The Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment (ISEE), a research center at Ohio University’s Russ College of Engineering and Technology, was recently awarded a $1.9 million, four-year grant by the National Science Foundation to address alternative energy needs for future development of sustainable buildings. The project, “Sustainable Housing through Holistic Waste Stream Management and Algal Cultivation,” aims to develop the fundamental information needed for designing, constructing, optimizing, and scaling up an algae-based power system to support the energy requirements and waste stream management of houses or residential communities.

Ben Stuart, ISEE director, associate professor of civil engineering, and principal investigator of the project, explains that currently, “off-grid” housing is often limited to using solar PV arrays and wind power for meeting electricity demands and solar thermal or ground-source geothermal for heating and cooling. And he adds that much of the current biofuels research is targeted toward transportation. “In contrast, this project seeks to extend biofuels applications to residential housing by using water and solid waste streams and applying carbon and nutrient recycling in the production of feedstocks for fuels, feed, and food. This will promote sustainable, off-grid housing, including holistic management of natural resources with minimal environmental impact.”

The project is being supported by the NSF’s Sustainable Energy Pathways (SEP) Program, part of a larger NSF initiative on “Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability.” The SEP calls for innovative, interdisciplinary basic research in science, engineering, and education by teams of researchers developing systems approaches to sustainable energy based on a comprehensive view of the scientific, technical, environmental, economic, and societal issues.

According to Stuart, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering Guy Riefler and Assistant Professor of Economics Ariaster Chimeli will combine lab studies with advanced process modeling software to assess public acceptance and determine economic risks. “Our partners at Georgia Tech, led by Dr. Daniel Castro, will then use this information to develop scenarios for architectural design and construction in single residences, neighborhoods, and extended communities.”

Stuart has a long track record in alternative fuels research, including work with ECO2Capture, a local company currently housed at OHIO’s Innovation Center developing and demonstrating a polymer membrane system that can significantly increase algal growth for use in the CO2 capture and biofuel markets.