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By Rachel Greene

Grant Parkins at Duke Energy

Five UNC scientists connected to the Institute for the Environment presented their recent findings at an annual meeting with Duke Energy Foundation on Thursday, June 8, 2017. The Duke Energy Foundation provides philanthropic support for groups and individuals with a focus on STEM education, community impact and environmental issues. Topics of interest for research, as indicated by the Foundation, include: the water-energy nexus, carbon sequestration, algal biofuels, renewable energy and energy storage. The Duke Energy Foundation is a longstanding partner in the Institute for the Environment’s work. A recent grant from the foundation provided student and faculty training, scientific research and outreach to North Carolina K-12 students and teachers with the intention of preparing the next generation of energy leaders.

Ryan Kingsbury, Graduate Fellow
“Energy from Saltwater”

Doctoral student Ryan Kingsbury discusses “blue energy” —  emerging technologies that derive sustainable energy from mixing sea- and river water. Differences in the concentration of salt result in energy production and provide a means of energy storage. Although blue energy has potential, there are setbacks that reduce its cost-effectiveness and accessibility. Right now, Kingsbury’s research team is experimenting with ways to improve blue energy, primarily by finding methods to prevent osmosis during energy production. Osmotic ballasts have proven to be an effective solution as they triple the amount of energy produced. Kingsbury’s team hopes to improve their current methodology and find new ways blue energy can be used.

Melissa Buechlein, Graduate Fellow
“Data Fusion of Observed and Modeled Ozone Concentrations”

Doctoral student Melissa Buechlein studies how ground-level ozone affects human health. To date, over 470,000 deaths worldwide have been attributed to ozone, while 12,000 of those deaths have occurred in the United States. Buechlein uses current recorded ozone data, as determined by EPA testing sites, and statistical methods to map missing data points and determine true ground-level ozone concentrations. Her research goals include determining a more exact rate of ozone-induced human mortality and global ozone levels. Buechlein also hopes her research and findings will help influence policy decisions.

Jordan Kern, Faculty Fellow
“Water Energy Nexus”

Jordan Kern, PhD is a research assistant professor currently working to determine the effects of drought on electric utilities. His focus is on hydropower, as well as nuclear, coal and gas. Kern’s research indicated that utilities are negatively affected by both drought and high temperatures. In order to mitigate future issues, Kern is assessing the likely severity and costs of present-day droughts, as well as the projected impact of climate change. Part of Kern’s research also involves improving energy efficiency within power plants. According to his current findings, using a closed-loop system of water recycling in coal plants would drastically reduce drought vulnerability.

Sarav Arunachalam, Faculty Fellow
“Integrated Assessment Modeling of Emissions from Source to Impacts”

Research Associate Professor Sarav Arunachalam, PhD, discusses the importance of passing state-level resolutions to prevent pollution. Energy efficiency measures at the state level – such as renewable portfolio standards – lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, as well as health and economic benefits. Arunachalam is conducting research using various modeling systems, such as GCAM-USA, which allows the user to project emissions and pollution for different scenarios, and ABaCAS, which facilitates a cost-benefit analysis between air quality management strategies.

Grant Parkins, Education, Outreach and Service
“K-12 Outreach Activities“

Grant Parkins, Watershed Education Coordinator, talks about the Environmental Resource Program’s outreach efforts aimed toward K-12 students and teachers. Recent workshops have focused on the future of electricity, energy literacy and STEM-based explorations of local bodies of water. These activities have left a significant impact on their participants. 100% of teachers that participated in “Exploring the Future of Electricity,” a day-long workshop, agreed that the activities modeled during the workshop will promote critical thinking about energy among students. Activities for students have likewise made an impact — over 80% of students involved stated they are more excited about taking science classes than they were prior to the STEM-based learning program. This summer’s science enrichment program is titled, “Energy Literacy, Engagement and Action” and takes place in August.

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