PIRE: Water and Commerce: Technologies to enable environmental sustainability in global markets

P. Lee Ferguson (PI), Mark Wiesner (co-PI), Volodymyr Tarabara (co-PI), John Bang (co-PI), and Joan Rose (co-PI)
Funding Agency: 
NSF: Office of International and Integrative Activities

International maritime trade, energy production, and the manufacture and global circulation of new materials urgently require creative technological solutions to enable environmentally sustainable commerce. Our PIRE for Water and Commerce will educate young US scientists and engineers in an international context to provide these solutions. The PIRE brings together three US universities, five international academic institutions in Turkey, Singapore and France, and associated international companies with a substantial U.S. presence to educate students in the technology and international dimensions of water resources and their connection to a global movement of goods, materials, and energy. The objectives of our PIRE are to: (i) educate students to work in and manage projects executed by international teams; (ii) perform innovative research with leading foreign collaborators to develop new technologies and methods that enable the sustainability of water resources and to carry out life cycle assessments of the consequences of various energy/ technology mixes, (iii) develop the awareness of global issues and sustainability, and (iv) increase the number and diversity of students entering careers in science and engineering. The educational and research efforts of this PIRE focus on issues tied to sustainability in the production and transportation of high-risk commodities associated with energy markets. The composition of our PIRE provides students with geopolitical context, access to world-class science, and perspective on the challenges to making production and transport activities sustainable in a global energy market. Our PIRE’s educational program directly addresses the need for a diverse STEM workforce with the capacity for international collaboration and leadership. Collaborations with industrial partners will help reduce technologies to practice and provide students with opportunities for internships. Students will obtain certification in a rigorous plan of study in science, engineering, management, environmental policy, and systems analysis that emphasizes environmental sustainability in commerce viewed from the perspective of materials, energy and transportation. This will include first-hand experience through travel and research with the PIRE’s international partners. PIRE research is organized into three international research teams (IRTs) that engage our industrial partners and address: 1) Technologies for avoiding and remediating risks associated with production and transport of energy-related commodities, 2) Methods for advanced environmental detection and analysis to diagnose and monitor contamination resulting from production, shipping or pipeline transport of fossil- and biofuels and, 3) Life cycle comparisons of energy supply scenarios. These efforts encompass critical elements of energy transport and production including treatment of ballast water, methods for diagnosing and fingerprinting contamination, and advanced technologies for oil-water separations. Life cycle assessments will produce a multi-level analysis of impacts and trade-offs resulting from energy production and transport scenarios and the technological innovations developed by this PIRE. This effort addresses fundamental advances in membrane materials design, methods for controlling the dispersion of non-indigenous and potentially invasive species in ballast water, means for decreasing the environmental footprint of the oil industry, recovering oil, and developing a suite of technologies to diagnose and mitigate the chronic and acute impacts of oil exploration and transportation. Methods will be developed for measuring trace level contaminants, and for life-cycle approaches to reducing risk posed by the production and transport of energy.