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Sustainability Seed Grant Awardees
June 29, 2010

PSIEE formed a partnership with Outreach, Office of Physical Plant (OPP), and several colleges to establish a significant source of funds to support a one-time Sustainability Seed Grant Program. The goal of the SSGP is to fostering basic and applied research, practice, education, and outreach as it relates to sustainability in such a manner as to enhance our collective expertise on sustainability, initiate or further collaborations across disciplines and units at PSU, and award recipients’ ability to receive larger external grants.

The 13 seed grants awarded are listed alphabetically by title below. Principal investigators are listed and the abstracts are available by clicking the View abstract button.

Building-Integrated Wind Energy: Connecting Aesthetics and Performance
Ute Poerschke, associate professor of architecture; Jelena Srebric, associate professor of architectural engineering; Susan W. Stewart, research associate, Applied Research Lab; Sue Ellen Haupt, senior scientist, Applied Research Lab.

This project will explore new ideas for Building-Integrated Wind Energy (BIWE) by combining technical, environmental and aesthetic research and design studies. While current research focuses primarily on technical performance and the economics of wind turbines, this project combines research on wind behavior and turbine performance with design investigations of wind-optimized building forms and the aesthetic value of turbine integration in architecture. The project will explore BIWE in middle-rise buildings (four to seven stories) in Pennsylvania with the objective to study the potential impact on our immediate surroundings. Being implemented in an academic setting that connects the disciplines of architecture, architectural engineering, energy engineering, and environmental science through lectures, seminars, design studios, and a workshop with invited experts from practice, it will form a test-bed for new strategies and place-based approaches for implementation of wind turbines in buildngs. The project addresses both research in and education of sustainable architecture and technology, with the prospect to expand the gained knowledge to practice and outreach. Involving three departments (Architecture, Architectural Engineering, Meteorology) across three colleges (Arts and Architecture, Engineering, Earth and Mineral Sciences) plus the Applied Research Laboratory, this project allows a multifaceted interdisciplinary and collaborative exploration of the quickly evolving field of BIWE at Penn State.

China’s Monopoly on Rare Earth Elements and the Sustainability of Green Technologies
Andrew N. Kleit, professor of energy and environmental economics; Seth Blumsack, assistant professor of energy and environmental economics; R.J. Briggs, assistant professor of energy and environmental economics; Jeffrey Brownson, assistant professor of energy and mineral engineering; Zhen Lei, Assistant professor of energy and environmental economics; Antonio Nieto, associate professor of mining engineering; Denis Simon, professor of international affairs.

Rare earth elements (“rare earths” or “REEs”) are vital for a wide range of green energy technologies, from hybrid/electric cars to efficient light bulbs to large wind turbines. The supply of rare earths is nearly monopolized by China, which currently accounts for over 90 percent of the world rare earth production and more than 99 percent of such element dysprosium and terbium. Thus, any initiative to significantly make the U.S. energy sector “greener” and moving it toward sustainability depends heavily on the importation of rare earths from China. The issues around REEs are complex and interdisciplinary. Thus, the proper study of REEs involves creation of an interdisciplinary team of scholars. We have assembled such a team here. Our team consists of four energy economists, with specializations in competition policy, environmental policy, the economics of sustainability and the economics of technical change. We also have two engineers, one an expert in mining, and one a specialist in the materials needed for sustainability. In addition, our team includes a political scientist who is a specialist on China and international technology transfer. The issues to be examined include the impacts of China’s near monopoly on rare earth markets, green technology development and the environment, and policy recommendations. We envision creating a critical mass of scholars and undertaking an ambitious research agenda using a diverse array of academic approaches.

Conceptualizing Forestry Biomass Feedstock Supply Chain and Macro-Level Scenario Models
Kusumal Ruamsook, visiting research associate, Center for Supply Chain Research; Evelyn Thomchick, associate professor of supply chain management; Susan Purdum, administrative director, Center for Supply Chain Research; Gregory W. Roth, professor of agronomy; Marc E. McDill, associate professor of forest management; Jude Liu, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering; Martin T. Pietrucha, professor of civil engineering and director of The Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute, Robert T. Wallace, director, BioEnergy Bridge.

