THE U’S IMPACT ON AIR QUALITY

Orginally posted on @theU on February 19, 2019.

By Myron Willson, Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer

The inversion season is upon us. This can be a time to point fingers at other polluters, but it should also be a time to recognize our own contributions to the murky haze and examine what steps we are taking to reduce emissions, including those emissions created by our actions at work and school.

So, what is our own university doing to reduce emissions? The university (health sciences and lower campus) is often likened to a small city with the total population of faculty, staff and students exceeding 60,000. This means that we have a fairly significant potential for creating emissions.

Fortunately, in addition to supporting faculty who are conducting research on various aspects of air quality and its impacts, the university is also proactively identifying areas for emissions reductions. In 2014, leadership authorized the first universitywide emissions review resulting in a report that provided recommendations for infrastructure and operational changes. Some areas identified:

  • Efficiency improvements and controls for large natural gas-powered boilers for building heat and hot water
  • Emergency diesel generator replacement
  • Phasing out dirty gas-powered landscaping equipment and replacing with electric options
  • Reducing and controlling chemicals and solvents used in laboratories, shops, etc.
  • Increasing sustainable commuting (including bicycles, public transit and car sharing)

As resources have allowed, many of these recommendations have already been implemented. Numerous changes have been driven by the dedicated staff in facilities’ Sustainability and Energy Management OfficePlanning Design and ConstructionCommuter Services, as well as the Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety Office.  At this point, nearly 50 percent of the recommendations have been or are being addressed.

  • Many equipment upgrades have been completed at the central heating plant and operation has been optimized for efficient fuel use.
  • The landscaping team is investing in the electrification of equipment and has implemented a moratorium on gas-fired equipment on yellow and red AQ days.
  • The “Better-Buildings Challenge” has been fully funded and will result in a 20 percent reduction of energy use per square foot by 2020.
  • Based on feedback from the Sustainability Office, the Clear the Air Challenge has shifted from July to February to include students among other campus commuters.
  • A full-time active transportation manager position has been established along with funding for infrastructure changes to support non-vehicular transport.

These actions are netting results. Even as the campus has grown (both in numbers of students and building square footage) total emissions have nearly leveled out or decreased. Close to 50 percent of our faculty, staff and students come to campus each day in something other than a single-occupant vehicle (making us very competitive with other Pac-12 institutions according to the latest reports).

Recent building projects on campus, such as Gardner Commons, have been designed to produce minimal emissions as the systems for heating and cooling are electric. Almost no on-site emissions are created. In addition, as the university continues to increase its purchase of renewable electricity (geothermal and solar), emissions due to the operations of buildings like Gardner Commons will be nearly zero.

Going forward, new federal and state requirements for business and institutions related to air quality are likely to become more restrictive. University leadership has asked staff to review the 2015 Air Quality Task Force Report, provide recommendations for further reductions and lead the way in reducing emissions. Stay tuned for an update.

These are all reasons for optimism. So, on days when our air isn’t fit to breathe and we make a conscious choice to reduce our own emissions, we can rest assured that the university is doing its part too.

Throughout February, take action on air quality by tracking your commute behaviors with the Clear the Air Challenge, a statewide competition that aims to reduce emissions from vehicles by promoting alternative transit options. Join the U team at travelwisetracker.com/s/university-of-utah.

Sustainability Leadership Awards Honor Campus Leaders

University honors seven campus leaders with Sustainability Leadership Awards at the Environment and Sustainability Research Symposium.

Each year, the Global Change & Sustainability Center’s Environment and Sustainability Research Symposium provides an opportunity for students to share their interdisciplinary research with the U community. On February 13, the Union ballroom was abuzz with the sounds of 71 graduate and undergraduate students from 14 departments and 7 colleges presenting research posters showcasing an array of topics ranging from climate change to human behavior to the built environment. 

During the event, the Sustainability Office and Alta Ski Area presented five Sustainability Leadership Awards to members of the campus community.

“Alta Ski Area is proud to be a part of the Sustainability Leadership Awards,” said Maura Olivos, the sustainability coordinator at the Alta Environmental Center “for the honorees are not just being recognized for their innovation, but for their courage to stand out from the crowd. In our eyes it takes more than smarts to identify good projects that tackle the hard-hitting issues in sustainability or the environment, it takes perseverance and passion. We are happy to honor these leaders who bring these qualities to their work.” 

These annual awards honor sustainability leadership in the four areas of research, education integration, community partnership, and campus as a living lab. They include recognition as well as an honorarium. The campus as a living lab award is also supported by the Craig B. Forster fund, a fund established in honor of Dr. Forster, the Sustainability Office’s founding director.

