Student teams conceptualize U-M’s emissions in Energy + Challenge

Friday, December 08, 2017
Amy Mast

In 2016, the University of Michigan emitted 641,000 metric tons, or 1,413,161,420 pounds, of carbon dioxide. This represents approximately 30% of Ann Arbor’s total emissions footprint.

This fall, student teams battled to best conceptualize what 641,000 tons actually looks like during the Energy + competition, which culminated in a judging session this week at the Duderstadt Center. The challenge, offered by the Energy Institute and the Duderstadt Media Commons, sought to demonstrate to students the interconnectedness of energy with the built environment, the climate, and the centrality of energy in society.

At Duderstadt, a tower of toy cars dominated the building’s art gallery. A computer beckoned invitingly, offering a 3D map of campus. A box of balloons- the size of a garden shed- awaited explanation.

Michelle Farhat and Allie Frost, Masters students in the dual SEAS/ College of Engineering Engineering Sustainable Systems program, walked away with the $7,500 top prize.

Their virtual reality experience visually represents campus CO2 emissions of each University of Michigan building, calculated based on the electricity use of the building and the utility’s electricity generation methods. Bubbles floating above each building on campus displayed the volume of the emissions coming from each location, and the user of the simulation can move across campus to examine any building of interest. There are multiple models: one for the current emissions, as well as others showing the potential reductions in emissions based on plans found at the end of the Report from the President's GHG Reduction Committee. Their project was displayed in MIDEN, the university’s most advanced audio-visual system for virtual reality.

The second-place winners were Tae Lim, a PhD student in Mechanical Engineering, Lixi Liu, a joint PhD student in SEAS and Mechanical Engineering, and Robert Gotham, an undergraduate student in the School for Art and Design.

Their exhibit uses balloons to represent a CO2-filled “classroom,” and wearable CO2 garments. Each maize or blue balloon represents a set amount of CO2 emissions generated from campus activities. The number of balloons and their rate of introduction represent the level and rate of emissions, while the color of the balloons indicates the end-use sources of the emissions. The team also prepared three garments that represent the emissions from UM, Michigan State University, and Ohio State University. The thickness of each garment represents the level of emissions produced by each university in the year 2030.

The third-place team was made up of Mechanical Engineering Masters student Eric Harding, Design Science PhD student Maria Coulentianos, Environmental PhD student Raghev Reddy, and Grace Wang, an undergraduate pursuing a dual degree in Business at the Ross School of Business and Computer Science at LSA. The group built a scale model of the U-M stadium, symbolically populating the stands with seed beads representing U-M’s 87,935-member campus population. Every 45 seconds, the University emits one ton of CO2 ; the model is meant to inform and remind decision makers, students, and staff that every 22.1 hours, the University fills the entire Big House with CO2. In the year 2016 alone, the University filled a total of almost 400 stadiums with pure CO2.

Energy + prizes were made possible by sponsorship from Consumers Energy, DTE Energy, and the Anthropocene Institute. The Energy Institute plans to hold the Energy + contest again next year.