Three research projects targeting socio-environmental sustainability have received, in total, more than $200,000 from the University’s Graham Sustainability Institute. The projects tackle a range of sustainability-related issues, from green energy in Detroit to energy and food systems in Puerto Rico.

Paul Draus, a professor of sociology at U-M Dearborn, serves as a researcher on the Green Energy Village in Detroit Eastern Market project, which received a $10,000 Catalyst Grant. The first phase of the project, he explained, includes installing two upcycled wind turbines in the Eastern Market, with plans to eventually develop a feasibility plan for a microgrid: the Green Energy Village.

“Our hopes are that this public demonstration and the feasibility research that we conduct using the resources from the Catalyst Grant will enable us to leverage resources for a transformational upcycling/green energy enterprise based in Detroit,” Draus explained. “Which saves resources at both ends — utilizing discarded materials and local labor to create high-value machines that harvest energy from the wind and enhance the city’s overall resilience.”

Juliette Roddy, professor of public policy at U-M Dearborn, highlighted the multifaceted nature of the project, outlining the factors of economic effectiveness, environmental efficiency and aesthetic implementation to the market. She emphasized the work of Carl Neibock, the designer and producer for the Green Energy Village, who developed the project through his vision of the potential of recycled windmills.

“Eastern Market is a valuable social space in Detroit and I believe that the combination of function and art/aesthetic will appeal to those who frequent the market,” Roddy said. “The windmills will easily charge a cell phone, a speaker for music, a laptop or — and I haven’t seen this yet, but Carl has great faith — an electric vehicle. The beauty and the practicality will inspire the Eastern Market visitors. I look forward to contributing to that.”

The second project, Reimagining Puerto Rico’s Energy and Food Systems through Community Engagement and Industrial Symbiosis, received the $200,000 Transformation Grant. The project aims to work with community organizations to solidify a system which manages agricultural production, food waste, gasification and energy production.

The project uses efforts from the University and Puerto Rican college students, as well as local nonprofits, to establish food and energy sectors in the mountainside town of Adjuntas, which continued to experience difficulties with electricity and food and water access more than five months after Hurricane Maria.

In addition to volunteer work, the project will implement four hybrid solar/biomass gasification micro-grid systems. These systems will be subsequently monitored for their effectiveness and sustainability within their communities.

The third research project, Collaborative Assessment of Stormwater Runoff on Tribal Lands, was also awarded a $10,000 Catalyst Grant. The initiative was formed by a collaboration between the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center and the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan, in response to extensive flooding which led to significant damage to the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians in 2016. The flooding highlighted the vulnerability of the community’s infrastructure and the need for preventative strategies for these extreme weather events.

The initiative outlines a process of researching the frequency and effects of rainfall per year in these communities, as well as assisting tribes in implementation of infrastructure that could decrease the effects of stormwater run-off. U-M Researcher Frank Marsik offered semi-permeable pavement for parking lots and construction of street-side rain gardens as examples of potential solutions.

“Given that many of the Indigenous Tribes are resource limited, both in terms of staffing and funding,” Marsik said, “our project will assist these Tribes to not only quantify the potential stormwater run-off given the specifics of the community’s land use practices, but our project will also help the Tribes to understand what practices (and their associated costs) could be implemented to reduce potential magnitude of stormwater run-off.”

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