The 2019 award recipients are:

Sustainability Research Award: Daniel Mendoza, research assistant professor in Atmospheric Sciences and the School of Medicine’s Division of Pulmonary Medicine.

Daniel Mendoza was recognized for his commitment to equity in sustainability though rigorous research and community-centric outreach. His research focuses on air quality and urban pollution exposure. What is unique about Dr. Mendoza’s work is the breadth and transdisciplinary nature of his research, his ability to engage the legislature, and capacity to translate policy into practice.

Dr. Mendoza regularly organizes and participates in outreach events to support west side residents in actionable education.  Having observed that many on-campus events urge middle-class, white, well-educated participants interested in sustainability to ‘get solar panels and buy electric cars,’ Dr. Mendoza approaches his outreach events as opportunities to make immediate differences by offering free air masks and educating people about particulate pollution and ozone in ways that no-cost decision making can positively impact their family’s health.

“Now more than ever, sustainability is no longer a choice, but a necessity. However, those most affected, in both the short- and long-term are often the ones who are least heard: the sick, the young, the elderly, and the socioeconomically challenged,” says Mendoza. “My work focuses on understanding issues relevant to these vulnerable groups and find enactable solutions.”

Education Integration: Edward Barbanell, professor (lecturer) in Philosophy

The strength of Barbanell’s work lies in his ability to develop the ‘big ideas’ in how we ought to be approaching sustainability education, which ultimately impacts student attitudes towards sustainability and environmental responsibility. Barbanell’s trans-disciplinary, multi-institutional, integrative, and imaginative approach to bringing sustainability thinking into the classroom sets him apart.

Such a profound shift in attitudes is evidenced by his own students. One study revealed that the number who were motivated to “take action in their personal and professional lives to create a more environmentally sustainable society” increased from 48% to more than 90%, and almost a quarter of the students became more interested in pursuing a career in earth or environmental sciences by the end of the course.”

“The big issues confronting us require new ways of thinking and seeing, which will only emerge from conversations that cut across traditional academic disciplinary boundaries,” Barbanell explains. “I have been fortunate over the last decade, to have fallen in with an inspired group of thinkers – engineers, biologists, earth scientists, and geographers, both here and at other Universities — who are beginning to have these conversations. It has all been quite exciting and inspiring, and I am thrilled that my efforts have been recognized and acknowledged by my colleagues, the Sustainability Office and the University.”

Community Partnerships Award: Austin Green, graduate student in Biological Sciences

Green’s work has focused on species distribution, abundance, and behavior in response to varying human impact in the Wasatch Mountains. Through his research he has provided transformative experiences for volunteers, built scientific literacy in our communities, and harnessed the power of community science to achieve research goals that would be impossible for an individual scientist.

Even more impressive is the scale of the community science project Austin launched to gather his research data. In the first year of the project, Green successfully managed 70 teams of community volunteers to deploy cameras at 205 sites across 950 km2 while coordinating the activities of five partners (federal, state, and local government entities and non-profits).  

“I think community partnership is needed in any type of project that hopes to enact real change,” says Green. “Especially in wildlife conservation, where current wildlife and wildland agency budgets are cut thin and applied conservation science is sometimes given short shrift, projects grounded in positive community partnership can make a long-lasting impact on our natural resources and our natural heritage. Support from the Alta Community Partnership Award helps solidify this notion and is further evidence that real change starts at the community level.”

Craig B. Forster Campus as a Living Lab Award: Sierra Govett, Dillon Seglem and Yinhuan Huang, undergraduate students in the Environmental & Sustainability Studies program

Sierra, Dillon and Yinhuan were awarded a Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) grant to retrofit the lighting in the Special Collections section of the Marriott Library. These three students were enrolled in  Jennifer Follstad Shah’s capstone course last spring in which students were required to design and implement projects contributing to local sustainability efforts.

Early in the semester, Sierra remarked to the class that lights in many campus buildings are illuminated when occupants are absent, a waste of energy and money that could easily be resolved by replacing CFLs with motion sensitive LED lights. With the help of Dillon and Yinhuan, this idea evolved into a project that will ultimately save the university $56,000 in energy costs and 600 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over twenty-two years, while extending the lifespan of priceless archives housed in the Marriott Library.

“We wanted to find some place we could address lighting at a large enough scale to make a difference,” said Govett. “We were pretty excited to do something that made such a difference.”

2019 Lifetime Sustainability Leadership Awards: Stephen Goldsmith, associate professor (lecturer) in City & Metropolitan Planning

Professor Goldsmith’s received three nominations with eight letters of support from colleagues in six different departments and centers, as well as from current and former students. The selection committee determined that Goldsmith’s long and varied list of contributions and innovations merited a lifetime sustainability leadership award.

