REFRESCH, an acronym for Researching Fresh Solutions to the Energy/ Water/ Food Challenge in Resource-Constrained Environments, is a Third Century Initiative project led by Johannes Schwank of the Energy Institute. The Third Century Initiative is a highly competitive $50 million, five-year funded research program developed by the Office of the Provost. Its goal is to provide freedom for researchers and students to tackle real problems, to learn immersively and together, and to prepare the University, as it approaches its bicentennial, for a third century of research leadership.
REFRESCH's seed money funds the exploratory phase of a grand challenge: engage students and with them, find an energy/ resource problem, figure out how to solve it, and commercialize the result. With leaders from governments around the world, the REFRESCH team is examining real cases of resource-strained environments where a variety of pressures are at work, such as energy supply, access to sufficient food, clean water for drinking and hygiene, and water for energy production. Once solvable, scalable problems are identified, the team will draw on the University’s rich, multidisciplinary resources and location in the nation’s manufacturing heart to begin exploring solutions. Along with the Energy Institute, the team includes investigators from the College of Engineering, the School of Natural Resources and Environment, the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute, the Ross School of Business, and Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.
In this second phase, the group will use the gathered research to identify a few appropriate, small-tech, fairly simple technologies that do not exist or are not fully developed, and then as part of phase two students will work to develop these technologies. Schwank sees local organizations, large-scale NGOs, officials from other nations, and U-M students living or working in resource-strained environments as important potential partners.