SEED Grants-Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research - Carnegie Mellon University

Research Fellowships

The Steinbrenner Graduate Fellowship program has been established to provide support to highly qualified, second-year graduate students across all 7 colleges at Carnegie Mellon who are involved in environmentally-focused, interdisciplinary research projects on topics aligned with the strategic focus areas of the Steinbrenner Institute.  The two strategic focus areas are a) energy transition strategies and b) urban infrastructure and sustainable cities.

About the Fellowship:

  • Proposals should be submitted by a faculty advisor on behalf of their advisee
  • Up to five fellowships will be granted per academic year (The 2011-2012 fellowship amount was $36,000 to be applied towards recipient tuition)
  • Students receiving support will be required to present a poster at the annual Steinbrenner Institute Environmental Research Poster Session, held during the spring semester of each year
  • Fellowship applicants much be exceptional Carnegie Mellon students entering their second year of PhD studies and must be involved in an ongoing research project
  • The purpose of the Steinbrenner Graduate Research Fellowship is to provide support for PhD students engaged in cutting edge environmental research for which traditional funding may not be available 

Information on application to the 2012-2013 Steinbrenner Graduate Research Fellowship program will be released in early March 2012. 

For more information on the Steinbrenner Graduate Research Fellowship program please contact Erika Ninos at or 412-268-2754.

2011—2012 Fellows

  • Ahmed Abdulla (Steinbrenner Robert W. Dunlap Graduate Research Fellow- Engineering and Public Policy)

    Title: "Investigating the Economic Viability of Small, Modular Nuclear Reactors"
  • Wayne Chuang (Chemical Engineering)

    Title: "Characterization and Aging of Black Carbon Particles"
  • Wee-Liat Ong (Mechanical Engineering)

    Title: "Enabling Greener Solar Cells, Automobiles, and Devices Through Hybrid Organic-Inorganic Thermoelectric Materials"
  • Arvind Murali Mohan (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

    Title: "Determining the Microbial Impacts on the Fate of Radionuclides in Flowback Water from Hydraulic Fracturing of the Marcellus Shale"

2010—2011 Fellows

  • Anita Lee, Chemical Engineering

    Title: A Comprehensive Computational Approach to Evaluating Amine Based Solvents for Post Combustion CO2 Capture
  • Yeganeh Mashayekh, Civil and Environmental Engineering and Engineering and Public Policy

    Title: Impact Assessment of Intelligent Transportation Systems Congestion Management Measures on greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • Scott Schiffres, Mechanical Engineering

    Title: Waste Heat Scavenging through Solution Processed Organic Thermoelectric Materials
  • Aranya Venkatesh, Civil and Environmental Engineering

    Title: Supporting Low Carbon Fuel Policies in the United States using Uncertainty Analysis

2009—2010 Fellows

  • Emily Fertig, Engineering and Public Policy

    Title: An engineering-economic optimization of compressed air energy storage (CAES) to enhance wind power reliability

    Research Team: Jat Apt (EPP/Tepper)

    Project Description: Concerns about global climate change have caused 25 states to establish renewable portfolio standards to reduce the greenhouse emissions of the electricity industry. As the proportion of electricity generated from renewables increases to 20% and more, the problem of variability in generation must be overcome with large-scale bulk storage. We propose to model the economic and technical performance of wind farms paired with compressed air energy storage (CAES) to mitigate the fluctuations in wind power generation. The proposed research takes an approach that is more integrative than previous research on wind power/CAES systems. In examining a broader scope of parameters that affect the economic feasibility of these systems, the proposed work represents an important step towards the possible implementation of the technology as a means to provide reliable wind power and help lower the greenhouse gas emissions of the electricity industry.
  • Catherine Izard, Engineering and Public Policy

    Title: Economic and Emissions Effects of Climate Change Policy on the Iron and Steel Industry in the United States

    Research Team: Christopher Weber (CEE), H. Scott Matthews (CEE/EPP)

    Project Description: In this project, Catherine will develop a method for evaluating the impact of various types of climate policy on the iron and steel industry in the United States. This project will combine the results of trade, economic and physical flow models of the U.S. and major iron and steel trading partners to answer the following questions:

    • What is the demand forecast for iron and steel production in the U.S. to 2050?
    • How will the steel consumption, use, and disposal structure change, in both the U.S. and trading partners, to 2050? How much steel scrap is likely to be available to U.S. iron and steel producers, from both domestic and foreign sources?
    • What is the maximum emissions reduction potential by 2050 of the iron and steel industry from both technology improvements and increased secondary production?
    • How does the emissions reduction potential compare with the requirements of various climate policies? Is it possible for the iron and steel industry to meet projected targets?
    • How will trade patterns for steel and scrap change as a result of climate policies, and is carbon leakage a potential outcome?
    • What would an ideal climate policy (national and international) for the U.S. iron and steel industry look like, with respect to both global emissions and financial health of the industry?

