Green infrastructure: New tool to help construction industry reduce carbon footprint

Originally posted on U of T Engineering News by Tyler Irving.

Professors Brenda McCabe, Daman Panesar, Shoshanna Saxe, Heather MacLean and Daniel Posen (all CivE) are collaborating with companies in construction, building services and engineering consulting to reduce the greenhouse gas impacts of future infrastructure projects. (Photo: Tyler Irving)

 

A team of researchers from U of T Engineering is partnering with the construction industry to help reduce the carbon footprint of buildings, bridges, public transit and other major infrastructure projects.

“What we’re building is a decision-support tool that can be used in the early stages of design and planning,” says Professor Heather MacLean (CivE), one of five U of T Engineering professors involved in the project. “Ultimately, the goal is to produce infrastructure with much lower greenhouse gas impact.”

While green building certification programs have existed for decades, MacLean and her collaborators — including Professors Brenda McCabeDaman PanesarDaniel Posen and Shoshanna Saxe (all CivE) — point out that these are typically considered only toward the end of the design process, when most major decisions have already been made.

“The decisions that have the most impact are the ones that are made early in the process,” says Saxe, who specializes in analysis of transit infrastructure. “These include how big it’s going to be, or what materials it will be made of. Once those are set, it really puts limits on how low the overall emissions can get.”

Nearly a year ago, the team was approached by EllisDon, a major construction and building services company headquartered in Mississauga, Ont. As part of its Carbon Impact Initiative, the company and its partners, including BASF and WSP, are collaborating on projects that aim to elevate efficiency and sustainability in the built environment.

In their early talks, the researchers and industry partners quickly identified science-based decision support in the early stages of project planning as a key strategy for emissions reduction. They plan to analyze data from previously constructed projects and publicly available databases to generate predictive tools.

“Large-scale infrastructure projects are complex, consisting of many different construction activities, along with associated inputs of material and energy,” says MacLean. “We don’t yet have good data about the on-site and supply-chain emissions associated with these inputs, especially those specific to the Ontario context. If we can cut down on that uncertainty, it will greatly help inform these types of decisions.”

Today, the Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science announced that the project was among those that received funding through the TargetGHG program, administered by Ontario Centres of Excellence, which supports industry-academic collaborations that will help the province meet more aggressive future GHG targets.

“Supporting the efforts of large industries in their quest to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is an important part of our government’s Climate Change Action Plan,” says Reza Moridi, Minister of Research, Innovation and Science. “With the help of our province’s innovative cleantech companies, the TargetGHG program will help build a prosperous, low carbon economy and create a cleaner, more sustainable future for Ontario.”

In total, the project has attracted more than $2 million in funding from a variety of sources, including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) as well as financial and in-kind contributions from the industrial partners.

“Taking steps to reduce the impacts of greenhouse gases and air pollution on our climate and environment is a key priority in Canada,” says Dr. Marc Fortin, Vice-President, Research Partnerships, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. “NSERC is proud to partner with Ontario Centres of Excellence to connect Canada’s top researchers and companies to develop innovative clean technologies that will advance environmental sustainability in Canada and improve the health and quality of life of Canadians.”

“This project is a wonderful example of how our researchers leverage strong collaborations with industry to develop next-generation solutions to society’s most pressing challenges, including climate change,” said Ramin Farnood, Vice-Dean, Research at U of T Engineering. “This tool has great potential to enhance the sustainability of major infrastructure not just here in Ontario, but around the world.”

A second U of T Engineering project, focused on installation and testing of fast-charging stations for electric vehicles, also received funding through the TargetGHG program. Led by Professor Reza Iravani (ECE), it will be carried out in collaboration with energy storage company eCAMION.

MacLean and her team are already looking to recruit the graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who will collect and analyze the data, and continue to work closely with their industrial partners as they move forward.

“It’s exciting to be working with partners that are eager to roll out solutions,” says Posen. “We have had great meetings, and we have a strong sense they are looking to turn this research into practical results.”

New partnership establishes a Canadian teaching city for engineering students

Optimizing traffic flow between the City of Oshawa, at right, and Toronto, lower left, is one challenge that Master of Engineering students in the Cities Engineering and Management program at U of T will study in the newly established ‘teaching city.’ (Image: Google Maps)

 Medical doctors learn in immersive teaching hospitals — and now U of T Engineering students will have their own immersive learning opportunities within a real-life teaching city. Later this year, the City of Oshawa will become Canada’s first-ever living laboratory for urban research, allowing students to probe complex municipal issues and test practical solutions for the future.The University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering is teaming up with the Canadian Urban Institute, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Durham College and the City of Oshawa to realize this first-of-its-kind partnership. As a ‘teaching municipality,’ Oshawa will connect engineering students with city staff, testing new technologies and methods on the ground and in real time.

