Vaishnav, School for Environment and Sustainability (Co-I).

Heat pumps have dramatic potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but a major barrier to their use in colder environments is frosting, which occurs when surface temperatures drop to near or below zero. This project team has recently developed groundbreaking anti-frost coatings that delay the formation of ice on a coated surface by 2,000%. Their coatings have the potential to cut the energy needed for defrosting in half, cutting overall annual heat pump energy use by more than 10%. Their project aims to improve the performance of these coatings, experimentally validate the improvements, and conduct a thorough techno-economic analysis to quantify the real-world impact of the coatings in different fields of use, including EVs and buildings.

Trash to Treasure: Efficiently Converting Organic Waste Into Useful Materials ($200,000).

Project team: Margaret Wooldridge, Mechanical Engineering (PI); Michael Craig, School for Environment and Sustainability; Marc Deshusses, 374Water/Duke University; Anthony Kolenic, Matthaei Botanical Gardens; Andrew Mansfield, Eastern Michigan University; Nanta Sophonrat, Mechanical Engineering.

The decomposition of organic waste in landfills contributed 1.8% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. Legislation in place to address this environmental burden has sparked interest in the conversion of organic waste to useful materials. However, this process is challenging both technically and economically, largely due to the high moisture content in organic waste. As an alternative to processing wet organic waste via energy-intensive methods that require drying, this team proposes using supercritical water oxidation and hydrothermal liquefaction, both of which leverage the value of water in the waste.

Researchers across U-M are working to advance knowledge around strategies to drive greenhouse gas emissions to zero or below. The Graham Sustainability Institute’s Carbon Neutrality Acceleration Program is designed to amplify those efforts, mobilizing the U-M research community’s collective power to advance a low-carbon future.