The National Science Foundation has allocated $18.5 million to create an engineering research center to help solve urban supply problems

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Here’s the release from the National Science Foundation (Cecile J. Gonzalez):

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announces an award to Stanford University and its partners to establish a new NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC). The ERC will develop interdisciplinary research and education programs that address the intersection of people, water, and the environment, and that provide the foundation for new industries through innovation. NSF will invest $18.5 million in the Center over the next five years.

The NSF ERC for Re-inventing America’s Urban Water Infrastructure aims to create water systems that will require far fewer resources while continuing to meet the needs of urban users and improving the quality of aquatic ecosystems. With new knowledge and technological advances, the ERC will design new strategies for more sustainable solutions to urban water challenges.

The Center will focus its research on distributed water treatment systems, integrated natural water systems, and tools that incorporate economic, environmental, and social factors into decisions about water. The new possibilities for water/wastewater treatment and distribution will allow communities to increase the efficiency of water systems and usage, while protecting natural water resources.

The NSF ERC will be based at Stanford University, in partnership with the Colorado School of Mines, New Mexico State University, and the University of California, Berkeley. Researchers at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, and the University of New South Wales in Australia will contribute additional expertise and international perspectives.

The involvement of 22 industry partners — including multinational corporations, utilities, and start-up firms — will spur innovation and provide university students with first-hand experience in entrepreneurship. The ERC will also collaborate with complementary research centers and organizations specializing in technology transfer to stimulate innovation based on its research.

Since 1985, the ERC program has fostered broad-based research and education collaborations to focus on creating technological breakthroughs for new products and services and on preparing U.S. engineering graduates to successfully participate in the global economy. The centers launched this summer, as part of the third generation of NSF ERCs, place increased emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship, partnerships with small research firms, and international collaboration and cultural exchange.

“The Gen-3 ERCs are designed to speed the process of transitioning knowledge into innovation and to provide young engineers with experience in research and entrepreneurship, strengthening their role as innovation leaders in the global economy,” said Lynn Preston, the leader of the ERC Program. “Because they build on the rich understanding we gained from two previous generations of ERCs, we expect these new centers to make even more significant impacts on the competitiveness of U.S. industry.”

More coverage from 9News.com (Nelson Garcia):

The National Science Foundation is funding a five-year, $18.5 million grant to create an Engineering Research Center through Stanford, University of California – Berkeley, New Mexico State, and CSM. Each school will collaborate on projects to address the future of urban water issues.

“Our current urban water infrastructure was developed in the 1940s,” [Dr. John McCray, director of Environmental Science Engineering Division at CSM] said. “Our purpose here is to essentially reinvent America’s Urban Water Infrastructure. Or, at least conduct research in education that will help us get there in the future.”

The projects won’t necessarily focus on the quality of water, but rather on the process of producing useable water.

“It’s more about in the long run, are we doing this in a sustainable manner?” McCray said. “Are we doing it in an energy efficient manner? Can we continue to do things now the way we’ve done in the past.”

Dr. Tzahi Cath is overseeing a project on campus to decentralize waste water treatment. Currently, he has a portable filtering unit cleaning 7,000 gallons a day of wastewater produced by student housing. He says the result is water good enough to drink.

“Here you can treat water on site, reuse it on site. You save a lot of energy. You save a lot of infrastructure of pipelines,” Cath said. “This is a system that you can bring on a truck, put it in any small neighborhood, connect to power, connect to the sewer system and it’s a plug and play.”

Here’s the release from the Colorado School of Mines (David Tauchen/Karen Gilbert):

America’s cities face a looming water crisis, driven by climate change, growing population and a crumbling infrastructure. Recognizing the critical importance of this issue, the National Science Foundation has selected a partnership of four U.S. universities to form an Engineering Research Center (ERC) that addresses this challenge by developing new, sustainable ways to manage urban water. The initial grant is $18.5 million spread over five years with additional millions to come in the subsequent five-year period following in-progress reviews.