“This is a new era for engineering education,” says Professor Brent Sleep, chair of the Department of Civil Engineering. “With this innovative partnership, through internships and research opportunities U of T Engineering students, including students in the Master of Engineering in Cities Engineering and Management (MEngCEM) program, will study and resolve real-life problems in today’s urban setting.”

A memorandum of understanding between the partners was signed June 5, 2017 at the Arts Resource Centre in downtown Oshawa. The coalition continues to invite participation from a variety of industry partners, which will expand the potential application areas for innovations studied in the city, including market-focused solutions for commercialization.

Moving beyond textbooks and laboratories, this dynamic urban lab will bring students and researchers closer to emerging trends. Potential areas for exploration could extend from current U of T studies in intelligent transportation systems, sustainable urban infrastructure including air pollution and health, drinking water systems and building sciences. The partnership will also seek to deepen evidence-based policy development and research-driven innovations from U of T MEngCEM students.

“Access to real-time urban data and systems will provide significant insights and transformative opportunities to assess problems and identify scalable and sustainable solutions for tomorrow,” says Sleep. “Learning outside lecture halls encourages students to interact with a multitude of stakeholders, learning to support and interact with policymakers, residents and their future colleagues.”

As urbanization intensifies the pressure on cities — from increased demand on utilities, to greater need for emergency services and schools, to urgent need for traffic and transit upgrades — a new generation of highly trained engineering talent will guide and manage new technologies, policies and practices to meet the needs of citizens across Canada and around the globe. The first student cohort will begin studying this experiential teaching municipality in 2018.

Professional Experience Year: Four U of T Engineering students bring technical, professional competencies to industry challenges

Paige Clarke competes at the Canadian Mining Games. (Photo: Keenan Dixon)
Paige Clarke competes at the Canadian Mining Games. (Photo: Keenan Dixon)

Paige Clarke competes at the Canadian Mining Games. (Photo: Keenan Dixon)

For her PEY internship, Paige Clarke (Year 3 MinE) chose to take a position in Thompson, Man., home to the nickel extraction and refining operations of Vale Canada Ltd. In her role as a Mines Engineering Co-op Student, she designs and plans drilling, blasting, loading and filling operations.

“I have worked in operations before, and I really enjoy the dynamic, quick pace,” she says. “My U of T Engineering education helped me understand how to manipulate data, continuously check to make sure my ideas make practical sense and address the errors when there is a problem.”

Clarke says that the community where she works is just as memorable as the job itself. “I volunteered for the local Terry Fox Run and have been taking advantage of the recreational opportunities that are not so accessible in Toronto,” she says. That includes hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, not to mention helping her neighbours dig their cars out after a recent mammoth snowfall.

After graduation, Clarke plans to continue working in mineral extraction. Her PEY internship will be an invaluable addition to her resume. “Working for a full year rather than a four-month summer term allowed me to make an important and meaningful contribution,” she says.

This story is just one example of the transformative learning experiences made possible by U of T Engineering’s Professional Experience Year (PEY) internship program. For nearly 40 years, the initiative has connected talented students with innovative companies looking to benefit from an influx of energy and new ideas.

The paid internships — with an average salary of more than $47,000 per year — take place after second or third year and last 12 to 16 months. In 2016-2017, more than 730 U of T Engineering students were hired on PEY internships, including 65 placements outside of Canada. Employers range from local startups to major global corporations such as Apple, General Motors and Shell, as well as hospitals, universities and governments.

Read more about U of T Engineering’s PEY internships


Other students currently on PEY internships include:

Jeremy Wang (Year 3 EngSci) — The Sky Guys

For his Professional Experience Year (PEY) internship, Jeremy Wang (Year 3 EngSci) is developing new drone technologies for The Sky Guys. (Photo: Kirk Eksyma)

For his Professional Experience Year (PEY) internship, Jeremy Wang (Year 3 EngSci) is developing new drone technologies for The Sky Guys. (Photo: Kirk Eksyma)

Wang clearly remembers the day that a colleague walked into his lab and said “Jeremy! We need a LIDAR drone in three weeks!”

“My eyes widened,” says Wang. As the Chief Technical Officer for The Sky Guys, a company that specializes in drone services, pilot training and R&D, Wang is responsible for developing new technical capabilities whenever a client needs them.

