Catalyst grants address climate resilience and sustainability


Four newly awarded “catalyst grants” from the Graham Sustainability Institute are piloting innovative methodologies to bolster climate resilience and sustainability across diverse applications.

Engaging researchers from 11 units at the University of Michigan, in collaboration with a diverse array of partners, these projects will explore renewable energy deployment in Nepal, climate justice in the Midwest, textile recycling innovation and equitable transportation infrastructure planning.

Atiyya Shaw, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering, is the principal investigator of a project focused on addressing biases in transportation infrastructure planning, particularly the underrepresentation of marginalized groups in survey data. The project includes analysis and collaboration with the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and the Michigan Department of Transportation.

“The catalyst grant has allowed us to initiate collaborations across campus and with regional transportation planning agencies, bringing together a strong methodological team alongside passionate, supportive external partners,” Shaw said.

“Our aim is to extend this collaboration beyond the project, working towards reducing transportation data biases and advocating for more sustainable transportation options in the Detroit area and farther from home.”

Since 2017, Graham has provided sustainability catalyst grants to 40 projects, fostering small-scale, collaborative, interdisciplinary sustainability research to build partnerships and lay the groundwork for user-driven research.

Sustainability catalyst grants are open to all faculty and researchers across U-M’s Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses. Each of the four featured research teams will receive $10,000.

“We’re so pleased to support these innovative projects through our sustainability catalyst grant program,” said Graham Family Director Jennifer Haverkamp. “The projects chosen for this round of funding wonderfully embody our commitment to advance sustainability by working together, thinking creatively, and centering justice for high-impact solutions.”

The four newly funded projects are:

Energizing Nepal: Developing a Research Agenda to Guide Sustainability Transitions

Rich in hydropower resources, Nepal is eager to pursue its dream of producing abundant hydroelectricity that will make it prosperous while maintaining sustainability goals. However, the hasty development of this renewable energy source across the country has sparked debate over its implications for society, the economy and the environment.

To shed light on the complex factors influencing the country’s energy transition, this research team will collaborate with the Nepal Electricity Authority, the country’s Ministry of Forest and Environment and other key stakeholders. Their aim is to highlight knowledge gaps and to co-develop a research agenda that will contribute to a just and equitable energy transition and align with national development and climate goals.

Project team: Principal investigator Pamela Jagger, professor of environment and sustainability, School for Environment and Sustainability; co-investigators Rajiv Ghimire, lecturer III in environment and sustainability, SEAS, and Uttam Sharma, research fellow in the Center for Global Health Equity; and Noah Guberman, LSA undergraduate student.

Read more about the Energizing Nepal project.

Immigrant Insights: How Community-Based Participatory Research Can Support Climate Change Mitigation

While the Midwest is often considered a potential haven in our changing climate, it is not immune to the effects of climate change, including increased heat waves, extreme precipitation, droughts and wildfires. This research team, which includes Until Justice Data Partners, will use community-based participatory research principles to advance climate justice in the Midwest.

The project will leverage UJDP’s national influence and local ties in Louisville, Kentucky, a federally designated refugee city, to help Louisville residents and leaders learn from their immigrant neighbors.

Project team: Principal investigator Natalie Sampson, associate professor of health and human services, UM-Dearborn; co-investigator William Lopez, clinical assistant professor in health behavior and health education, School of Public Health; and Monica Unseld of Until Justice Data Partners.

Read more about the Immigrant Insights project.

A Road to Equity: Mitigating Bias in Transportation Infrastructure Planning

The use of surveys in transportation planning suffers from inherent bias, often underrepresenting people of color and those with lower incomes who are significant users of eco-friendly transportation like public transit, biking and walking. This bias can lead to unnecessary road expansions and other misguided investments in infrastructure.

This research team, working with the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and the Michigan Department of Transportation, will produce a methodological guide to improve the integrity of transportation behavior data, conducting a quantitative investigation into national and state transportation household survey biases and a comprehensive comparison of sampling methods, instrument design and post-processing corrections.

Project team: Principal investigator Atiyya Shaw, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, College of Engineering; co-investigator Joe Grengs, professor of urban and regional planning, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning; and Sunghee Lee, research associate professor in the Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research.

Read more about the Road to Equity project.

Threads of Change: Using Smart Labels to Improve Textile Recycling

Textile waste in the United States has surged by 80% since 2000, making it among the fastest-growing waste streams. Inaccurate fiber content information, primarily caused by missing or erroneous labels, is one of the main obstacles to large-scale recycling. This research team proposes an integrated textile-labeling system that provides accurate data on fiber content, dyes and chemicals to ensure seamless information transfer from yarn and fabric manufacture to an item’s end-of-use.

A version of the label has already been developed and is in the patent process. With this project, the team will prepare the label for widespread adoption by incorporating direct input from more than 150 industrial end-users and leveraging the insights of the team’s industrial partner, Patagonia.

Project team: Principal investigator Max Shtein, professor of materials science and engineering, CoE; co-investigators Sean Ahlquist, associate professor of architecture, Taubman College, and Alanson Sample, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, CoE; and Brian Iezzi, research associate in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, CoE.

Read more about the Threads of Change project.


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