Heat, housing and health: Marianne Touchie and the complexity of multi-unit residential buildings

Professor Marianne Touchie (CivE, MIE) is working with Toronto Community Housing and The Atmospheric Fund to better understand how changes to energy use affect indoor environmental quality in multi-unit residential buildings. Toronto Public Health is collaborating to use their data to inform policy. (Photo: Kevin Soobrian)

Professor Marianne Touchie (CivE, MIE) is working with Toronto Community Housing and The Atmospheric Fund to better understand how changes to energy use affect indoor environmental quality in multi-unit residential buildings. Toronto Public Health is collaborating to use their data to inform policy. (Photo: Kevin Soobrian)

Professor Marianne Touchie (CivE, MIE) is working with Toronto Community Housing and The Atmospheric Fund to better understand how changes to energy use affect indoor environmental quality in multi-unit residential buildings. Toronto Public Health is collaborating to use their data to inform policy. (Photo: Kevin Soobrian)


This story originally appeared at U of T Engineering News

This story is a part of a  five-part #RisingStars series, highlighting the work of our early-career professors.

In cities from coast to coast, condominium towers are being constructed at an unprecedented rate, with 30,000 new units added in 2015 to the Toronto market alone. This is driven both by recent advances in the design, engineering and construction of tall buildings, and a stark increase in demand for these multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs). “More people are moving downtown,” says Professor Marianne Touchie (CivE, MIE). “There’s very limited space, so we need high-density housing options and MURBs provide that.”

With a background in building science, Touchie studies the relationships between energy efficiency and indoor environment quality parameters, such as thermal comfort, in these high-density buildings. In Toronto, one of the largest suppliers of MURBs is Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), which owns 50 million square feet of residential space and houses 110,000 residents. Many of these are older buildings without air conditioning.

“A lot of these buildings rely on ventilation through the building envelope, which is not terribly effective. At the same time, we need to reduce our energy consumption and energy use,” she says. “But reducing energy usage has implications for occupants, and that’s what I’m interested in studying.”

Touchie is currently collaborating with The Atmospheric Fund (formerly the Toronto Atmospheric Fund) on a large research project—one that she has been involved with since her role as their Building Research Manager from 2014 to 2015. She and her colleagues are collecting data on energy consumption, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide concentration in more than 70 apartments spanning seven different TCHC buildings.

“It’s probably the most comprehensive MURB monitoring project in North America, if not the world,” says Touchie.

They are also working with Professor Jeffrey Siegel (CivE), who is examining concentrations of formaldehyde, particulate matter and, through a partnership with Health Canada, radon concentrations. Touchie says that collaborations, such as those with TCHC, The Atmospheric Fund and Siegel, are critical to creating a comprehensive picture of the MURBs she studies. “Buildings are so complex,” says Touchie. “I have training in one particular area, but I’m not an indoor air quality expert. When we make changes from an energy perspective to the ventilation system, or the heating and cooling system, it has an influence on the air quality. Working with other experts, like Professor Siegel, we can gather data on all sides.”

Touchie’s findings with The Atmospheric Fund and TCHC have drawn the interest of Toronto Public Health. The agency is interested in the health impact of extreme heat, and the study has found that these TCHC buildings are often overheated, especially in the summer.

“Extreme heat is a health problem, especially for the most vulnerable populations,” says Sarah Gingrich, a Health Policy Specialist at Toronto Public Health. Very young children, the elderly and people with illnesses or taking certain medications are most at risk. “This work is providing evidence that excessive heat is a problem in older apartment buildings in Toronto. The research is showing that although the temperature cools down at night outside, in these buildings it rises during the day and they stay hot all night long.”

Touchie and her collaborators are finding that a major culprit for the inefficient heating and cooling performance is uncontrolled air leakage. These leaks often occur around windows, doors, exhaust fans and elevator shafts. But inefficiencies aren’t just a building issue: she adds that “because people can do whatever they want in their own homes, like open and close their windows, MURBs combine the complexity of high-rise buildings with the occupant wild card,” which makes managing the indoor environment even trickier.

“The study provides valuable information on Toronto apartment buildings that will help to inform policy development,” says Toronto Public Health’s Gingrich. “It fills a very important gap by providing up-to-date data that highlights some of the challenges in this type of building, and points to potential solutions.”

Next, Touchie hopes to expand her research to newer condos, where data is even scarcer. “They’re going up so quickly, and we really have no information about the quality of the indoor environment or their energy performance,” she says. “I am very curious whether their energy consumption matches the performance level promised at the design stage.”

Could microbes hold the key to more environmentally friendly mines? | The Northern Miner

Prof. Lesley Warren in The Norther Miner, January 9, 2017.

