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.

Students win grand prize in the 2017 U.S. Department of Energy’s Race to Zero design competition

The team beat out over 50 submissions from four countries during this eight-month competition. The project focuses on building sciences, green energy initiatives and sustainable city development

Creating homes in the forgotten Toronto back laneways, LaneZero’s design offers stylish living driven by sustainable development.

Downtown location with loft-style, open-concept living featuring a bright kitchen, second-floor balcony and no energy bills for life.

This net-zero listing is a surprising addition to the rear garages and often neglected buildings dotting Toronto back alleys; but for a city facing a housing crunch this design contest winner might be the sustainable solution needed.

Recently Jason Gray (CivE MASc student) and U of T alum Kevin Wu Almanzar (CivE 1T6) teamed up with students from Ryerson to take home the grand prize in the 2017 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Race to Zero competition. Tackling green energy and building science challenges, the team addressed some unique problems plaguing Toronto with their market-ready design concept entitled, LaneZero.

LaneZero is a commercially viable design providing current homeowners the ability to transform pre-existing vehicle storage units to net-zero, single-family dwellings. Common garages are an untapped potential, which could transform our city.  With City Hall actively pursuing sustainable transportation alternatives, current forecasts suggest the need for garages will dramatically decrease.

Standing out from its competition, LaneZero responds to property owners’ needs today. The design offers a modern living space, affordable construction and great returns on initial investment given the net-zero mechanical performance.

“LaneZero shows that there is a viable option to help mitigate Toronto’s housing crisis. The fact that it can be competitively built while being net-zero, is in itself a large achievement. We expect LaneZero will encourage and help inform future Toronto by-law changes, which have been slow to develop and evolve,” Wu Almanzar notes.

Working within existing city landscape and infrastructure, the team used the laneways of Christie Pits as inspiration, and set out to identify a net-zero energy solution for the neighbourhood.

Prospective LaneZero sites are small and forced the team to revaluate traditional green building strategies. In typical low-energy homes, the necessary insulation needed in the building envelop to minimize thermal bridging requires walls up to three times larger than conventional building methods. The LaneZero design balanced the home’s footprint with wall thickness for optimal living through energy modelling and parametric analysis.

 

LaneZero’s winning architectural rendering of their market-ready Toronto laneway design.

“Our design serves to activate the laneways of Toronto and foster a community in spaces that were historically underused,” said Gray. “The laneway concept gives homeowners the opportunity to establish income properties on their existing lots and provides housing alternatives in the Toronto market. For those that don’t want to go the condo route – this is a great housing option.”

With 15 team members from a variety of fields like architecture, building science and mechanical engineering the students collaborated on every decision and development phase. From competing design needs requiring compromise to conflicting construction requirements, the team harnessed the complex, iterative process to spark ingenuity and innovation.

After weeks of comparisons and adjustments, the team obtained net-zero energy unlike other submissions who failed to meet the energy target. Using modelling software to determine an optimal design, the team considered the quantity of daylight penetration year-round, environmental impact and overall building costs.

Gray and Wu Almanzar spearheaded the envelope system design to minimize heat loss, protect the structure from damage, and help ensure year-round comfort. They worked alongside the architecture, mechanical, and indoor environmental quality teams to ensure comprehensive and fully integrated systems.

One creative and interesting consideration the team addressed was the limited roof space on laneway homes for solar panels. They employed passive solar and mechanical design concepts to take advantage of free energy and technological enhancements.

“For example, LaneZero leveraged the low-angle sun in the winter time with large south facing windows to maximize free heat gains while offsetting the heating demand. Appropriate shading for the summertime limited the amount of direct solar radiation entering the building and lowered the cooling demand,” explains Gray. “On the mechanical side, using an innovative heat pump design, the heating, cooling, and domestic hot water were all provided in a highly energy efficient manner. Other strategies, such as a large amount of insulation for the envelope assemblies, continuous thermal layers, and energy efficient appliance selection contributed to achieving the net-zero goal.”

The design lauded for its architectural finesse, comprehensive building science analysis and a unique vision for the future of sustainable cities, won in the Attached Housing category and the grand prize across all categories. The team is investigating future expansions and potential opportunities for project applications.

Preparing the next generation of engineering leaders to grow Africa’s megacities sustainably

Posted originally on U of T News | May 30th, 2017 by Tyler Irving.

