Our research requires interdisciplinary collaboration, bringing the brightest of the bright together to solve the world’s current and future problems. We call it “actionable research” — that is, scientific progress toward real-world solutions that can have an immediate and/or lasting impact on the world we live in.
The Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) is funding and shepherding research in five distinct themes:
2015 Research Seed Funding
In July 2015, the Institute awarded more than $1.2 million for four projects, bringing its total number of seed-funded projects to seven:
Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation
The U.S. Department of Energy is funding this $115 million Bioenergy Research Center (BRC), a collaboration between Illinois’ Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE), the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB), and 17 partner institutions.
Evan H. DeLucia, the G. William Arends Professor of Plant Biology and Baum Family Director of iSEE, is the Director for the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI).
More about CABBI …
Over five years (FY 2018-22), CABBI will develop fuels and products by integrating three highly interconnected DOE priority areas:
- GROWING THE RIGHT CROPS (Feedstock Development) — Led by Stephen Moose, a Professor of Crop Sciences at Illinois, scientists will integrate recent advances in genomics, synthetic biology, and computational biology to increase the value of biomass crops. Feedstock researchers will use the “plants as factories” paradigm, in which biofuels, bioproducts, and foundation molecules for conversion are synthesized directly in plant stems.
- TURNING PLANTS INTO FUEL (Conversion) — Led by Huimin Zhao, the Steven L. Miller Chair in Chemical Engineering at Illinois, experts will further develop a versatile, automated “biofoundry” for rapidly engineering microbial strains that can efficiently produce diverse, high-value molecules such as biodiesel, organic acids, jet fuels, lubricants, and alcohols. Using a design-build-test-learn framework, this research will overcome challenges associated with driving biological systems to produce non-natural compounds.
- DETERMINING THE ENVIRONMENTAL AND ECONOMIC BOTTOM LINE (Sustainability) — Led by Madhu Khanna, ACES Distinguished Professor in Environmental Economics at Illinois, researchers will provide an overarching framework for viewing outcomes from the Feedstocks and Conversion themes through an environmental and economic lens. Experts will design a closed-loop, integrated research program for CABBI.
Center for Applied Collaboration on Human Environments
The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), College of Engineering (CoE), and iSEE provided seed funding for this new center — CACHE for short — in early 2016. At the heart of of the center’s mission is a desire to learn how basic services within a home — energy, sanitation, and drinking water — impact human health and the environment. Research initiatives in three thrust areas build upon one another to shape understanding of emissions at scales as small as one household system and as large as worldwide. By examining the small scale, physical and social scientists can tailor technologies and education strategies to achieve lasting improvements in human environments; and by examining collective knowledge of many small-scale studies, they can create increasingly accurate scenarios for future emissions levels regionally and worldwide.
Led by MacArthur Fellow and Illinois CEE Professor Tami Bond, CACHE integrates initiatives on modeling and sensing, global and regional scenario modeling, and the elucidation of social and technical principles governing interactions between humans and technology. Its ultimate goals are to chart plausible paths toward a better future and to provide tools and understanding that allow people to walk those paths.
Published papers from CACHE team members:
- “Seasonal Fuel Consumption, Stoves, and End-uses in Rural Households of the Far-western Development Region of Nepal,” by multiple authors including Bond and CACHE postdoc Nick Lam. Environmental Research Letters, December 2017.
Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation
In 2016, iSEE secured $972,441 for Plant Biology Professor Evan H. DeLucia (PI) and Plant Biology and Crop Sciences Associate Professor Carl Bernacchi (co-PI) to study enhanced weathering (EW) as part of this newly formed Centre.
DeLucia, Bernacchi, iSEE Postdoctoral Research Associate Ilsa Kantola, Department of Plant Biology Technician Michael Masters, and two field technicians — Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences Undergraduate Haley Ware, and 2015 Molecular and Cellular Biology graduate Konrad Taube — comprise the Illinois team. For five years, team members will work on quantifying rates of EW and carbon balance of food crop/bioenergy agroecosystems; testing hypotheses about interactions between EW, crop performance, mycorrhizal growth, and soil properties; and investigating the role of rising CO2 fertilization on EW, the root microbiome, and plant performance.
