Innovation fund aids campus sustainability projects


The Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund recently awarded $98,000 in grants to five on-campus projects designed to reduce U-M’s environmental impact.

Though the initiative has historically prioritized student-led projects, it expanded last year to cover projects led by faculty and staff.

“We’re encouraged that U-M staff and faculty are using PBSIF to partner with students toward a more sustainable campus,” said Alex Bryan, director of Student Life Sustainability.

“It’s important that sustainability education extends beyond the classroom and that students have the opportunity to engage in living-learning laboratories. Through PBSIF funding, tangible, local projects can come to life, providing our community with an opportunity to address climate-related anxiety with meaningful change.”

The Student Sustainability Coalition, which manages the fund, aims to connect students and student groups with university sustainability efforts. Student Life and the Graham Sustainability Institute co-facilitate SSC and help it review PBSIF applications.

Projects receiving funding in this round are:

Campus Farm electric delivery vehicle and charging infrastructure ($50,000)

Students for Clean Energy and the Campus Farm are collaborating to purchase an electric vehicle for daily farm operations and local produce deliveries. The organizations also will install a solar array, which will work in concert with the farm’s cold storage unit to charge the vehicle’s battery. The project aims to demonstrate a replicable model innovation for local farms seeking carbon-neutral solutions to cold storage and delivery needs.

Farm Stand on Wheels ($20,000)

Students from the U-M Sustainable Food Program and the Campus Farm are launching a mobile trailer for the Farm Stand. This will provide a dual-purpose storage and display space, allowing the Farm Stand team to explore additional locations across campus. Construction will take place during fall 2023 and will involve locally milled lumber. The project also will incorporate solar panels for lighting and charging payment-processing equipment and other devices.

Mushroom cultivation at the Sustainable Living Experience ($10,500)

This involves a small oyster-mushroom-growing effort at Nobel Hall in Oxford Houses, for consumption at U-M dining facilities and for sale at the Farm Stand. The project will involve one demonstration garden and one larger grow tent, which is estimated to produce more than 100 pounds of mushrooms weekly.

Microbial carbon capture ($12,500)

The Global CO2 Initiative is planning to pilot a device that will remove excess carbon dioxide from the Huron River, with a longer-term objective of scaling and deploying a larger device that can be implemented in the Ann Arbor Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Biff’s Bat Houses ($5,000)

Staff from the College of Engineering Integrative Systems and Design Green Team are installing two large bat houses on North Campus. The project aims to support the existing bat population’s pollination efforts, highlight its positive impact toward controlling mosquito populations, and provide a safe roosting location. The name “Biff” derives from the first U-M mascot, Biff the Wolverine.

The bat house project is staff-led, while other projects are student-led with substantial support from faculty and staff.

PBSIF projects often serve as pilots for subsequent broader adoption at U-M and beyond. Past initiatives that received funding include the Campus Farm, the straw-bale building at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, the Maize & Blue Cupboard and the Food Recovery Network.

“PBSIF allows us to fund innovative, collaborative and long-lasting projects that could otherwise not have the financial support to move forward,” said Trevor Wallace, a Student Sustainability Coalition member and undergraduate studying business administration. “Student involvement can ensure these projects have a high level of engagement.”

In addition to PBSIF-funded projects, SSC awarded $10,500 in Social and Environmental Sustainability grants to nine student-led efforts.

Projects included an event teaching students how to mend clothing as a means to reduce consumption, the purchase of a new freezer to improve food recovery and reduce dining hall waste at South Quad, and environmental coursework that informed the recent Provost’s Seminar on Advancing Climate Education.


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