    The results of this research will help determine the best role for the iron and steel industry in a climate policy, given the unique physical dynamics and competitiveness concerns of the industry.
  • Elizabeth Traut, Mechanical Engineering

    Title: How Does Energy Policy Affect Vehicle Design?

    Research Team: Jeremy Michalek (Mech E)

    Project Description: We will construct a theory- and data-driven mathematical model of vehicle design responses under alternative market and public policy scenarios. We will use the model to address three questions: (1) What emerging alternative vehicle technologies will be competitive?; (2) How will public policies currently under consideration affect vehicle design outcomes?; and (3) What factors and uncertainties are most critical to determining future outcomes? Specifically, We will focus on comparing current corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards to proposed carbon taxes, cap-and-trade policies, European CO2 emissions standards, and California’s Zero-Emission Vehicle policy, with respect to their effects on decisions between conventional vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). We will identify critical values for any major uncertain factors affecting the technology choice.
  • Jessica Wilson, Civil and Environmental Engineering

    Title: Brominated Disinfection By-Products in Drinking Water: Impacts from Shale Gas Production in Pennsylvania

    Research Team: Dr. Jeanne VanBriesen (CEE, BME), Dr. Kelvin Gregory (CEE)

    Project Description: The goal of this research is to investigate the effect on drinking water sources in southwestern Pennsylvania from natural gas extraction, specifically the relationship between increased bromide concentrations in source water and increased haloacetic acid concentrations in finished water. Natural gas is considered to be one of the cleanest fossil fuels because when it burns it produces less nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide than coal or oil combustion for equivalent energy. In the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, natural gas may be a bridge fuel. The Marcellus Shale gas reserve in Pennsylvania is estimated to contain 262-500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and is one of the largest underdeveloped reservoirs of gas in the U.S. Extracting this natural gas has recently become economically and technologically feasible by using hydraulic fracturing, which requires the introduction of a fracturing fluid, usually water with sand and chemical additives, at high pressure. A single well being fractured requires several million gallons of water, of which 25-100% may be returned to the surface. This “produced” water contains high total dissolved solids (TDS). Current disposal practices involve mixing this wastewater with domestic sewage for dilution and then releasing it to surface waters. Because the Marcellus Shale is a marine formation, the TDS in the produced water is high in chloride and bromide. The present research will use Capillary electrophoresis methods to measure total Haloacetic acids concentrations in finished water at two drinking water plants along the Monongahela River where source water bromine will be measured continuously at the water intakes using ion specific electrodes. We will coordinate this monitoring with PaDEP monitoring of the TDS in the river and its tributaries.

2008—2009 Fellows

  • Sharon Wagoner, Engineering and Public Policy

    Title: The Feasibility of Using Parabolic Trough Solar Technology to Increase Renewable Energy Production

    Research Team: Dr. Ed Rubin, The Alumni Professor of Environmental Engineering and Science, and Professor, Engineering and Public Policy and Mechanical Engineering; Dr. Granger Morgan, Department Head Engineering and Public Policy

    Project Description: Climate change, induced by human activities (especially consumption of fossil fuels), is a unique environmental issue because its adverse effects may be experienced across the world in this century. Renewable energy must play a critical role in reducing fossil fuel use and the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Solar energy is an attractive renewable energy source because the sun’s energy is free, and it does not pollute. However, issues such as cost and intermittency have kept it from the forefront of energy solutions. Using solar thermal energy (concentrated solar power (CSP)) instead of photovoltaics can limit these factors and make solar more competitive. There are three main types of CSP – Parabolic Trough, Dish Design, and Power Tower. The research proposed here will examine the potential for parabolic trough solar technology to meet the standards specified in renewable portfolio standards (RPS.) The goal is to understand the limitations of this proven technology and what it will take (technically and financially) for it to make up a large portion or the entire portion of a RPS.
  • Melissa Chan, Engineering and Public Policy

    Title: Assessing Future Supply Curves for Coal in Light of Technological and Environmental Uncertainties

