Past Research Grant Projects

Summer 2015 Sustainability Research Grants

Project: Creating a Cost-Effective Solar Concentrator for Biochar Generation Using Pyrolysis

Researcher: Michael Rebarchik
Supervisor: Dr. Nick Au Yeung
Department: Chemical Engineering
Funding awarded: $1,472
Final Report

Global energy demands are continuously increasing while the future of fossil fuels is filled with uncertainty. In addition, there are also many environmental issues associated with using fossil fuel as an energy source. A new promising energy resource is concentrated solar energy. A solar concentrator focuses the sun’s energy to a focal point that can reach high temperatures that can power chemical reactions or generate electricity. Unfortunately, solar technology is expensive, and current research on dishes focuses on building large-scale which are difficult to transport and require a lot of space to build. This project looks to create a low-cost solar concentrator that can be used to convert solar energy into alternative sources of energy through chemical reactions. On a global scale these concentrators could then be distributed to low income areas in other countries to provide them with a steady source of energy at a low cost. In our project we will be using pyrolysis to convert organic material into biochar. When mixed with soil, biochar can be used to capture carbon dioxide emissions, improve water quality, and improve agricultural productivity in the local community.


Spring 2015 Sustainability Research Grants

Project: Biowaste Utilization with Anaerobic Digesters Assessment and Documentation for Feasible Energy Production at OSU 

Researcher: Eric Fritz
Supervisor: Dr. Mike Penner
Department: Food Science and Technology
Funding Awarded: $3,029
Final Report

Generating electricity from waste streams through anaerobic digestion on OSU’s Corvallis campus can increase waste utilization and provides a sustainable model for future scientific research along with student projects and involvement. By compiling scientific research pertaining to anaerobic digestion at OSU and calculating the environmental and fiscal costs associated with building a digester, an assessment can be created that can guide the feasibility of future digester projects at Oregon State University. Many departments, including Animal Sciences and Food Science and Technology, have investigated methods for studying and building anaerobic digestion systems. Other departments, such as OSU Surplus and Housing and Dining Services have explored options for biowaste utilization. Creating an accessible report summarizing current fiscal and environmental costs associated with biowaste streams and drawing on potentials for anaerobic digestion allows for an updated state of biowaste use and disposal on the OSU Corvallis campus. Including the potential costs for implementing digesters to convert waste to methane gas which can be burned to create electricity provides fiscal and environmental cost/benefit ratios for future research, energy generation, and project assessment through the SSI.


Summer 2014 Sustainability Research Grants

Project: Creating Compression-Molded Biocomposite Boards from Apple Pomace

Researcher: Virginia Gouw
Supervisor: Dr. Yanyun Zhao
Department: Food Science and Technology
Funding awarded: $3,200
Final Report

Pomace is the by-product that remains after the extraction of juice from fruits, consisting of skins, seeds, stems, and pulp. In the U.S., it is estimated that over I million metric tons of apple pomace are produced each year. This vast amount of waste material currently sees only limited practical use. Most apple pomace is either composted or landfilled, where high levels of water and sugar in the bi-product promote the growth of microorganisms that produce carbon dioxide and contribute to the greenhouse effect.

The objective of this project was to create prototype nursery pots using apple pomace to reduce the environmental impact of the juice industry, while simultaneously providing a more environmentally-friendly replacement for the polyethylene pots commonly used in plant propagation and research. This objective will serve not only the general public, but also the University community, as both the Horticulture and Crop and Soil Science departments use significant quantities of polyethylene nursery pots in their research. Polyethylene containers are made from petrochemicals and they do not readily degrade without special treatment. This study resulted in one or more formulations of apple pomace based biocomposites with properties sufficient to practically replace the currently used polyethylene in the production of disposable nursery pots.


Project: Individual Carbon Footprint Calculator

Researcher: Anna Kelly
Supervisor: Dr. Sally Duncan
Department: Public Policy
Funding awarded: $2,587
Final Report

Carbon footprint calculators give individuals a way to take control of their carbon output and decrease their personal impact on the environment by making informed decisions to lower their carbon footprints using personally-customized information. OSU students and faculty have developed a carbon footprint calculator customized for use on campus and in the Corvallis community, adapting a model developed at Santa Clara University. This research enabled us to pilot test and finalize necessary adaptations to quickly bring the technology to full development for daily use on campus. The goals of this project were to:

  1. optimize a carbon footprint calculator for Oregon’s climate and to the needs of the Oregon State University campus and greater community by testing and adapting the calculator with input from multiple users; and
  2. investigate and assess local and community opportunities for realistically offsetting individual carbon production.

At the end of the evaluation, the technology is ready for final development with a software developer and a preliminary selection of local/community offsets was made available to users.


Project: OSU Food Insecurity Experiences

Researcher: Juliet Sutton
Supervisor: Dr. Joan Gross
Department: Anthropology
Funding awarded: $2,472
Final Report

Ramen noodles and boxed mac & cheese are well-known jokes about the college experience, but food insecurity is much more serious to students experiencing it than many people realize. Hunger and its associated problems are serious concerns for many college students, and impact their physical and mental health, as well as their academic performance. OSU has already proved itself committed to improving students’ food experiences through food projects sponsored by the Food, Culture, and Social Justice program; the creation of and commitment to the on-campus Food Pantry; and projects developed by the Student Sustainability Initiative’s Food Projects Coordinator, among many other initiatives. The OSU Food Pantry is busy every day that it is open, but it is far from fully meeting the needs of students. In the course of this study, researchers identified barriers to food security for OSU students. They examined the experiences of food insecure college students through the following questions:

  1. How do food insecure students say they feel about their situation?
  2. What coping strategies do students use against food insecurity?
  3. Are the experiences who grew up in food insecure households different form students experiencing temporary, situational food insecurity? If so, how?
  4. What institutional or social structures impede college student food security?

The study provided valuable information to administrators about how food insecurity is affecting students so that they will be better informed to make policy decisions to provide a path towards food justice for all students. The findings were presented to the OSU Food Pantry and University Housing and Dining Services so that they can better understand the experiences and concerns of food insecure students.


Project: Removing Plastics from the OSU Waste Stream

Researcher: Nick Jursik
Supervisors: Dr. Skip Rochefort and Dr. Travis Walker
Department: Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering
Funding awarded: $3,000
Final Report

Our goal was to reduce our campus waste stream through the research that enables reuse of plastics to produce recycled products that can benefit our daily lives. We researched various plastics (polymers) and their potential for recycling. The annual global production of synthetic polymers is in the range of 175 million tons. While an increasing amount of these plastics have been recycled in the past few decades, approximately 95% of our plastics still end up in landfills or incinerated for energy. There are three major areas in which we see a tremendous potential for the reuse of recycled plastics that will be the focus of our research:

  1. Using recycled plastics to produce fiber feed for 3D printing
  2. Using recycled plastics to create building insulation for use in third world countries
  3. Plastics to oil technology – evaluation of a novel recycling process developed by an Oregon company, Agilyx Technologies