Left to right: Rahim Rezaie (U of T Engineering), Erastus M. Mwanaumo (Assistant Dean, School of Engineering, University of Zambia) and Professor Murray Metcalfe (U of T Engineering) at the University of Zambia. A partnership between U of T Engineering and various institutions in Africa aims to prepare the engineering leaders who will build the world’s fastest-growing cities.

Today, seven of the world’s 100 largest cities are in Africa. But by 2050, population models predict that this will rise to 21, and eventually reach 40 by the end of the century. By then, Africa will be home to five of the world’s ten largest cities, each with more than 50 million residents. That’s why U of T Engineering postdoctoral researcher Nadine Ibrahim (CivE) is delivering lectures to students half a world away.

Educational tools such as massively open online courses (MOOCs) offer a way for Ibrahim and her colleagues to share their expertise in sustainable cities with the students who will lead African cities through the coming transformation.

“There is a lot of infrastructure to be built, and a lot of engineers will be required to build it,” says Professor Murray Metcalfe, who is Professor, Globalization at U of T Engineering and the project director. “That creates a tremendous opportunity for African leaders to drive development that happens in a way that is sustainable, both economically and environmentally.”

Earlier this month, Ibrahim and her colleagues used an online platform to deliver a course on sustainable cities to a group of students at the African Leadership University in Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. Instructors were spread across four locations — Toronto, Oshawa, Boston and Mauritius — and at one point the students had to deal with torrential rains that kept them confined to their dorms, but the pilot project was deemed a success.

The three-day course served as the first test of the team’s larger and more ambitious goal: to develop scalable online courses that will help prepare the next generation of engineering leaders building sustainable cities across the entire African continent.

Ibrahim is adapting material from a course she teaches to undergraduate and graduate students at U of T: CIV 577 Infrastructure for Sustainable Cities. “The course challenges students to design an urban area, such as the port lands of Toronto, through to the year 2050,” she says. “This year students selected eight cities, including Cape Town and Dar es Salaam. It was very successful, and allowed us to see that this would work with students around the world.”

The team has spent the last several months laying the groundwork for a strong network of local partners across the African continent. Last summer, Ibrahim and PhD candidates Kirstin Newfield (CivE) and Antoine Despres-Bedward (OISE) travelled to institutions in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. They also attended a conference organized by the African Virtual University, an online-only institution based in Dakar, Senegal and Nairobi, Kenya.

Left to right: Professor Jackoniah Odumbe (Centre for Online and Distance Learning), Antoine Despres-Bedward (OISE ), Kirstin Newfield (U of T Enginering), Nadine Ibrahim (U of T Engineering), Professor James Nyangaya (Mechanical Engineering), Professor David Otieno Koteng (Civil and Construction Engineering), Professor Ernest Odhiambo (Mechanical Engineering) at the University of Nairobi in Kenya.

A few months later, Metcalfe and research associate Rahim Rezaie followed up with a trip to institutions in Zambia, South Africa, Ghana and Ethiopia, and participated in the African Engineering Education Association Conference.“Everywhere we went, we looked at the student populations and the online capabilities,” says Ibrahim. “We tried to imagine what a virtual global classroom, and eventually a virtual lab, would look like. Everyone we talked to was excited about the project.”Among other collaborators on the project are Professor Brent Sleep (CivE), who is the principal investigator on a Connaught Global Challenge Award grant that will fund various aspects of the project, Professor Greg Evans (ChemE) and Professor Dan Hoornweg (UOIT and adjunct in CivE). The team has also received support from the Dean’s Strategic Fund and the U of T Learning and Education Advancement Fund (LEAF).

Building on the success of the pilot course, the team is now working on the first two small private online courses (SPOCs) they plan to deliver starting in early 2018. Involving academics at African partner universities in co-developing the course content is central to the team’s approach. The courses will be a mix of live instruction, recorded lectures and assignments that can be completed online.

Metcalfe says that the rapid pace of growth in Africa offers a chance to leapfrog over some of the technologies that have hindered sustainability in the developed world. “The analogy everyone points to is cell phones,” says Metcalfe. “In India and Africa, they have skipped right over land lines and elaborate telecom switches to something with a smaller footprint. We think African cities can do something similar in urban infrastructure.”

But for Ibrahim, the most inspiring part has been the students. “Whatever the challenges, they make it work,” she says. “Their hunger for knowledge is very motivating.”

Driverless cars, artificial intelligence and e-sharing are transforming transportation. Are our cities ready?