Bio-energy and specifically woody biomass resources are one potential component of a renewable energy scenario for the future. The potential of woody biomass is particularly important for Pennsylvania and the Northeast, since this region has considerable forest resources that are underutilized and the existing wood products industry is depressed due to low prices and a declining paper industry in the state. This research project takes a supply chain perspective in investigating supply chain models for forestry biomass in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Attaining such understanding is of paramount significance, given the challenges associated with managing biomass feedstock supply. Managerial predicaments arise due not only to the logistics issues intrinsic in most biomass feedstocks, but also the forestry biomass supply varieties. By taking a total system perspective of biomass supply chains as in this research, the supply chain option models can be developed to help elucidate basic principles and organizational structure of forestry biomass supply systems and associated logistics activities. Furthermore, biomass supply chains are part of a complex, large-scale system that consists of many interrelated subsystems such as environment, transportation, economic activity, and political considerations. A macro-level scenario modeling will be conducted to examine the structure and behavior of the major woody biomass supply chain subsystems. Results of the analysis provide a total system view of forestry biomass supply chains, and the interrelationships among various logistics linkages as well as major subsystems. Insights gained are an important step toward controlling the logistics costs, reducing adverse environmental impacts from logistics activities, and promoting economically feasible energy sustainability.

Consortium for Sustainable Business Development (CSBD) at Penn State Great Valley
Barrie E. Litzky, associate professor of management and organization; John M. Mason, associate professor of economics; Denise Potosky, associate professor of management and organization; Matthew E. Sarkees, assistant professor of marketing – all Penn State Great Valley.

Seed funds will be used to establish a Consortium for Sustainable Business Development (CSBD) at Penn State Great Valley. The CSBD will support and enhance current teaching, research, and outreach initiatives in sustainable business practices. One of the first projects the consortium will undertake will be to expand the successful service-learning model currently employed in Penn State Great Valley’s graduate course in social entrepreneurship to project-based service-learning in sustainability for courses across our MBA curriculum. The CSBD will build a community of scholars and organizational leaders who are committed to conducting sustainable management research and implementing evidence-based practices. We plan to host symposia that focus on sustainability management targeting academics as well as business and community leaders. We anticipate that CSBD efforts will enhance our pursuit of additional external funding to support the development of pedagogical tools for sustainability education, collaborative faculty research on sustainability management, strategic partnerships with other Penn State campuses, and outreach initiatives with regional businesses.

Designing Markets for Ecosystem ServicesJames Shortle, Distinguished Professor of Agricultural and Environmental Economics and director, Environment and Natural Resources Institute; Patrick Reed, associate professor of civil engineering; Kristen Saacke Blunk senior extension associate, Cooperative Extension.

There is much interest in the use of Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) as a mechanism to induce agricultural, forest, and other land owners to adopt environmentally sustainable land management practices. In implementing this approach, society has an interest in developing PES designs that maximize the environmental gains from limited public budgets for conservation activities. This project will use laboratory and field experiments to discover attributes of land owners and PES designs that influence the effectiveness of PES programs with the objective of providing policy makers with a better understanding of how to achieve the greatest environmental gains from their limited resources. The project will use Penn the Conewago Watershed in South Eastern Pennsylvania for field experiments. The Conewago is a high priority watershed for achieving state and regional water quality goals, and the location of an innovative collaboration of Penn State with federal, state, and private orgaizations to solve water quality problems related to agricultural and urban land uses. The integration of the project into Penn State's Conewago initiative will provide a unique opportunity to directly connect research activities and findings to programs to support the provision of ecosystem services in the watershed.

Expansion and Continuation of Behrend College Composting Initiative
Ann Quinn, lecturer in biology, Behrend School of Science, and director, Greener Behrend initiatives; Bob Light, senior associate dean for research and outreach and chair, Lake Erie-Allegheny Earth Force board of directors.

Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, will continue development of a composting program of pre-kitchen food waste initiated in 2009. The goal of this sustainability project is to divert food waste and other compostable material from the landfill. It will also involve research among faculty members and their students, especially in biology and geology. The project’s objectives include reducing waste at the college, educating students and the community, and raising awareness of composting. Research on composting will include variables affecting optimum decomposition and quality of finished product and will expand as the site expands. As the project takes shape, other compostable materials such as napkins, bowls, plates, and cutlery will be added. Outreach and education will be ongoing from the start of this program. This program should be ready to start the beginning of fall 2010 semester. It will involve many partners from across the college, each an important part of the whole. The timing is opportune as the college’s new dining facility also will open at this time.

Implementation of LED Technology to Reduce Energy Consumption in Greenhouses, Plant Growth Rooms, and Growth Chambers
William Kenyon, head of lighting design, School of Theatre; Robert Berghage, associate professor of horticulture; W. Blair Malcom, electrical engineer, Office of Physical Plant; Daniel Frechen, M.S. candidate in lighting design.