Goldsmith was recognized for his role in transforming the City & Metropolitan Planning Department’s undergraduate degree program from Urban Planning to Urban Ecology, making it the first undergraduate urban ecology major in the country and the first planning program to fully embrace ecological thinking in name and content. He is known for his ability to mentor faculty, encouraging them to look beyond their own disciplines, beyond best practices and rules of thumb, toward solutions that are truly creative and innovative. On top of that, Goldsmith has seeded or catalyzed a diversity of initiatives, programs, and projects; from dark skies to food trucks; from movable tables and chairs in the quad to inspiring research “radicles” through undergraduate initiatives. The legacy that he leaves this university, the community, and the students who have been lucky enough to learn with him is truly monumental.  

“I am deeply touched and honored that my colleagues and students have found value in my work,” says Goldsmith. “In truth, this is about our shared work. I just have the privilege of being a part of it. Our community of creative, dedicated scholars, staff and students is truly something to celebrate.”

The Sustainability Leadership Awards highlight the U and Alta Ski Area’s shared commitment to sustainability. Alta’s multi-year partnership with the U on these awards advances sustainability across campus.

“We are so grateful to Alta Ski Resort for their continued support of sustainability initiatives at the University,” said University of Utah Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer Myron Willson.  “This five-year partnership has brought recognition to some of the outstanding leaders who are committed to promoting sustainability on and off campus. Alta Ski resort is unique in their understanding of the importance of research and education focused on sustainability and the valuable contribution it can make to our entire community.”

 This year’s award winners come from a variety of disciplines, demonstrating that sustainability demands collaboration, creative thinking and expertise from across campus and community.

Join us in congratulating these awardees on their excellent work and look for a future call for nominations for this award in early 2020.

 

SHEDDING LIGHT

How the project benefited the library

Then: Lights in the Special Collections area were typically on 10-13 hours per day

Now: Lights now are only activated when there is activity and only in the area where that activity is occurring

Then: A compact fluorescent bulb is 54 watts, lasts about 10,000 hours and produces heat

Now: An LED bulb is 25 watts, lasts about 50,000 hours and doesn’t produce heat.

Originally posted on @theU on November 26, 2018.

By Brooke Adams, senior news writer, University of Utah Communications

Paper and photographs can’t take the heat. Or the light.

Both elements cause historic, fragile documents to breakdown over time, much to the dismay of curators of the Special Collections at the Marriott Library.

Enter a trio of students — Sierra Govett, Dillon Seglem and Yinhuan Huang — in search of a project for Jennifer J. Follstad Shah’s environmental and sustainability studies capstone class last spring.

Govett initially proposed they tackle excessive light use across campus, especially at times when buildings are unoccupied.

“A lot of buildings on campus have lights on more than they should and we wanted to find some place we could address lighting at a large enough scale to make a difference, said Govett.

But the students abandoned that idea after realizing vast differences in lighting systems from floor-to-floor and building-to-building would make a standardized solution impossible.

Bill Leach, sustainability project coordinator for Facilities Management, suggested the students instead look at what might be done to address lighting concerns in the Marriott Library. Ian Godfrey, director of library facilities, was “not only excited about the prospect of a lighting controls project, but had an area in mind,” Leach said.

That area? Special Collections.

Leach, Godfrey and Emerson Andrews, Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) coordinator, helped the students conduct an audit of the space, come up with a plan and develop a budget.

Light and heat take a toll on fragile documents in the Marriott Library’s Special Collections area. PHOTO CREDIT: University of Utah

Their idea: install a new lighting system with LED bulbs that are motion and daylight sensitive. Lights above each row activate only when someone moves into the area and there is insufficient daylight.

“To take light off these resources is a huge benefit for us,” Godfrey said. “Everything in here is rare and unique. Paper is always in a state of degradation. Anytime you are lowering the temperature and reducing the heat, you are slowing the deterioration process.”

The students applied for and received a SCIF revolving loan of $40,000, which paid for installation of a new lighting system over the summer. The loan fund is specifically used for energy and money saving ideas proposed by students, faculty and staff for energy conservation, renewable energy production and water conservation projects. A Rocky Mountain Power wattsmart incentive grant helped off-set some of the project’s cost.

The library will repay the loan over 13 years, using money from utility cost savings. But the impact — both monetary and in preservation of its collections — will be ongoing.

“I am thrilled that this project, initiated by these three students in my capstone class, is coming to fruition and will help to reduce the campus carbon footprint while preserving library resources,” said Follstad Shah, an assistant professor in environmental and sustainability studies and research assistant professor in geography.