 

Geochemist and professor Lesley Warren (right) collects water samples for geochemical analyses from a waste deposit undergoing reclamation.

Ancient microbes could offer insight on better mining wastewater strategies

Professor Lesley Warren (standing, at right) and her colleagues are mining the genomes of microbes that thrive in wastewater generated by the resource extraction industry. Insights into how these organisms derive energy from metals and sulphur compounds could lead to new strategies for preventing pollution and optimizing mine reclamation. (Photo courtesy Lesley Warren)

This story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News.

Professor Lesley Warren (standing, at right) and her colleagues are mining the genomes of microbes that thrive in wastewater generated by the resource extraction industry. Insights into how these organisms derive energy from metals and sulphur compounds could lead to new strategies for preventing pollution and optimizing mine reclamation. (Photo courtesy Lesley Warren)

Professor Lesley Warren (standing, at right) and her colleagues are mining the genomes of microbes that thrive in wastewater generated by the resource extraction industry. Insights into how these organisms derive energy from metals and sulphur compounds could lead to new strategies for preventing pollution and optimizing mine reclamation. (Photo courtesy Lesley Warren)

Wastewater from a mine doesn’t sound like a cozy habitat, but for untold numbers of microorganisms, it’s home sweet home. A new research project led by Professor Lesley Warren (CivE) will examine how these microbes make their living by studying their genes — an insight that could help further reduce the environmental footprint of the mining industry. The $3.7-million endeavour is funded in part by Genome Canada through the Large Scale Applied Research Projects (LSARP) program.

Extracting valuable metals such as copper, nickel and gold from rocks, which typically contain only a few weight percent metals, requires substantial amounts of water. All wastewater generated must be cleaned to strict federal guidelines before it can be discharged back into the environment. It is these wastewaters that the microorganisms studied by Warren and her team thrive in.

“These wastewaters contain a variety of sulphur compounds that certain bacteria can use for energy,” says Warren, who holds the Claudette Mackay-Lassonde Chair in Mineral Engineering at U of T. “Their ability to do so evolved billions of years ago, long before more complex life arrived on the scene. If the history of Earth were a 24-hour clock, they have been around for over 23 hours, while we humans have been around for only 17 seconds.”

However, our ability to investigate these bacteria and most importantly how they are cycling these sulphur compounds, which will influence the quality of mining wastewaters, has been very limited until now. If these sulphur compounds become too concentrated, the company has to implement costly chemical treatment systems to make the water acceptable for release and avoid toxicity problems in lakes or streams downstream from the mine.

Dr. Lesley Warren is the Claudette MacKay-Lassonde Chair in Mineral Engineering within the Department of Civil Engineering.

Dr. Lesley Warren is the Claudette MacKay-Lassonde Chair in Mineral Engineering within the Department of Civil Engineering.

Warren believes that genomics can help. She has spent years travelling mine sites from Canada to South Africa to better understand the sulphur geochemistry of their wastewaters and how bacteria are implicated. “I have always preferred dirty water to clean,” she jokes.

For this project, Warren and her team will apply genomics directly in tandem with comprehensive geochemical analyses and modeling to wastewaters. She will collaborate closely with Professor Jill Banfield, a trailblazer in environmental genomics at the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Christian Baron, a microbial biochemist from the Université de Montréal, and Dr. Simon Apte, a research scientist in analytical chemistry and geochemical modeling from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Land and Water in Australia, to unravel the role played by these sulphur-loving microbes in important geochemical processes affecting mining wastewaters.

“Mining companies know that microorganisms are driving these reactions, but its still a black box” says Warren. “The lack of available technologies has meant that there has been little research to determine which bacteria are doing what, which ones could serve as early warning signals, or those that could actually be used as the biological treatment itself. Most importantly, mining companies don’t know which levers to pull to control the system.”

Those levers are what Warren and her colleagues aim to identify. Informed by genomic and geochemical insights they plan to develop new tools that can help mine managers make better decisions about how to manage their wastewater. “Once we understand the microbes and how they affect wastewater geochemistry, we can pinpoint the drivers of their behaviour: Which wastewater compounds are they using? Do they like it hot? Do they like it cold? We can adjust those drivers to design new processes that do what we want them to do. Essentially we are mining the bacteria that already exist in these wastewaters as a biotechnology resource.”

With this new knowledge, mines could ensure conditions that encourage the growth of organisms that break down toxic compounds, or prevent the growth of organisms that produce those toxic compounds in the first place. The team is collaborating with three Canadian mining companies, as well as two engineering consulting firms, Advisian and Ecological and Regulatory Solutions. In addition, the Mining Association of Canada, the Ontario Mining Association and CSIRO are further supporting the project.