Light emitting diodes, or LEDs, are quickly becoming an integral lighting technology throughout numerous fields in science and industry. Rapid advances in design make LEDs an increasingly promising lighting replacement and research tool. LEDs consume significantly less electricity, emit minimal heat, allow for near limitless color spectrum manipulation, and are durable and long lived. Our research aims to investigate the potential impact of LED lighting in growing environments such as greenhouses, growth chambers, and growth rooms. In a uniquely collaborative venture, investigators from the Department of Horticulture, School of Theatre, and Office of Physical Plant are joining forces to explore the encouraging qualities of LED lighting and its projected impact on the dozens of controlled plant environments at Penn State. These systems inherently require vast amounts of energy to maintain optimal growing conditions, and the lighting is the main consumer, along with cooling systems o combat the waste heat generated by the current lighting technology. The prospective large-scale deployment of LEDs in growing environments offers a great opportunity to reduce university energy consumption and costs, while also simultaneously increasing the abilities of researchers examining plant and light color spectrum interactions. The scale and impact of LED lighting implementation in growth environments holds the potential for huge energy savings and research opportunities for Penn State, industry, government, and beyond.

Life Cycle Assessment of Sustainable Wastewater Treatment Strategies:  Toward the Development of an Enhanced Water-Energy Infrastructure
Rachel Brennan, assistant professor of environmental Engineering; Wayne Curtis, professor of chemical engineering; Pete Romaine, professor of plant pathology; and Ming Tien, professor of biochemistry.

Currently 2.4 billion people, over one third of the Earth’s population, are affected by water scarcity and are without sanitation. Similarly, 1.6 billion people are currently without access to modern energy. Meanwhile, as recycling wastewater into drinking water is becoming a critical necessity in many communities, concern is escalating over the effects of residual endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) on aquatic ecosystems and human health. The overwhelming need for sanitation, energy, and water purification is clear, but it cannot be afforded by conventional strategies. The focus of the proposed work is to critically evaluate the technical and economic feasibility of using decentralized, ecological wastewater treatment systems (i.e., Living Machines) to sustainably address these needs through the incorporation of modular subsystems of microalgae to produce biodiesel and fungi to degrade EDCs. Analysis of these potentially transformative modifications will provide insight into the design of sustainable water-energy infrastructure systems of the future.

Social Processes and Impacts of Initiatives for Sustainability Standards in the Agri-food System
Clare Hinrichs, Associate Professor of Rural Sociology; Dara Bloom, Ph.D. candidate in Rural Sociology.

While organic and fair trade certifications are now fairly established, various sustainability standards in the agri-food system are newer and less familiar. Do sustainability standards offer a more comprehensive approach? How are knowledge, power and values negotiated in the setting and implementing of sustainability standards? This exploratory research project examines two current contrasting U.S. initiatives to institutionalize, regulate and valorize sustainability in the agri-food producer-buyer relationship—one led by the private retailer Wal-Mart, and the other, by the non-profit organization, the Food Alliance. The project will document how and why these sustainability standards initiatives emerged, and how they represent, prioritize or potentially subordinate specific sustainability principles. The approach includes 1) discursive analysis of primary and secondary materials concerning the development and practices of the two initiatives; and 2) ethnographic interviews with participating farmers to uncover their views on the principles and practical components comprising their standards initiative, why they decided to participate, and how they perceive the current and potential impacts of these standards on their own enterprises and the wider environment and society. In comparing two different institutional contexts for agri-food sustainability standards, this research contributes to larger social science inquiries on the governance of sustainability. It will also yield information that could help farmers make decisions about participating in formal sustainability standards initiatives.

Sustainability Ethics
Lee Ahern, assistant professor of communications; Christian Becker, assistant professor of science, technology & society, and philosophy; Donald Brown, associate professor of environmental ethics, science, and law; David Macauley, associate professor of philosophy and environmental studies, Brandywine Campus; Janet Swim, professor of psychology; Nancy Tuana, DuPont/Class of 1949 Professor of Philosophy and director, Rock Ethics Institute.

Sustainability has a crucial ethical meaning. Without an adequate recognition and analysis of this ethical meaning the concept of sustainability is misunderstood and sustainability issues cannot be adequately approached. This project contributes to the analysis and solution of sustainability issues by identifying the ethical aspects and providing adequate methodological means to discuss them. Furthermore, the project provides a new methodological framework to integrate ethical and scientific analyses. This means to develop a new type of sustainability ethics as well as a new type of sustainability research. With this, the project strengthens the overall ability of academics to contribute to the analysis and solution of sustainability issues in an encompassing and integrated way. The project aims for PSU becoming the leading institution in the field of sustainability ethics. It aims to integrate the ethical dimension into overall research and teaching efforts on sustainability at PSU in order to strengthen sustainability research and teaching, and to promote innovative and leading inter- and transdisciplinary endeavors. Through the project several workshops on aspects of sustainability ethics will be organized at PSU, online documentation and publications on the topic will be provided, and a new Journal of Sustainability Ethics will be initiated.

