November 11, 2013

Three Cornell Teams Given $15,000 to Support Sustainability Research

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Three Cornell teams have been awarded $15,000 each from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to support their research on environmental sustainability, according to Gregory Lank, an EPA project officer.

The teams will work to recycle old clothing in new ways, as well as to provide clean drinking water in underserved communities.

One of the winning teams, led by Prof. Tasha Lewis, fiber science and apparel design, Prof. Anil Netravali, fiber science and apparel design, and Prof. Huiju Park, fiber science and apparel design, is studying how to repurpose old clothing in the most effective and environmentally friendly way possible.

“What we want to do is to use the discarded clothing and make different things out of that. So we need to identify all the individual fibers, and the question is how efficiently we can do this,” Netravali said. “The idea is ‘cradle-to-cradle’ design; that means you take the old product and you use it to make the new product without anything going into waste.”

The team found out it was selected for the grant over the summer, and it received the grant money in August.

“We were very excited to receive the award because we wanted to start the project. I’m also excited to connect this problem with my own research related to sustainability in the global apparel supply chain,” Lewis said.

The grant will allow the team to find an efficient way to reuse secondhand clothing, and then provide this information to their partner factory in Haiti, according to Lewis. Lewis added that the team is also working with Local Buttons, a Canadian clothing company.

After spending an addiitonal semester further developing their research proposals, all of the teams selected by the EPA will compete for Phase II funding, which is awarded in the spring at the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, D.C., according to the EPA’s website. Phase II funding amounts to $90,000.

If Lewis, Netravali and Park’s team receive Phase II funding, they plan to visit Haiti to gain deeper insight into the process of producing clothing at Haitian factories. Lewis said the team also hopes to collaborate with other local businesses in Haiti.

The other two winning proposals both stem from the Cornell-founded AguaClara program. AguaClara was founded by Prof. Monroe Weber-Shirk, civil and environmental engineering, in 2005 to serve the need for sustainable safe drinking water in poor communities, according the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s website.

There are 14 different sub-teams in the AguaClara program, according to Imtiaz Karim grad, two of which won the EPA grant. The two teams that won were “Sustainable Water Treatment Facility for Communities with Arsenic Contaminated Groundwater” and “‘Smart’ Turbidimeters for Remote Monitoring of Water Quality.”

Karim said he is working on the former proposal, along with another Cornell student and a visiting student from Brazil. He said the idea behind the proposal is to figure out how to remove arsenic — a water contaminant in many countries — from groundwater to turn it into drinking water.

“There’s a challenge water [the National Sanitation Foundation International] comes up with, and so using that, plus the addition of arsenic, we’re going to try to see if we can remove it using techniques in the lab, which would translate to techniques in the full-scale AguaClara treatment system,” Karim said.

The AguaClara team will use the Phase I grant money to upgrade the technology they use and to purchase new chemicals to experiment with the composition of the water. If they receive Phase II funding, they may expand by either finding a closer replication of groundwater in India, or perhaps even getting some groundwater from India.

The other team that also stems from the AguaClara program’s proposal is working on a “cheap, open source water monitoring system” that would find contaminants in water, according to Alex Krolick ’14.

Krolick is collaborating with Christopher Kelley, a P.h.D student from Johns Hopkins, and said that he hopes that their project can provide more information about water conditions.

The grants were given as the first part of the People, Prosperity and the Planet grant program, which helps college students design sustainable research projects. The award amount typically ranges from $14,000 to $15,000, Lank said in an email.

The Cornell teams were among only 40 teams from colleges and universities across the U.S., including Puerto Rico, that were awarded the EPA Phase I grants this year, Lank said.