The SCIF revolving loan fund used in the project is available to all students, faculty and staff who have an idea for saving energy and money. It has paid for other energy projects, such as solar panels and heating system upgrades, but this is the first lighting project, said Myron Willson, deputy chief sustainability officer.

“We were pretty excited to do something that made such a difference,” said Govett, who graduated last spring with degrees in environmental studies and ballet.

Govett and Seglem toured the retrofitted space for the first time in mid-November.

“It’s really cool to come in here and see it working with the motion sensors and all,” said Seglem, a senior majoring in environmental studies.

WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE CAN HURT YOU

 

 

Originally published on @theU on October 15, 2018.
 
By Vince Horiuchi, public relations associate, College of Engineering
 

What if you could see nasty microscopic air pollutants in your home?

PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering

PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering
University of Utah School of Computing assistant professor Jason Wiese (left) and computing doctoral student Jimmy Moore conducted a study to determine if homeowners change the way they live if they could visualize the air quality in their house. They provided participants with air pollution sensors, a Google Home speaker and a tablet to measure and chart the air quality in their homes.

Engineers from the University of Utah’s School of Computing conducted a study to determine if homeowners change the way they live if they could visualize the air quality in their house. It turns out, their behavior changes a lot.

Their study was published this month in the Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies. The paper was also presented Oct. 9 in Singapore during the “ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing.” The paper can be viewed and downloaded here.

“The idea behind this study was to help people understand something about this invisible air quality in their home,” says University of Utah School of Computing assistant professor Jason Wiese, who was a lead author of the paper along with U School of Computing doctoral student Jimmy Moore and School of Computing associate professor Miriah Meyer.

During the day, the air pollution inside your home can be worse than outside due to activities such as vacuuming, cooking, dusting or running the clothes dryer. The results can cause health problems, especially for the young and elderly with asthma.

University of Utah engineers from both the School of Computing and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering built a series of portable air quality monitors with Wi-Fi and connected them to a university server. Three sensors were placed in each of six homes in Salt Lake and Utah counties from four to 11 months in 2017 and 2018. Two were placed in different, high-traffic areas of the house such as the kitchen or a bedroom and one outside on or near the porch. Each minute, each sensor automatically measured the air for PM 2.5 (a measurement of tiny particles or droplets in the air that are 2.5 microns or less in width) and sent the data to the server. The data could then be viewed by the homeowner on an Amazon tablet that displayed the air pollution measurements in each room as a line graph over a 24-hour period. Participants in the study could see up to 30 days of air pollution data. To help identify when there might be spikes in the air pollution, homeowners were given a voice-activated Google Home speaker so they could tell the server to label a particular moment in time when the air quality was being measured, such as when a person was cooking or vacuuming. Participants also were sent an SMS text message warning them whenever the indoor air quality changed rapidly.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Wiese
Participants were given an Amazon table that displayed the air pollution data in an easy-to-understand line chart so they could see when and why the air quality worsened. Homeowners also could label points in time when the pollution would spike, such as when they were cooking or vacuuming.

During the study, researchers discovered some interesting trends from their system of sensors, which they called MAAV (Measure Air quality, Annotate data streams and Visualize real-time PM2.5 levels). One homeowner discovered that the air pollution in her home spiked when she cooked with olive oil. So that motivated her to find other oils that produced less smoke at the same cooking temperature.

Another homeowner would vacuum and clean the house just before a friend with allergies dropped by, to try to clean the air of dust. But what she found out through the MAAV system is that she actually made the air much worse because she kicked up more pollutants with her vacuuming and dusting. Realizing this, she started cleaning the house much earlier before the friend would visit.

Participants would open windows more when the air was bad or compare measurements between rooms and avoid those rooms with more pollution.

“Without this kind of system, you have no idea about how bad the air is in your home,” Wiese says. “There are a whole range of things you can’t see and can’t detect. That means you have to collect the data with the sensor and show it to the individual in an accessible, useful way.”

Researchers also learned that circumstances that made the air pollution worse differed in each home. Vacuuming in the home, for example, would have different effects on the air quality. They also learned that if homeowners could visualize the air quality in their home, they always stayed on top of labeling and looking at the data.

Wiese says no known manufacturers make air quality systems for the home that allow residents to visualize and label the air quality in this way, but he hopes their research can spur more innovation.

The study involved engineering in collaboration with other University of Utah scientists, including biomedical informatics and clinical asthma researchers. It was funded as part of a larger National Institutes of Health program known as Pediatric Research using Integrated Sensor Monitoring Systems (PRISMS), launched in 2015 to develop sensor-based health monitoring systems for measuring environmental, physiological and behavioral factors in pediatric studies of asthma and other chronic diseases.