Engineering Research Centers are interdisciplinary hubs established at U.S. universities where researchers work in close partnership with industry to pursue strategic advances in complex engineered systems and technologies. The Urban Water ERC is led by Stanford University and includes researchers trained in fields including environmental engineering, earth sciences, hydrology, ecology, urban studies, economics and law at Stanford, University of California-Berkeley, Colorado School of Mines, and New Mexico State University.

Concerted effort, grand scale
“Urban water represents a monumental challenge for the United States and it deserves concerted research and thinking on the grandest scale,” said project leader Richard Luthy, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford. “We’re clearing the slate. Nothing is being taken for granted. We’ll be developing new strategies for replacing crumbling infrastructure, new technologies for water management and treatment, new ways to recover energy and water, and more – much of it yet to be determined.”

One example is better integration of natural systems as part of urban water infrastructure to improve water quality and storage while simultaneously enhancing habitats and the urban landscape.

The partnership of these specific universities is as symbolic as it is pragmatic. The Urban Water Center is based in the American West where the effects of shifting water resources will be felt most acutely, but also where much of the leading thinking on water challenges is taking place.

“These four universities form a powerful collaboration,” Luthy added. “Each has its particular strengths, and each is working on problems related to how we use and reuse water, and how we design and manage our urban water resources in the face of some daunting outlooks.”

Here’s how Colorado School of Mines fits into the partnership:

– Mines will provide its expertise in water reclamation and reuse, subsurface modeling and contaminant attenuation. Mines also has unique water reclamation testbeds on campus that will be used in research.

– Mines faculty will serve as the research director and education director for the ERC.
Over the next five years, Mines will receive $5 million with the State providing $400,000 per year through the Colorado Higher Education Competitive Research Authority (CHECRA).

– The CHECRA provided critical matching funds that allowed Mines to participate in this prestigious partnership and brought a large federal grant to the state.

“Our various test platforms in California, Colorado and New Mexico allow us to try new ideas at realistic scale and in close collaboration with industry and practitioner partners,” said Jörg Drewes, a professor at Colorado School of Mines and director of research for the center. “This allows us to demonstrate new approaches and move promising innovations from university labs towards commercial reality.”

“At this level of collaboration we can achieve much more than any one individual campus could alone,” said Professor Nirmala Khandan, a co-investigator on the project and leader of the center’s work at New Mexico State University.

Industry-academia collaboration
To the mix of leading universities, the Urban Water Engineering Research Center will add the support of a number of industrial partners that will extend the reach of the ERC’s programs and provide a critical real-world aspect to the center’s work.

“The Engineering Research Center’s multi-disciplinary approach can transform the way we manage our urban water systems in the 21st century for the betterment of both cities and the environment,” said Mike Kavanaugh, a principal with Geosyntec Consultants whose company provides specialized services in storm-water management, water-quality modeling and geotechnical services to municipal clients in the United States.

“We look forward to having an active role in the ERC’s research to help put innovations into practice,” added Megan Plumlee, a scientist with the Advanced Technologies Group at Kennedy/Jenks Consultants, a company that has completed more than $1 billion in recycled-water planning and design work over the past decade.

Multi-faceted approach
The research of the Urban Water ERC will follow a three-pronged approach that combines fundamental investigations and applied research in engineered systems, natural systems and urban water management.

“Working with partners in industry will transform the center’s groundbreaking research into practical and sustainable solutions,” said Luthy. “Achieving technical innovation and new ways of doing business requires the ERC team to tackle the full range of economic, policy and social factors at play in water resources decision-making and management.”

An additional mission of the Urban Water ERC is to inspire future engineers through extensive education programs at all of the participating institutions. According to Professor Luthy, this will yield a pipeline of well-prepared students of diverse backgrounds who are ready and eager to pursue water-related degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level. The goal, ultimately, is a new cohort of leaders who will transform America’s water infrastructure. This effort also includes important outreach programs aimed at students of all ages, from kindergarteners through adults and with special outreach to under-represented children in Native American, Latino, Pacific Islander and African American communities.

“I, for one, am confident we can meet our water challenges,” said Luthy. “And the establishment of this Engineering Research Center is a great first step to solving the biggest problems.”

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