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Civil and Environmental Engineering


Ken Potter and David Liebl

University research by Professors Kenneth Potter (left) and David Liebl and a team of collaborators are analyzing climate model projections for Wisconsin to improve stormwater-related infrastructure design and management. (large image)

As climate changes, team explores new ways
to manage stormwater

In recent years, climate change has sparked more intense rainfalls and severe floods — both of which have displaced residents and caused millions of dollars in damage across the United States and around the world.

Here in Wisconsin, Professor Ken Potter views those events as an opportunity to engage stakeholders— people who design, regulate and manage water systems—in university research that could help them make more informed water-related decisions.

Potter is leading an interdisciplinary team of researchers who, in part, are analyzing climate model projections for Wisconsin to improve stormwater-related infrastructure design and management methods. Such infrastructure includes storm sewers, stormwater detention ponds, bridges, and wastewater treatment plants. “I think flooding problems are going to continue,” says Potter. “The public is very frustrated. They want to see things designed better. When things are underdesigned, it’s the homeowner who gets stuck.”

The team is combining traditional university-based research with regular meetings that seek input from water engineers, regulators and managers. Potter hopes this two-way problem-solving approach leads not only to positive policy and methods changes, but also establishes a roadmap for similar collaborative efforts across the country. “This interdisciplinary process ensures that we use leading-edge university research to develop relevant, up-to-date stormwater infrastructure design tools and strategies our stakeholders are willing and able to put into practice,” says Potter.

His collaborators include Engineering Professional Development Professor David Liebl, Agronomy and Environmental Studies Assistant Professor Chris Kucharik, and Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences Senior Scientist Stephen Vavrus and Assistant Scientist David Lorenz. A $247,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is funding the project.

Environmental road trip: Rating system to assess ‘green’ highways

Professors Tuncer Edil and Craig Benson are leading an effort they hope will turn many U.S. highways green. The team, which includes PhD student Jin Cheol Lee, Professor Jeffrey Russell and Engineering Professional Development and CEE Assistant Professor Jim Tinjum, is developing a system to assess, rate and recognize highways based on their environmental impact. The researchers liken their rating system to the U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification for high-performance green buildings. “There is no such equivalent for highway systems,” says Edil.

The rating system will include “targets,” such as reduced construction-related greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption and landfill waste. Assessors will score highways based on stormwater management practices and other environmental considerations, as well as life-cycle cost and recycled materials content. “We think that one way to have a major impact on improving the greenness of highways is to substitute recycled materials as much as possible,” says Edil.

For decades, he and Benson have studied industrial byproducts, including coal-combustion byproducts, foundry sand and slag, reclaimed asphalt shingles and pavements, scrap tires, and other materials for beneficial use in construction. A few years ago, with colleagues at the University of New Hampshire, the two established the Recycled Materials Resource Center, which focuses on increasing wise and safe use of recycled materials for transportation infrastructure. Among their advances, the researchers have studied recycled materials’ environmental effects and established their technical equivalencies to traditional construction materials. They have made technical recommendations for using such materials in highway construction to transportation agencies and are developing standards and specifications.

The researchers currently are developing software that will enable highway designers to compare the benefits of choosing standard or recycled materials. They hope the rating system will encourage innovation and environmentally sensitive practices in the road-building industry.

The team is developing the system in consultation with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Edil hopes departments of transportation nationwide will adopt it. “I think it’s going to encourage more use of recycled materials, resulting in sustainable construction and sustainable growth. This is our way of approaching sustainability, though highway construction,” he says.

Funding for the industrial byproducts research comes from a variety of sources, including the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the Wisconsin and Minnesota Departments of Transportation, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Electric Power Research Institute, the foundry and electric power industries, and byproducts marketing firms, among others.

Middle East air quality study bridges borders and transcends science

An unprecedented effort to collect air pollution data in the Middle East has united researchers in a region mired in conflict.

Scientists in Israel, Jordan and Palestine initiated the four-year project with funding through the U.S. Agency for International Development Middle East Regional Cooperation Program. Research partners included the Jordanian Society for Sustainable Development, Al-Quds University, and the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies. A world leader in developing tools to identify the sources of atmospheric aerosols and from the data, assess the effects on health, climate and the environment, Professor Jamie Schauer served as their advisor.

The study area spans three international boundaries within an area the size of the Los Angeles air basin, and has air-pollution levels that do not meet World Health Organization standards. In 11 locations, the researchers set up air-monitoring sites and collected samples every sixth day for a year. They chemically analyzed the samples and studied the data to identify and better understand particulate matter sources.

Schauer helped the researchers design the study, choose sampling devices, train staff to operate the sample collectors, develop chemical analysis strategies and quality-control measures, and analyze the data. He says the project goals were very focused on capacity-building and bringing the groups together.

From a scientific standpoint, Schauer says the research forged new ground and paved the way for future cooperation among Israel, Palestine and Jordan for environmental research and air-pollution mitigation. “The project was wildly successful in the sense that we’ve collected detailed chemical data about aerosols and particulate matter that has never been collected in the region before,” he says.

In addition, the project was personally meaningful for Schauer, who is deeply committed to sharing his tools and knowledge with researchers worldwide. “It’s amazing to be involved in research that transcends just science and engineering. The broader impacts of this study are beyond anything that I had anticipated to participate in within my research efforts,” he says.

University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering University of Wisconsin-Madison