Research reported in this publication was funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U54EB021973. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

 

 

Clear The Air

By Vince Horiuchi, public relations associate, College of Engineering

Air conditioning and heating systems are not only great for keeping a home cool or warm, but they also help clean the air of harmful pollutants.

While home thermostats control HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems based on temperature, engineers from the University of Utah have studied the effects of controlling them based on a home’s indoor air quality. They have discovered that programming your air conditioner and furnace to turn on and off based on the indoor air quality as well as the temperature doesn’t waste a lot of additional energy but keeps the air much cleaner.

Their findings, published in a paper titled Smart Home Air Filtering System: A Randomized Controlled Trial for Performance Evaluation, were presented on Sept. 26 at this year’s “IEEE/ACM Conference on Connected Health: Applications, Systems and Engineering Technologies” in Washington D.C. The lead authors of the paper are University of Utah electrical and computer engineering professor Neal Patwari and U electrical and computer engineering doctoral graduate, Kyeong T. Min.

PHOTO CREDIT: University of Utah Professor Neal Patwari
This graph shows that when a home heating and air conditioning system turns on and off based on temperature alone (normal), the air quality in the home can result in the dirtiest air based on 2.5 particulate matter. Meanwhile leaving the heating and air conditioning on all the time (On) results in the cleanest air at the expense of using the most energy. The SmartAir plot shows that a system that turns on and off based on both temperature and air quality can result in a home with much cleaner air but without a much higher cost in energy.

The researchers, led by Patwari, purchased a series of off-the-shelf portable air pollution sensors and connected them wirelessly to Raspberry Pis, small and inexpensive computers for hobbyists. With specialized software developed by the engineers, the computers were programmed to automatically turn on the air conditioning system whenever the particulate matter in the air reached a certain point and turn off the system when the particulate matter dipped below a certain measurement.

For the study, 12 sensors were deployed in four homes in 2017. In each house, two of the sensors were inside rooms, and one was placed outside under a covered porch. Starting at midnight each night, each home would randomly operate the sensors under one of three conditions: “Normal,” in which the HVAC systems turned on and off normally based on temperature only; “Always On,” in which the air system operated continuously all day, and; “SmartAir,” in which the system turned on and off the HVAC fan based on the pollution measurement in the house as well as the thermostat’s temperature setting.

Based on five months of data, the study revealed that operating with the “SmartAir” setting in which it turned on and off based on temperature and air quality cleaned the air almost as well as if the HVAC fan was operating all day, but it used 58 percent less energy. Meanwhile, when the heating and cooling system operates normally without regards to the air quality, the air was 31 percent dirtier than with the “SmartAir” setting.

“For someone with asthma, an exacerbation can be triggered by poor air in the home, particularly for children,” Patwari says. “This kind of monitoring system could allow them to live more comfortably and with fewer asthma symptoms and fewer trips to the emergency room.”

Because of ordinary activities in the home such as cooking, vacuuming and running the clothes dryer, air quality inside a home can at certain times of the day be much worse than outside. Constant exposure to indoor air pollutants can lead to short-term health effects such as irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, as well as headaches, dizziness, and fatigue, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Long-term exposure could also lead to respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer and could be fatal for some. Yet there are no known home or commercial HVAC systems that are controlled by air quality sensors.

Patwari’s study involves engineering in collaboration with other University of Utah scientists, including biomedical informatics and clinical asthma researchers. It was funded as part a larger National Institutes of Health program known as Pediatric Research using Integrated Sensor Monitoring Systems (PRISMS), launched in 2015 to develop sensor-based health monitoring systems for measuring environmental, physiological and behavioral factors in pediatric studies of asthma and other chronic diseases.

Research reported in this publication was funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U54EB021973. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

5 GREEN FEATURES

Originally posted on @theU on September 10, 2018

By Brooke Adams, communications specialist, University of Utah Communications

The newly opened Gardner Commons building, which replaced Orson Spencer Hall, was designed with sustainability at its core. Here are five of its green features:

Looking out towards a carbon-neutral future

Gardner Commons is designed to be 100 percent electric-based. As the U installs and purchases more renewable energy like solar and geothermal, the building will eventually become carbon neutral, with no need for any fossil fuels. This design allows the U to move closer to its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

 

 

Looking down to the earth for power

The building is heated and cooled by the first and only geothermal ground-source heat pump on campus. The pump uses the ground as a battery, putting heat into the ground during the summer and taking heat out of the ground during the winter. This is estimated to save more than $70,000 a year in energy costs!