The project also has the endorsement of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM), the leading not-for-profit technical society of professionals in the Canadian minerals, metals, materials and energy industries. CIM National Executive Director, Jean Vavrek, commented: “CIM are in full support of this exciting new project.  While genomics itself is relatively new to the mineral resource industry, it has the potential to provide significant returns and generate new areas for investment in the sector.  We consider this a flagship project and will continue to follow Dr. Warren and her team closely as they pioneer genomics research for mine wastewater characterization and possibly treatment.”

“The mining industry has driven this project from its inception because they want to reduce their environmental footprint. Harnessing the biological potential of their wastewaters will facilitate the development of such strategies to achieve this goal,” says Warren. “So many of the organisms we’re finding are new to science. The chances that we are going to find organisms that are capable of doing creative things that could be useful are very high.”

Prof. Daman Panesar: Hart Professorship recipient

Daman Panesar (CivE) has been named the Erwin Edward Hart Professor in Civil Engineering. Her research focuses on new ways to improve the performance of concrete structures, from bridges to buildings. (Photo: Tyler Irving)

 This story originally appeared on U of T News.

Seven U of T Engineering faculty members have received the inaugural Percy Edward Hart and Erwin Edward Hart Professorships, enhancing emerging research and education across the Faculty.

The professorships were created by a landmark bequest from the estate of alumnus Erwin Edward Hart (CivE 4T0). The seven professors are all within the first 10 years of their careers and have demonstrated a high level of research excellence and exemplary graduate student mentorship.

“Our inaugural Hart Professors exemplify the richness and diversity of research and education across our Faculty,” said Cristina Amon, dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. “They are addressing society’s most relevant challenges, from sustainable energy to human health, while nurturing the next generation of global engineering leaders.”

Professor Daman Panesar (CivE) – Erwin Edward Hart Professor in Civil Engineering

Panesar4Professor Panesar completed her PhD at McMaster University and joined U of T Engineering in 2008. Her research focuses on new ways to improve the performance of concrete structures, from bridges to buildings. Panesar and her team develop technologies that could extend the life of such structures, reduce environmental impacts or improve economic feasibility. Examples include the study of low carbon footprint materials, nano-cellulose fibers, industrial byproducts, supplementary cementing material and fillers on the durability performance of concrete as a result of coupled degradation mechanisms. In 2006 she received the P.L. Pratley Award from the Canadian Society of Civil Engineering and in 2012 she received an Early Researcher Award from the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation.

The other six recipients are:

Professor Natalie Enright Jerger (ECE) – Percy Edward Hart Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering

JergerProfessor Enright Jerger (ECE) completed her PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and joined U of T Engineering in 2009. She is an expert in computer architecture — the design and arrangement of components within a computer chip. Using computer models and simulations, Enright Jerger and her team test out new chip configurations and optimize them for computing speed, power usage, cost, size and a host of other parameters. In collaboration with companies such as Intel, AMD and Qualcomm, the team is is bringing about a new generation of more powerful computers, smartphones, tablets and other devices. In the last two years alone, Jerger has received the Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) Engineering Medal – Young Engineer, a Sloan Research Fellowship, and the Borg Early Career Award for outreach.

Professor Tobin Filleter (MIE) – Erwin Edward Hart Professor in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering

Filleter-sizedProfessor Filleter completed his PhD at McGill University and joined U of T Engineering in 2012. He is an expert on the mechanics of nanomaterials, especially as they relate to friction and wear, which cause premature damage to many mechanical structures. His team studies and tests ultrathin films, lubricants, and coatings that could be used in everything from automobiles to aircraft and even space systems. Some of these systems involve recently-discovered materials, including graphene and graphene oxide. In 2014, Filleter received the I.W. Smith Award from the Canadian Society for Mechanical Engineering and in 2016, he received an Early Researcher Award from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation.

Professor Philippe Lavoie (UTIAS) – Percy Edward Hart Professor in Aerospace Engineering

Lavoie-croppedProfessor Lavoie completed his PhD at the University of Newcastle (Australia) and joined U of T Engineering in 2008. He is an expert in experimental fluid mechanics as applied to aerodynamics. A main focus of his work is controlling the flow of air over the wings of aircraft using both passive systems and electromechanical actuators. These systems can reduce friction on the fuselage during cruising flight, enhance the lift force at take-off or otherwise optimize the performance of aircraft. Such improvements could reduce fuel consumption, lower emissions, prevent noise pollution and improve the economics of the aircraft industry. Lavoie and his team collaborate with manufacturers such as Bombardier and Airbus to incorporate their innovations into the next generation of commercial aircraft. In 2010 Lavoie received an Early Researcher Award from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation. He is the Associate Director (Research) at UTIAS and Associate Director of the Centre for Research in Sustainable Aviation.

