The Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) is providing seed funding for three new research projects at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign — two under its 2021 interdisciplinary research initiative and one Campus as a Living Laboratory (CALL) project.
The three funded projects fall into one or several of iSEE’s five thematic areas of interest: Climate Solutions, Energy Transitions, Sustainable Infrastructure, Water and Land Stewardship, and Secure and Sustainable Agriculture. The projects focus on collecting preliminary data and enhancing research capacity to ultimately secure future funding from major external granting agencies in the federal, foundation, and private sectors.
“With the climate emergency at our doorstep, scientists and engineers at the University of Illinois continue to push the frontiers of knowledge about what our future might look like and how we can improve it,” iSEE Acting Associate Director for Research Jeremy Guest said. “Now more than ever, it’s critical that we leverage our resources — our state-of-the-art facilities, innovative equipment, and diverse perspectives — to overcome this deeply complex and interdisciplinary challenge with holistic solutions and a deeper understanding of nature-society interactions.”
The projects selected for interdisciplinary seed funding take an integrated approach to exploring agricultural, scientific, and human systems, exposing the hidden — but critical — interconnectedness between water and energy infrastructure, food systems, communities, and climate, and positing that even dispersed chemicals can be captured and upcycled.
Led by Professor of Agricultural and Consumer Economics Amy Ando, one project will investigate interaction between food, water, energy, and human systems in urban-rural communities to increase sustainability, resiliency, and equity in these critical areas.
The second project will establish a fully renewable system to recover excess nitrogen from polluted waterways for upcycling into value-added products like ammonia, with a view toward encouraging sustainable land management and energy-efficient nutrient reuse. Xiao Su, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, leads this project team.
iSEE also added to its Campus as a Living Lab (CALL) research portfolio early this year with a new project that will use the campus itself as a testbed for novel agricultural research.
Led by Girish Chowdhary, Associate Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Computer Science, this year’s CALL project will integrate early-season, under-canopy cover crop planting with cattle grazing at an on-campus living lab.
“As a land grant university, Illinois has remarkable capabilities for agricultural research and innovation,” said Ximing Cai, iSEE Associate Director for Campus Sustainability. “Using the campus itself as a living, breathing laboratory will allow us to develop solutions to feed and fuel the world in an environmentally and economically sustainable way.”
All seed-funded project teams are expected to submit proposals through for external funding of at least $1M.