 

 

 

Looking inside for a holistic eating experience

Carolyn’s Kitchen, inside the commons, stocks reusable dishes, silverware and even reusable to-go containers. When it comes to food, this location features a plant-based station that satisfies vegan and vegetarian diets, a rotating station that hosts local vendors including Saffron Valley and local roaster Hugo Coffee, which uses fair trade beans. All this and more makes Carolyn’s Kitchen a holistic eating experience.

 

 

Looking all around for unique, beautiful and ethically sourced building materials

Those funky little dots on the windows? These ‘frits’ act as blinds while still allowing daylight, reducing solar heat gain to the inside of the building and glare from the sun. The horizontal panels on the outside of the building are glass fiber reinforced concrete, made locally. (Other buildings in Salt Lake City with these kinds of panels had them shipped from as far as Germany.) Marble from OSH’s restrooms was repurposed in Gardner to build front entry desks for all departments.

 

 

Don’t forget the Water Conservation Garden

Sandwiched between Gardner Commons and the Eccles School of Business, the Water Conservation Garden will be a beautiful oasis in the middle of campus. Formerly covered with water-consuming grass, the garden will bring water that would be piped through the city’s stormwater drain system to the surface, filter it, use it for irrigation, and send what’s left into the groundwater. The impetus for the garden was an $80,000 grant written by a team of U students and funded by the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund. The students also helped bring Red Butte Garden’s staff and expertise to this campus project. Look for the garden in spring 2019.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

Originally published on @theU on August 20, 2018.

By Vince Horiuchi, public relations associate, College of Engineering

Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico last September, which left nearly all the island’s 3.4 million residents without power, is one of the most frightening scenarios for a metropolis: A natural disaster or cyberattack wipes out a city’s power grid.

University of Utah electrical and computer engineering assistant professor Masood Parvania has received a $2 million grant from the Office of Naval Research to build a new laboratory and develop technology that would help communities get their power back online faster in the wake of a natural disaster or cyberattack.
PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering

But University of Utah electrical and computer engineering assistant professor Masood Parvania is building a new laboratory to develop technology that would help communities get their power back online faster in the wake of those kinds of devastating events.

He was awarded a three-year, $2 million grant from the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research beginning July 1 to build the lab and research and test technology for microgrids–smaller, more localized versions of a city’s power grid that could provide backup electricity in a catastrophic situation.

When a natural disaster hits, much of a city’s power grid that receives electricity from sources such as thermal and hydroelectric plants, can go dark.

Microgrids are power systems in smaller areas of a city that operate autonomously from the main grid and get electricity from sources like solar panels or energy storage devices. They can provide emergency power to neighborhoods and essential services such as hospitals until the main system is restored. Microgrids can be as small as a building like a college campus or military base that use backup generators, or a large neighborhood that uses wind turbines or geothermal generation. Microgrids, for example, are now being created all over Puerto Rico in the event of future massive power outages.

Parvania and his team at the Utah Smart Energy Lab (U-Smart) will be developing microgrid controllers that act as the computerized brains of a microgrid and determine how to best distribute electrical power in an area. These controllers will be faster, smarter and more secure from cyberattacks, the newest concern for power companies. Two days before Christmas in 2015, for example, Russian hackers remotely attacked the control centers of three Ukrainian electricity distribution companies, briefly wiping out power to more than 200,000 customers.

“Today, power grids are becoming more and more vulnerable with modernization and digitization,” Parvania says. “These microgrid controllers will be faster and more accurate in returning power back to communities. But we also want to make sure that once they work they are not affected by cyberattacks.”

Parvania’s laboratory, which will be built on the University of Utah’s College of Engineering campus, will consist of software and specialized computers called “real-time digital simulators” that will simulate a power system. New technologies that his team develops can be experimented on this new testbed. The laboratory also will be used to help educate the next generation of power engineers who are studying microgrids.

Another component of the research grant involves commercializing any technology that Parvania’s team develops. The University of Utah is partnering with the Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) initiative, Governor’s Office of Energy Development, Idaho National Lab, and the U’s Office of Technology and Venture Commercialization.

“We are also going to work with utilities, energy companies, and military bases to see how we can commercialize our technology for the betterment of communities,” says Parvania.

 

 

 

 

WATERSHED PROTECTION

Originally posted in @theU on August 27th, 2018

By Cecily Sakrison, U Water Center

Some come to the Natural History Museum of Utah for the world-class dinosaur exhibit, others are drawn to the vast collection of gems and minerals. But if you’re interested in sustainable engineering and infrastructure, you’ve arrived at your destination the moment you park your car.

 

It could be argued that the museum’s newest exhibit is its “50-year parking lot”—an engineering feat that’s “almost unheard of in Utah,” said David B. Alter, vice president of Ensign Engineering and project manager for the lot upgrade. With the pressures of ice, snow, salt and plows it’s rare that any parking lot in the Beehive state lasts anywhere near the half-century mark. But, this is no ordinary parking lot.

