Dead & Company concert funds $800K for new climate solutions

One year since Dead & Company’s iconic show at Barton Hall, proceeds from the fundraiser have begun to flow to its climate-fighting recipients.

Ben Furnas ’06, executive director of Cornell’s 2030 Project, one of the beneficiaries of the show, said the proceeds have generated momentum for faculty-led climate research-to-impact efforts, and now the Climate Solutions Fund is announcing its inaugural grant recipients.

2030 Project, a Cornell Climate Initiative

“The Climate Solutions Fund and Fast Grants are launching new research, and The 2030 Project is helping to catalyze investments in cutting-edge climate work across the university,” he said, highlighting the new, first-in-the-nation animal respiration chambers to study solutions to reduce livestock methane; the launch of the School of Industrial Labor and Relations’ Climate Jobs Institute; funding of more than $600k to a startup that will accelerate the commercialization of innovative carbon management technology; and a new $2 million award from the Department of Energy to study pricing and procurement in electricity markets that was first supported by a 2030 Project Fast Grant.

The first awards of the Climate Solutions Fund, which is administered by the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, will receive a total of $800,000. Five interdisciplinary projects across seven colleges will tackle large-scale, impact-oriented climate research. They’ll address strategies from reducing infectious disease while adapting to climate changes and improving agricultural productivity in Africa to using machine learning and computer vision to reduce food waste, mitigating the impact of disasters in New York state, and more.

“These projects funded by our Climate Solutions Fund are some of the many major climate-related investments happening across Cornell, all of which we celebrate as part of the 2030 Project’s ambition to activate tangible solutions to the climate crisis,” Furnas said. “These projects build upon investments we have made through our Fast Grants program and help to deepen Cornell’s commitment to scalable solutions to the challenges of climate change.”

The Climate Solutions Fund supports research in the 2030 Project’s future-oriented priorities: food and farms; energy systems; materials; and societies. Each grant ranges from $100,000 to $240,000. The inaugural projects are:

Biological remediation of methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells

Matthew Reid, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering in Cornell Engineering, aims to address methane emissions more affordably, by covering wells with biologically based filters. Such biofilters convert methane into carbon dioxide. Though CO2 is also a potent greenhouse gas, methane has significantly more harmful short-term impact; converting methane to CO2 decreases its 100-year global warming impact by more than 95%, Reid said.

There are an estimated 3.5 million abandoned oil and gas wells in the United States, and fugitive emissions of methane from these wells are estimated to be equivalent to releasing 7.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The traditional method to plug wells is to enclose them in cement, but this process is expensive: roughly $40,000 per well.

Reid and his colleagues will build and test their biofilters in the lab, then evaluate their real-world performance on abandoned oil and gas wells in Allegany State Park in western New York state. This project also builds on previous research supported by a 2030 Fast Grant.

Scaling a solution to climate change, health, agriculture, water and energy challenges in Africa

Schistosomiasis, a disease caused by blood flukes that live in freshwater snails, afflicts over 200 million people globally, with more than 85% of cases occurring in Africa. Snails live in aquatic vegetation, and humans become infected when they enter infested water bodies to gather water for drinking, agriculture or other purposes. Climate change is exacerbating the problem by changing rainfall patterns and increasing pest and disease pressures.

Cornell researchers and their colleagues discovered that removing invasive aquatic vegetation significantly reduces schistosomiasis in children and increases open water access without harming water quality or freshwater biodiversity. Further, the removed vegetation can be turned into compost and livestock feed – creating business opportunities for local entrepreneurs and providing local, sustainable sources for agricultural inputs.

Chris Barrett, the Stephen B. and Janice G. Ashley Professor of Applied Economics and Management in the S.C. Johnson College of Business, and Ying Sun, associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science, Soil and Crop Sciences Section in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), seek to scale and sustain their innovation with a network of partners in Senegal.

Using artificial intelligence for reducing food waste in commercial kitchens

Elena Belavina, associate professor of service operations in the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration, will explore using AI tools to reduce food waste in commercial food service establishments, a goal that would benefit food security, environmental resources and businesses’ bottom lines.

Worldwide, one-third of all food produced for human consumption goes to waste. In the hospitality and food-service industry alone, the cost of wasted food is over $100 billion per year.

Along with colleagues at Cornell Tech and industry partner Winnow, Belavina will first examine the effectiveness of a computer vision-based system that accurately measures and classifies food waste. Early results suggest that this system can reduce food waste by as much as 30%, three months after adoption. Then they’ll build and test AI assistants to help kitchen managers with front-line tasks that can reduce food waste, such as managing inventory, providing directions on how and when to prepare foods, and detecting mistakes in food production decisions.

Operationalizing resilience hubs in New York state: pathway to community-led multi-hazard resilience for climate justice

Cornell researchers will collaborate with existing organizations in a diverse range of communities across New York and with state agencies to launch resilience hubs – community-based facilities that are co-developed and co-designed with community partners to meet residents’ needs for short-term emergencies like heat waves or power outages, and for long-term needs, like community organizing or food security.

Led by Rebecca Morgenstern Brenner, senior lecturer in the Brooks School of Public Policy, and Alistair Hayden, assistant professor of practice in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Public and Ecosystem Health, researchers will pilot resilience hubs, develop collaborative knowledge, and build a successful and replicable model for other communities interested in creating their own resilience hubs. Cornell collaborators in the Colleges of Engineering and of Architecture, Art and Planning and CALS, and the Water Resources Institute, will also offer guidance.

Cornell Advanced Platform for Testing, Utilization, and Research in CO2 Capture and Conversion Technologies (CAPTURE-Lab)

Nine faculty members will establish an experimental carbon capture and utilization or sequestration and industrial decarbonization facility at Cornell’s Combined Heat and Power plant.

The project is led by Tobias Hanrath, the Marjorie L. Hart ’50 Professor in Engineering in the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Phillip Milner, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Greeshma Gadikota, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in Cornell Engineering.

The project team plans to establish a mobile lab adjacent to the plant that will analyze gas emissions and provide real-time information about its composition. They will then examine and test materials for carbon capture, sequestration and conversion, industrial decarbonization, and pollution controls using flue gas emissions from the power plant. This type of flue gas is difficult for researchers to access, in both industry and academia. The project will support interdisciplinary research on both basic science and lab-to-market feasibility.

The project builds on previous research in carbon management techniques and industrial decarbonization supported by 2030 Project Fast Grants.

Krisy Gashler is a freelance writer for Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. 

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