Wang knew that building a drone capable of Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) — a system that uses lasers to create 3D maps for surveying, construction and other applications — would be critical to the young company’s success. But the timing was tight. “Three weeks could be the lead time for the parts alone,” he says.

With winter weather that could complicate the test flight fast approaching, Wang realized his only chance was to design a drone that could be built using ready-made, off-the-shelf parts. Twenty-one days and countless cups of coffee later, Wang’s team completed the project, finishing a mere eight hours before the scheduled launch.

Wang credits U of T Engineering with preparing him to succeed. He cites the opportunities he has had to launch his own company through The Entrepreneurship Hatchery and develop leadership abilities as the executive director of the University of Toronto Aerospace Team. His PEY internship is, he says, the ideal next step on his journey.

“The small company environment is sufficiently challenging, meaningful, innovative, and impactful for what I need out of a career,” says Wang. “I’ll be a ‘Sky Guy’ well after PEY ends.”

Sarah Lim (Year 3 MechE) — teaBOT

Sarah Lim (Year 3 MechE) inspects a teaBOT. (Photo: Tyler Irving)

Sarah Lim (Year 3 MechE) inspects a teaBOT. (Photo: Tyler Irving)

More than 330 employers sought PEY interns this year, but for Lim, one really stood out. “I wanted to work at teaBOT because I wanted to be part of something that had a consumer-facing, everyday application,” she says.

TeaBOT makes vending-machine-sized robots that deliver custom cups of loose-leaf tea via a mobile app. The company was co-founded by Rehman Merali, a PhD student at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies, and is rapidly expanding across North America.

Working for a startup makes for a varied experience, something Lim really enjoys. “If we are getting ready to build teaBOTs then I will be building some subassemblies and putting them into the machine,” she says. “On other days, I use computer-aided design software to model or test new ideas that we may want to pursue.”

While her courses provided a good foundation in the technical aspects of her work, Lim says the internship has given her a better sense of how customers will interact with a product.

“Working here has made me a lot more interested in designing things that are not just functional but also look good,” she says. “We went to a trade show, and it was amazing to see how many people wanted to use and try out our robot.”

Peter Wen (Year 3 MechE) — Verity Studios

Peter Wen overlooking the city of Zurich (Photo: Peter Wen)

Peter Wen overlooking the city of Zurich (Photo: Peter Wen)

Wen is spending a year in Zurich working for Verity Studios. Founded by alumnus Raffaello D’Andrea (EngSci 9T1), Verity Studios uses autonomous flying robots to create memorable performances for live events and stage productions. “I wanted to work in a startup environment, although the fact that it’s in beautiful Switzerland doesn’t hurt,” says Wen.

On his second day, a coworker asked Wen if he was scared of heights. “I boldly answered no,” says Wen. “I spent the afternoon 14 metres in the air, fighting my trembling fingers to tie knots along the rafters, installing the radio units that help our drones navigate.”

For Wen, the experience embodies the trust that the company put in him. His other duties have included fabricating parts for new prototypes and solving mechanical problems for the team, half of whom are software engineers. “One of the key lessons I learned was to value my time properly,” he says. “I used to spend hours smoothing out my CAD models to make them beautiful. Now I stop once it’s good enough to accomplish the task at hand.”

After his PEY internship is complete, Wen plants to return to TeleHex, a company he founded with support from The Hatchery at U of T Engineering. “This experience has made me realize that I love working in small companies where I can do a little bit of everything,” he says.

Learn more about TeleHex


This story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News.

Concrete check-up: Fae Azhari develops diagnostics for critical infrastructure

Professor Fae Azhari (MIE, CivE) holds a sample of the self-sensing concrete she designed. Her work helps monitor the structural health of crucial infrastructure such as bridges, roads and hydroelectric dams. (Credit: Roberta Baker)

This story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News.

Canada will spend $125 billion on infrastructure maintenance and expansion in the next 10 years. Professor Fae Azhari (MIE, CivE) is helping stretch those dollars farther by keeping our buildings, bridges, roads and reservoirs safe and structurally sound for longer.

Azhari’s research focuses on structural health monitoring. Just as you visit the doctor for periodic check-ups, structures need their health checked too — but instead of blood tests and heart rate measurements, engineers usually perform visual inspections and spot-checks with sensors and instruments.

“The problem with visual inspections is that they’re pretty subjective, and with periodic monitoring, you can miss certain events or failures,” says Azhari. “Now we’re moving toward continuous monitoring by incorporating permanent sensors on important structures to get real-time data.”