Michael Martin, NHMU Facilities Manager shows the 80mm depth of the pavers which are designed to withstand an exceptional amount of pressure. PHOTO CREDIT: Cecily Sakrison

The LEED-certified NHMU building opened in 2011 with a bevy of site-specific, environmentally sensitive design solutions including planted roofs, solar panels, water-catchment cisterns and a pervious concrete parking lot surface designed to let stormwater runoff percolate back into the soil. The original lot’s high porosity was very effective but, over time, the lot started requiring increasingly numerous repairs and additional maintenance expenses due to uneven surfaces.

At the urging of the museum board, NHMU elected to upgrade to highly durable, permeable concrete interlocking pavers. A coarse sand-filled expansion joint around each paver allows water to percolate deep into the soil below, naturally filtering and recharging groundwater and eliminating the need to transport water off-site through additional infrastructure.

“The base layer had already been established,” noted Alter. “To lose that would have been a real shame.” Alter referred to the 2-3 feet of crushed rock that was reverse-slope graded back into the hillside and had been laid for the museum’s original lot. It’s the most important element of a permeable parking lot yet sometimes overlooked. “It’s so important that the whole system is properly engineered,” said Abby Curran, NHMU’s  Chief Operating Officer.

Project managers were able to design the installation plan to keep the museum’s lot open throughout construction with the exception of 3 days when crews worked to pave the entrance. PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Martin

“When we pave a surface we increase stormwater runoff and that can lead to problems.” said Civil Engineering Professor Christine Pomeroy.  “Excess runoff can cause erosion in urban waterways. It can flush out fish and insects that live in our streams. But it’s not only about bugs, bunnies, and treehugger stuff—erosion from high volumes of runoff can damage infrastructure, creating financial impacts.”

Many Wasatch Front residents don’t realize that, unlike water that’s funneled through the sanitary sewer system, anything that’s flushed down a storm drain goes straight to the valley’s creeks, rivers, ponds and canals. A General Public Stormwater Telephone Survey Report conducted in December 2017 for Salt Lake County found that “only 10 percent of respondents were correct when they said that ‘none’ of the county’s stormwater goes to a treatment plant.”

“Our streams can better maintain a healthy ecosystem if they’re not inundated with excess water,” notes Pomeroy.

Michael Brehm, U environmental compliance manager added “Nearly 10 years ago, the U adopted design standards and initiated policy and programs to accelerate the adoption of best management practices for stormwater. As we develop more of campus, the potential to interrupt the natural infiltration of rain becomes greater.  We’re aware of this and, in response, we’ve updated design standards to replicate natural recharge of water as closely as possible.”

The museum’s respect for and sense of place guided both the re-paving decision and process. Old concrete went to a reuse facility, new pavers were machine-layed for time and cost efficiency and half-pavers that were originally “waste product” of the machine-laying process were repurposed as borders.  “The exterior of the museum is just as important as the interior,” said Curran. “We have many programs that take advantage of our natural, native environment. Being mindful of that space and its natural systems enriches what we can offer our visitors.”


Watershed Stories is a series exploring water work across the University of Utah campus. The stories are curated by the U Water Center, the Sustainability Office and the Global Change & Sustainability Center.

REVOLVING LOAN PAYS LEED GOLD DIVIDENDS

Originally posted in @theU on May 14, 2018

By: Liz Ivkovich, Global Change & Sustainability Center

The building that is home to the College’s Department of Mechanical Engineering has achieved a LEED Gold certification after the building’s latest upgrade – the installation of a solar panel array on the roof. These upgrades were made possible through the support of the university’s Revolving Loan Fund, which provides low interest loans to help reduce carbon emissions on campus.

The architect for the $24-million renovation, Derrick Larm, said the new 34.2-kilowatt solar panel system, which was installed earlier this year and is comprised of four separate panels on the roof, provides an additional 5 percent energy-cost savings per year for the building. The Rio Tinto Kennecott building now is one of seven U buildings on campus with the Gold certification.

The LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a certification rating by the U.S. Green Building Council for highly efficient, cost-effective green buildings. The Rio Tinto building at 1495 E. 100 South originally achieved a Silver rating when the renovation of the 65-year-old structure was completed in 2015. The Revolving Loan Fund was able to provide the up-front costs for the rooftop solar energy project, which enabled the project to achieve enough credits to earn LEED Gold Certification.

What began as a 54,000-square-foot building built in the 1950s for Kennecott Utah Copper Corp.’s research offices has now become a 76,000-square-foot U lab space with the latest in energy-saving technology and safety features.