Professor Alison McGuigan (ChemE) – Erwin Edward Hart Professor in Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry

McGuiganProfessor McGuigan received her PhD at the University of Toronto and completed postdoctoral research at Harvard University and Stanford University before joining U of T Engineering in 2009. She specializes in developing systems to grow human tissues outside the body. These lab-grown tissues provide new ways to study human diseases, including cancer, and could serve as testing platforms for new drugs or other therapies. McGuigan and her team recently developed a way to grow cancer cells in an unrollable sheet, allowing for faster and more detailed analysis than previous culture methods. In 2013, McGuigan received the Young Investigator Award from the Tissue Engineering International Regenerative Medicine Society (TERMIS).

Professor Jonathan Rocheleau (IBBME) – Percy Edward Hart Professor in Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering

Rocheleau-sizedProfessor Rocheleau received his PhD from Western University and was a Research Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University before joining U of T Engineering in 2008. His research focuses on new tools and techniques to study the biochemical mechanisms that underpin human cell function. These tools include organ-on-a-chip technology, advanced molecular imaging in living tissues, as well as the design of fluorescent molecular probes to measure the metabolic functioning of cells under the microscope. By gaining a better understanding of what goes wrong in diseases such as diabetes or cancer, Rocheleau’s work can help usher in more effective treatments. Rocheleau serves as Associate Director of Research in IBBME.

Professor Chandra Veer Singh (MSE) – Erwin Edward Hart Professor in Materials Science and Engineering

Chandra-Veer-SinghProfessor Singh received his PhD in Aerospace Engineering from Texas A&M University and conducted postdoctoral research at Cornell University before joining U of T Engineering in 2011. He specializes in designing new materials using computer models and simulations that optimize weight, catalytic activity or other properties. Such materials could lower costs and reduce emissions from the transportation industry by enabling aircraft and other vehicle to be made from strong yet lightweight components. They could also advance sustainability by catalysing the production of hydrogen for fuel, or the conversion of CO2 into useful chemical fuels such as methanol using sunlight. In 2016, Singh received an Early Researcher Award from Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation and in 2015, he was part of the U of T Solar Fuels team that won the Connaught Global Challenge Award.

Students travel to Honduras, install solar powered water pump for remote community

This spring two CivE students travelled to Roatán, Honduras as part of the 2016 Student Passport Initiative, to improve water access in a community of 600. The community previously spent upwards of $250 per month to operate a diesel-powered water pump. After students installed a 3kW solar array, which operates the pump continuously, the quality of life for the community’s residents vastly improved.

“It’s good for students to actually pick up a tool and apply what they learned to a full-scale project,” says Dmitri Naoumov (CivE 1T5 + PEY) member of the U of T student chapter of the Canadian Electrical Contractors Association (CECA). “The build was large enough that we needed to work together as a team, but small enough to be manageable and finished during the trip.”

The members of CECA student chapter were invited on the trip by the Penn State NECA (North America Electrical Contractors Association) student chapter to encourage CECA’s participation in future initiatives. Naoumov and his peers thought they would prefer to work on projects helping remote Canadian communities.

“It is important to us that the project has impact, so we discussed working with geoexchange technology in Indigenous communities in northern Canada,” Naoumov says, noting solar arrays would be impractical during a Canadian winter. “Geoexchange systems in the Yukon, using the heat stored in the earth’s soil, might be a possible student project.”

12671902_10154031876842943_2321700936282147666_o“By participating, students can really get their minds around the challenges or problems they might be asked to solve in professional careers,” says Prof. Brenda McCabe, CECA student chapter faculty advisor. “All of the design and research work is done by the students and I am proud of how much they have done since founding the chapter in 2014.”

The participation in the 2016 Student Passport Initiative would not have been possible without industry sponsors Alltrade Industrial Contractors, Fitzpatrick Electrical and Fusion Energie.

In addition to the Student Passport Initiative, CECA student members compete annually in the Green Energy Challenge. Demonstrating their ability to analyze particular electrical construction management problems, they create comprehensive plans and budgets for appropriate retrofitting. The 2015 team designed a solar photovoltaic microgrid system and back-up power plan for Good Shepherd Ministries, a homeless shelter in Toronto. For the 2016 entry, students are planning a lighting retrofit, daylight analysis and solar array for the University of Toronto Schools.

The Canadian Electrical Contractors Association brings together electrical contractors across the country to share experience and advice. The U of T chapter extension is the first of its kind in Canada. Their goal is to bridge the gap between contracting and engineering and engage students with first-hand, applied experience. In addition to competitions, the group hosts networking and social events and connects students with scholarship and job opportunities.