Originally posted on U of T News  |  May 26th, 2017 by Tyler Irving

This story is the first in a news series on artificial intelligence and machine learning, published throughout the spring and summer of 2017.

Professor Baher Abdulhai, seen here with civil engineering undergraduate students Andrew Lau and Marie-Sophie Wint, has created a new research centre dedicated to studying the impact of transformative transportation systems, from car sharing to self-driving vehicles. (Photo: Neil Ta)

From Waymo’s self-driving cars to e-sharing companies like Zipcar, technology is disrupting the traditions of travel. Proponents of these innovations promise that they will improve safety, reduce congestion and lower emissions — a new U of T research centre is studying how these predictions may play out in reality, and how to make the new technology work in our favour.The iCity Centre for Automated and Transformative Transportation Systems (iCity-CATTS), the newest addition to the University of Toronto Transportation Research Institute (UTTRI), will examine how new transportation technologies affect our cities. Its multidisciplinary team will create models and methods to quantify their impacts on our transportation systems, our future cities, and their economic, social and environmental sustainability. This includes addressing factors such as congestion, commuting times, urban sprawl, emissions and human health.

Professor Baher Abdulhai (CivE) will lead the new centre, with several of his UTTRI colleagues. “When Henry Ford created the first mass-produced model-T automobile more than 100 years ago, the world changed,” says Abdulhai. “With revolutionary technology, we are now taking the car as we know it and putting it on steroids. We have a bold vision for a future that is automated, shared and green, but there are risks too. We want to avoid those risks and empower people and businesses to maximize their potential.”

Development of the self-driving car is being accelerated by improvements in machine learning and artificial intelligence that will improve its navigational and maneuvering capabilities, and presumably lead to a more efficient use of available road space. But Abdulhai says that may or may not be the case. “If an autonomous vehicle is programmed to be cautious and leaves more space in front of it compared to the human driver, the capacity of our roads could actually go down,” he says.

Baher Abdulhai and his team at iCity-CATTS plan to research the impacts that self-driving cars such as Google’s Waymo could have on the economic, social and environmental sustainability of our cities. (Photo: Grendelkhan, via Wikimedia Commons)

Autonomous vehicles could also contribute to urban sprawl. “The convenience of being in a car that drives itself while you’re watching a movie or working on a laptop might mean that people now choose to live further away from where they work,” says Abdulhai.

Another example: “When I go to the dentist, do I send my autonomous car back home to self-park for free or ask it to drive around for half an hour until I am done?” asks Abdulhai. “There are many such questions, but the truth is, nobody knows the answers yet.”

Data on the potential long-term impacts of related technologies, such as car sharing and ride-hailing apps, are also limited. And the unknowns multiply when these technologies are combined into multi-modal transportation networks: imagine an app that buys you a train ticket, summons an autonomous vehicle to take you to the station and, at the other end, ensures that an autonomous bicycle is rolling toward you, ready for you to hop on.

By building models and simulating various scenarios, Abdulhai and his team will study topics such as:

  • Infrastructure — Will autonomous vehicles increase road capacities or put more strain on highways, off-ramps or other roads? Will separate or hybrid lanes be desirable?
  • Freight and shipping — Could self-driving trucks, autonomous robots or drones reduce delivery time? How would this impact the economic bottom line? How would these robots interact with pedestrians on sidewalks?
  • Environment — Can car sharing services combine with ride-hailing apps reduce the number of cars on the road? If so, how much will that reduce emissions and carbon?
  • Human health — Do smart technologies provide opportunities to better integrate walking or cycling into our commutes? How will this impact our choices?
  • Policy — How do we design our future cities to ensure that technology works for us, rather than against us? What policies, based on evidence, can help us avoid the pitfall of past urban development? What policies are needed to deliver a future transportation system that is automated, shared and green?
  • Sustainability — How do we ensure that the triple bottom line, i.e. economic, environmental and social sustainability, is maintained for our cities?

iCity-CATTS brings together leading experts in all of these areas from across U of T Engineering and beyond. Working across disciplines, they will provide insights that will enable both government and industry make informed decisions and stay ahead of the coming transformation.

“Much of the current research interest focuses on the technology — less attention has been paid to the mobility, social, economic, and environmental implications,” says Abdulhai. “This is what iCity-CATTS is for. Our research will show how new technologies, including artificial intelligence and automated vehicles, will impact city-wide systems and affect our quality of life.”