Illinois is one of 10 partners in the Centre. Others include the University of Sheffield (lead), the University of Southampton, the University of Bristol, the University of California, the University of Cambridge, the Open University in UK, Cardiff University, the University of Leeds, and the Southeast Asia Rainforest Research Partnership. The work from this centre is funded by a £10m grant from the Leverhulme Trust, which was established by the Will of William Hesketh Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers. Since 1925, the Leverhulme Trust has provided grants and scholarships for research and education; today, it distributes approximately £80m a year.
Published papers from the Illinois LC3M team:
- “Farming with Crops and Rocks to Address Global Climate, Food and Soil Security,” by multiple authors including DeLucia and Kantola. Nature Plants, February 2018.
- “Potential of Global Croplands and Bioenergy Crops for Climate Change Mitigation through Deployment for Enhanced Weathering,” by Kantola, Masters, DeLucia, David J. Beerling, and Stephen P. Long. The Royal Society Publishing, Biology Letters, April 2017.
Illinois Research Scholars
The Institute is committed to showcasing the numerous research strengths that can be found on the Illinois campus that relate to sustainability, energy, and the environment.
Thus far, iSEE has coalesced the Water Scholars and the Energy Scholars on campus to showcase the breadth and depth of expertise on campus — and to make it easier for researchers and funding organizations to bring together major research teams and centers.
Other Opportunities: iSEE is Here to Help!
Beyond its own seed funding, iSEE intends to be a leader in interdisciplinary research — and as a funding facilitator — for the Illinois campus by seeking collaborators and funding for projects that address sustainability, energy, or environmental issues.
In November 2018, Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) announced that it will support interdisciplinary research projects on topics related to sustainability, energy, and environment to promote new research collaborations or enhance existing collaborations among faculty across campus that will improve their potential for attracting external support. The goal of this funding is to enable faculty to develop exploratory research ideas that involve multiple disciplines and departments in any of the five thematic areas of interest to iSEE; collect preliminary data or other information to develop a research project; and prepare and submit research proposals for external funding.
Up to $30,000 per project for 2019 is available — as is iSEE’s expertise and assistance in putting through a major external grant proposal.
Specifically, iSEE wants to leverage this seed money to attract external funds that are relevant to objectives from the Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP). More than 700 iCAP projects — categorized into energy, water, transportation, building and space, procurement and waste reduction, education, extension, and general research — are online for public assessment. These projects, many based on unique facilities/programs on campus, have great value for developing research and education projects targeting external resources; and at the same time, the realization of many campus sustainability objectives will need research support.
In Spring 2015, the Institute helped put together an interdisciplinary team with more than $220,000 in federal funding to examine and model the effects of natural and manmade disasters. The Institute helped secure the funds, including direct pay for student researchers, from the U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) for a study titled “System Dynamics Modeling of the Ecosystem-Infrastructure Interface.”
Primary Investigators Paolo Gardoni, a Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), Yanfeng Ouyang, a Professor of CEE, and Colleen Murphy, a Professor in the College of Law and the Department of Philosophy, led a team examining the effects of natural events and human actions that lead to disastrous situations.
“(iSEE) was very instrumental in defining the scope of the project and in making sure it fit within CERL’s interest areas,” Gardoni said. “(iSEE Director) Evan DeLucia and (Managing Director) Jenny Kokini did a great job of matchmaking, which was essential in putting the right team together, then put a lot of effort into the scope, interest and intellectual value of our research.”
Ouyang, Gardoni, and Murphy received another year of funding in 2016.
For more about this project, please visit the webpage >>>
Established in 2015 by a generous gift from Stuart L. and Nancy J. Levenick of Peoria, the Levenick iSEE Fellows Program accomplishes iSEE’s goal of actionable research — work that leads to lasting, real-world solutions to the world’s current and future sustainability-, energy- and environment-related issues — through short-term projects led by Illinois faculty Fellows and student Scholars.
Our Fellows will lead the way in making the Urbana-Champaign campus a model of sustainability, and through their research, learning, and outreach, they will carry this work forward as a significant message to the world.