Sustainability in the Hospitality Industry
David Cranage, associate professor of hospitality marketing; Aruun Upneja, associate professor of hospitality finance; Elsa Sanchez, associate professor of horticultural systems management; Mike Orzolek, professor of horticulture and director of the Center for Plasticulture; Luke F. LaBorde, associate professor of food science; Peter Nyheim, senior instructor in hospitality technology; Nadine Davitt, research support associate, Organic Materials Processing and Education Center; Douglas Ford, assistant dean for undergraduate education, College of Health and Human Development.

The seed grant funds will be used to develop a sustainability initiative in the School of Hospitality Management, College of Human Development, for the hotel and restaurant industries. This initiative has the goal of developing theoretical and applied research, campus and industry practice and training, course and course material development, and service in the form of university and industry partnerships. Ultimately, we would like to help develop with the assistance of the Horticulture and Food Sciences Departments, local sustainable communities that include hospitality operations, working with local waste and compost facilities and local farmers to produce a sustainable food production, use and disposal cycle to reduce pre and post consumer waste, reduce energy usage, chemical usage, and reduce air, water and soil pollution. We look to use these seed grant funds as a means to make eight projects of the sustainability initiative viable. The projects will include faculty from the School of Hospitality Management, the Horticulture and Food Sciences Departments, Organic Materials Processing and Education Center and the College of Health and Human Development, as well as partners from the Center for Sustainability, Centre County Waste Authority, The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, Eat N Park Hospitality Group, and the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture.

Sustainability Literacy Project
Tom Keiter, director of creative development and new projects; David DiBiase, director, Dutton e-Education Institute.

The core purpose of this project is to enhance public understanding of the complex issues that relate to sustainability. It is a collaborative effort between Penn State Public Broadcasting (PSPB), the Dutton e-Education Institute, and faculty to develop media tools, television and web-based, to serve a wide spectrum of public and educational applications. The media assets will be purposed to provide: 1)A national public broadcasting/outreach initiative – preliminarily anticipated as two 60-minute national broadcast programs integrated with a robust website and supporting outreach activities. More than 59 million people in 37 million households watch public television during an average week; 2)Media enrichment of online courses: a library of digital learning objects -- short video/graphic stories -- such as business and policy case studies, ethical issues vignettes, best practices, and expert perspectives. These will initially be integrated into courses in the online Bachelor of Arts in Energy and Sustainability Policy (BA-ESP) program and will also serve the iMPS in Renewable Energy and Sustainable Management, both to be offered through the World Campus; 3) A series of Grade 6-12 standards-based digital learning objects will be developed and made available to secondary school teachers, which will be distributed nationally through Teacher’s Domain; and 4) All of the deliverables and assets will be available as part of a Penn State Outreach-wide shared digital learning objects repository. The seed grant will be used to define the project content and form and to produce a 5-minute compelling video and website sufficient to launch the project and secure external funding. The total project - production, distribution, promotion, and outreach - will seek external funding in the range of $2.2 to $3.2 million.

Transformative Learning for Sustainability
Lorraine Dowler, associate professor of geography and women’s studies; Greg Lankenau, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Geography.

The journey toward sustainability is a tremendous technical and political challenge, but it is also a challenge of values. Sustainability implies a fundamental transformation of values at both personal and societal scales. Through transformative learning, or learning that involves experiencing a deep, fundamental shift in the basic premises of thought, feelings, and actions, higher education can play a role in encouraging and informing this transformation. This project will demonstrate how higher education can play an important role in the transformation of personal and societal values necessary for sustainability. Through a case study approach that features student interviews and focus groups, analysis of student journals, and quantitative measures of students’ values and behavior, this project will provide rich detail about the process and results of transformative learning. The ultimate aim of this project is to help researchers and educators encourage the development of values necessary for sustainability. This includes equipping learners with both the desire and ability to live sustainably, fostering interest in sustainability on personal and societal scales, and linking what students learn in the classroom with action in their everyday lives. Sustainability requires a fundamental change of values, and this project will inform and catalyze that process.

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