Water. It's an essential building block of life, constantly moving in a hydrologic cycle that flows in a continuous loop above, across and even below the Earth's surface. But water is also constantly moving through another cycle -- the human water cycle -- that powers our homes, hydrates our bodies, irrigates our crops and processes our waste. The tight connection between water, food and energy makes them dependent on one another. Find out more in this Special Report.
Credit: NSF, NBC Learn
Clean water is vital for generating energy, growing food and sustaining life itself. As demands on limited water resources continue to increase, engineers are creating efficient new systems for water treatment, distribution, reuse and recovery. In the future, new water technologies and systems will make "wastewater" a dirty word. Find out more in this Special Report.
Credit: NASA/GSFC, Rapid Response
The Office of Emerging Frontiers and Multidisciplinary Activities (EFMA) in the Directorate for Engineering strategically supports projects in important emerging areas in a timely manner. Established in fiscal year 2015, the office also provides support to multidisciplinary education programs and facilities. EFMA has the necessary flexibility to target long-term challenges, while retaining the ability and agility to adapt as new challenges demand.
The NSF Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) program provides critical, strategic support of fundamental discovery at the frontiers of engineering research and education. These investments represent transformative opportunities, potentially leading to new areas for fundamental or applied research; new industries or capabilities that result in a leadership position for the country; and/or significant progress on a recognized national need or grand challenge.
February 13, 2017
Transformational building design energizes water recycling--literally!
Multidisciplinary engineering team designs new solar-paneled walls that make greywater reusable and a source of thermal heat
Architect Maria Paz Gutierrez is a woman on a mission. In addition to mentoring student building designers at the University of California (UC), Berkeley, Paz Gutierrez is putting her own design skills to work to address a key environmental and socioeconomic issue around the world--water scarcity.
Together with environmental engineer Slav Hermanowicz and bioengineer Luke Lee, Paz Gutierrez is hoping to take the recycling of wastewater from sinks, baths and laundry, known as greywater, to a whole new level.
With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the multidisciplinary team is engineering solar panel technology that makes greywater reusable while creating thermal energy in the process. What is now wastewater would be used at least twice, cutting demand, and the free solar energy can be captured as well. The greywater isn't clean enough to drink, but it's fine for flushing toilets or washing clothes.
"This is the future of sustainable building systems--synergistic optimization processes that are win-win from the local to the global scales," explains Paz Gutierrez. "The end user benefits because they're using less water and paying less for electricity or gas; the community benefits because it has less water to treat; the environment benefits because we're not going to be contaminating aquafers. That's the fundamental difference between this design and other building systems."
Paz Gutierrez says this technology could be ready for commercialization within the decade at a price point that would be practical for use in water-stressed areas.
The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1038279, EFRI-SEED: Solar Optics-based Active Pasteurization (SOAP) for Greywater Reuse and Integrated Thermal (GRIT) Building Control. EFRI-SEED is short for Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation-Science and Energy in Environmental Design.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.