The Erb Institute has successfully partnered with several U-M institute and departments on a grant proposal under the provost’s Third Century Initiative. REFRESCH (Researching Fresh Solutions to the Energy/Water/Food Challenge in Resource-Constrained Environments) seeks sustainable technology solutions for the large portion of the world’s population that does not have access to a reliable electric grid, clean water, and sufficient food.

The collaboration’s vision is to develop a model-based approach, backed by experimental validation, that can identify appropriate, low-cost and sustainable technology solutions for a number of regions in the world that suffer from different types of energy/water/food resource constraints. The partners envision opportunities, in collaboration with local developers, to utilize repurposed, shuttered facilities, such as Willow Run, as self-contained test beds.

Possible scenarios of interest include solar greenhouses, fish farms, hydroponic gardens, or algae plantations. A number of energy inputs and feedstocks will be considered, including solar energy, wind energy, biomass conversion, natural gas, propane gas, waste to energy, and low temperature waste heat recovery. Case studies may also consider the use of solar/wind energy for water pumping and disinfection utilizing UV-LED lights, various energy storage technologies and the potential use of direct rather than alternating current.

The partnership, directed by Chemical Engineering professor Johannes Schwank, also includes the Graham Institute, Energy Institute, School of Natural Resources and Environment, College of Engineering and Taubman College of Architecture. Andy Hoffman will lead Erb’s involvement in the project, which will also provide graduate student research assistant appointments and case-study development fellowships for students.