The building now has energy-efficient elevators, a chilled beam system for air conditioning and a heating system that use much less energy, new walls and braces for earthquake stabilization, a horizontal fire shutter above the atrium designed to stop the spread of a fire, and a new pedestrian walkway called “Job’s Crossing” that connects the building to the rest of campus for safer pedestrian traffic.

“It’s a complete renovation, and it’s amazing that we took something that had no insulation and get it to a place where it is performing 40 percent better than a code-compliant building,” Larm said. “The swing in energy efficiency is just enormous.”

All told, these energy upgrades will save the building 32 percent in annual energy costs, he added. The Revolving Loan Fund helped to off-set the cost of making these changes to the building.

The Revolving Loan Fund operates by fronting the extra incremental costs often associated with energy efficiency or renewable energy. Often the initial costs of these on-campus projects—such as solar panels and high efficiency water heaters—can be a barrier for the University, even if the project will save money over its lifetime. After the project is complete, the loan is paid back to the fund through savings accrued in reduced energy costs to the university. In addition, after the loan is paid back (typically 8-15 years), the university benefits from those savings for the remaining life of the equipment (usually 25 years).

“Not only does the university save money and reduce carbon emissions through the fund, but the returns on investment are plowed right back into other projects for decades to come,” said Myron Willson, deputy chief sustainability officer. “The fund is also one of only a few student fee-based revolving loan funds in the country. It is unique on campus in that student fees and donations provide annual funding like an endowment, while returns from previous project investments grow the available pool exponentially. It is the fund that literally keeps on giving.”

TAKING THE LEED

Origninally posted in @theU on Oct. 23, 2017.

By Shawn Wood, communications specialist, University Marketing & Communications

The University of Utah announces its first Athletics building to be LEED Gold certified. The Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Facility, home to both men’s and women’s basketball, is officially a leader in sustainable design and energy efficiency. This is the eighth building on campus to be certified Gold or higher, and represents a commitment to a sustainable future through design.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a building rating system created by the United States Green Building Council to evaluate quality and achievement based on: sustainable design; green practices during construction; and environmental performance over a year after construction is complete.

“We are thrilled that Athletics shares our vision to create a more sustainable campus,” said Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer Myron Willson. “They understand that our environments not only impact the ecosystems around us, but also the health and wellness of the student athletes and staff that occupy the facility every day.”

Sustainable building materials

The 102,000-square-foot facility was manufactured using over 23 percent of recycled materials and resources strategically selected from the Utah region to support local businesses and to reduce the environmental impacts associated with transportation. Over 12.5 percent of the total building materials include products that were manufactured and extracted within 500 miles of the site. During construction, the project diverted nearly 85 percent of the on-site generated construction waste away from landfills.

Eco-friendly site design

The design implements a stormwater management plan that results in a 25 percent decrease in the volume of stormwater runoff from intense rain events. In addition, the hardscape and roof surfaces, including a rooftop terrace and garden, which offers a 360-degree view of the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains, the university campus, downtown Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake, were designed to mitigate urban heat island — heat buildup around the facility — with lighter materials to in order to minimize the impacts of the reflected sun on surrounding wildlife habitats. The training facility is near U shuttle stops and UTA bus and TRAX routes. It also features on-site bicycle storage conveniently located near the campus bicycle masterplan’s desired routes.

Energy efficiency

The practice facility exceeds the LEED baseline energy performance rating by 38 percent thanks to numerous strategies to make the building more efficient. For example, all interior and exterior light fixtures are LED’s, the HVAC systems, building insulation and windows were selected to minimize energy waste. Exterior fixtures were positioned to minimize light pollution, improve nighttime visibility, and reduce impacts on surrounding environments. An Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) standard was also set so a system could monitor outdoor air delivery, increase ventilation, and enhance thermal comfort of occupants.

The U is also a proud member of the Green Sports Alliance. As a member, U Athletics programs commit to energy-efficient and sustainable practices for new buildings; prevent recyclable items from entering landfills after games; and other sustainable improvements. The U was the first in the state, either collegiate or professional, to join the alliance.

Project designer Jeremy Krug, senior associate at Populous, also worked on the Sorenson High Performance Center, a building adjacent to the basketball training facility. Together these buildings, connected to the Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) Complex, serve 17 of the U’s sports programs and accommodate the needs of each program while serving as a model for what is possible in sustainable design.

“The Jon M. and Karen Basketball Facility was designed to integrate the University’s mission of sustainability as a core principle. The whole design team is honored to have worked with this great University to deliver a facility that aligns with those initiatives. It’s arguably one of the most high-impact facilities in the Pac-12. The building embodies athletic and academic excellence, and can now proudly add sustainability to that list,” said Krug.