Degradation or damage suffered between inspections can have catastrophic consequences. In June 2013, a rail bridge just outside of downtown Calgary partially collapsed as a train was passing over it. The train, carrying flammable and toxic liquids, derailed. Emergency measures were taken to prevent the railcars from falling into the Bow River, which was running high with summer floodwater. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada determined that floodwaters had eroded the soil around the bridge’s foundations, causing the collapse. This loss of sediment from around foundational supports is called scour.

“Believe it or not, this happens very often, especially in North America and some Asian countries,” says Azhari. “Scour is a huge problem.”

For her PhD research at the University of California, Davis, Azhari tackled scour from a new angle: she took commercially available sensors that measure dissolved oxygen, typically used for agriculture or biological applications, and used them for sensing scour. Azhari’s design was to attach a number of oxygen sensors at increasing depths along the buried length of the bridge pier. If the pier is properly buried, the dissolved oxygen levels detected by the sensors should be very low — but as scour erodes the sediments and exposes the sensors to flowing water, the dissolved oxygen levels rise. As scour progresses, more and more sensors become exposed, indicating how badly scour is threatening the bridge’s structural integrity.

She has also worked on concrete sensors, including a design that integrates conductive carbon fibers and nanotubes into concrete, making it a self-sensing material. Measuring the resistance across the material reveals the stresses and strains on it. “This technology is well-proven in the laboratory, but moving it to the field is a big challenge,” says Azhari.

As she builds her research enterprise, Azhari plans to collaborate across disciplines and with key partners who could benefit from her sensors, as well her analysis and insight into the data that comes from them. “Transportation infrastructure, utilities, dams, power plants, wind turbines — basically any engineering system — needs maintenance and monitoring,” she says.

“It’s very important to get these sensors from prototype to implementation, and I want to work on that.”

Advanced imaging techniques let U of T Engineers see inside rock

Professor Giovanni Grasselli, left, with FCMG President Duke Anderson in October 2015. (Courtesy: FCMG)

This story appeared originally on U of T Engineering News.

Before drilling underneath a city of skyscrapers, engineers such as Professor Giovanni Grasselli need sophisticated models of how the rock below the surface might react to physical forces. (Credit: Jonathan Moore via Flickr)

“In cities from Toronto to Tokyo, before you undertake a massive infrastructure project such as building a new subway, engineers have to predict how the ground might react to digging a gigantic hole underneath a city of skyscrapers.

Professor Giovanni Grasselli, of the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering, is a world leader at modelling complex rock formations and predicting how they might respond to physical force. His work could be applied to predicting how drilling a new downtown relief subway line in Canada’s largest city could affect the stability of the rock underneath Torontonians’ feet.

“Toronto is sitting on shale rock, so any underground construction or tunnelling that is done in the city could benefit from a deeper understanding of this type of ground,” Grasselli said. “Whenever there is a disturbance to the rock mass, the risk of failures, including local instabilities and induced seismic shaking, increases so a greater understanding of how a region’s geology will behave can better inform our policy makers.”

Grasselli was recently named the inaugural recipient of the newly established Foundation CMG Research Chair in Fundamental Petroleum Rock Physics and Rock Mechanics, a research chair worth $1.35 million over five years.

His work is of profound interest to industry, as his imaging and modelling techniques help minimize the environmental impact of natural resource extraction processes.

Professor Giovanni Grasselli, left, with FCMG President Duke Anderson in October 2015. (Courtesy: FCMG)

“With better research, and fewer unknowns, we can avoid unnecessary environmental damage,” said Grasselli. “This Chair allows us to produce a strong body of research and develop technology for smarter unconventional petroleum production, which ultimately has the potential to contribute billions of dollars to the Canadian economy, all the while reducing the environmental impacts.”

Using innovative experimentation with X-rays, CT and MicroCT imaging, combined with computer simulations, his research group is generating better understand how spatial geometry and heterogeneity of reservoir rock formations will affect the efficiency of hydrocarbon production.

“We are excited to add Professor Grasselli and the University of Toronto to the FCMG ‘family,’ ” said Duke Anderson, president of Foundation CMG. “Our strategy is to work collaboratively with leading universities around the world, with the petroleum industry and various levels of government in the advancement of reservoir simulation.”

Foundation CMG is a not-for-profit organization that supports world-leading research and development to encourage innovation and leading-edge study into oil and gas reservoir modelling.