    Research Team: Granger Morgan (CIT/EPP), Scott Matthews (CIT/CEE/EPP), David Gerard (CIT/EPP)

    Project Description: Coal is viewed by many as an abundant and inexpensive fuel. Demand will increase, as advanced technologies enable us to use coal with less environmental impact. However, coal extraction is a dirty and dangerous business. Our work will estimate the environmental cost to extract coal. The outcome of this work will be a more accurate understanding of the complete environmental cost of options to generate electricity from coal. It will evaluate environmental costs incurred during extraction, identify technologies and strategies that might be used to mitigate those costs, and the research agenda needed to become better able to reduce those costs. The research will build on our work to understand environmental problems likely to arise with continued, and increased coal extraction in the United States. It also complements existing Carnegie Mellon research to examine financial and environmental cost of coal transportation, its use in electricity generation, and capture and storage to control CO2 emissions. With better insight into the health, safety and environmental consequence of coal extraction, we will be in a better position to reduce or eliminate them where they occur in the fuel cycle, and choose options of lowest environmental impact.
  • Varun Dutt, Engineering and Public Policy

    Title: Human problems of forecasting in dynamic systems

    Research Team: Cleotilde Gonzalez, Social and Decision Sciences Department

    Project Description: Through laboratory experiments and computational cognitive modeling, we will help determine the main cognitive problems involved in human forecasting on dynamic systems like the climate control. One of the important themes in forecasting on climate problems involves human predictions of carbon-dioxide absorptions in order to control levels of anthropogenic carbon-dioxide in atmosphere by indirect regulation of carbon-dioxide emissions over many years. Initial work on the regulation of emissions suggests human cognitive problems and limited mental models that inhibit proper forecasts on climate problems. A proper understanding of the human cognitive problems in forecasting in dynamic systems is extremely important to ensure a successful future in climate policy making. The main outcome of this research would be a characterization of the cognitive problems involved in these systems and a definition of a set of interventions that could be used to improve policy decisions on our environment and sustainability.

2007—2008 Fellows

  • Anny Huang

    Title: Life Cycle Energy and Environmental Impacts of Extended Product Responsibility Policy

    Project Description: Increased production of goods in modern times has improved people’s quality of life and enabled economic growth. However, it has also led to significant increases in resource extraction, environmental degradation, and waste output. Traditionally, municipalities are given the responsibility to manage the increasing amount of waste but have no control of waste generation. In the recent decade, several countries in Europe and Asia have transferred the responsibility of waste management to producers by implementing extended producer responsibility (EPR) policies— policies that require producers to be financially or physically responsible for their products after their useful life. EPR policies give producers strong incentives to redesign their products with more effective end-of-life management (EOLM) in mind. It often results in producers having to “take back” products from customers, requiring the design of reverse logistics systems to handle the large volumes of product. Reverse transportation and recycling of products are two important life cycle phases to consider when comparing EPR policy options with traditional EOLM of waste.

    Using the Economic Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment (EIO-LCA) methodology, the authors conducted an economy-wide assessment of the potential impacts of EPR policy scenarios. Using data from the purchaser price input-output model compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, which provide estimates of transportation expenses resulting from delivery of goods from producers to consumers, life cycle environmental impacts of transporting goods between producers and consumers are calculated and compared to the environmental “credits” of recycling estimated using a modified EIO-LCA model. It is found that although reverse logistics transportation of product take-back contributes to certain environmental burdens in the economy, the energy consumed during delivery of most goods is relatively small compared to the energy embodied in the goods during the manufacturing phase. Improved recycling and resource recovery practices can potentially reduce the total energy consumption of industries in the economy. This presentation provides an overview of the research findings and policy implications.
  • Heather Wakeley

    Title: Alternative Transportation Fuels: Infrastructure Requirements and Environmental Impacts for Hydrogen and Ethanol.

    Project Description: Ethanol and hydrogen are receiving considerable attention as alternative fuels for transportation. They could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote US energy independence. The increasing cost of petroleum also makes the economics of alternative fuels more attractive. At 2006 gasoline prices, ethanol and hydrogen would have comparable or lower fuel costs. In this paper, we analyze distribution options (of pipeline, rail and truck) for alternative fuels using the State of Iowa as a test case. By switching to E85 in Iowa, local ethanol production from cellulosic biomass and corn could replace 82% of its gasoline use. Hydrogen derived from steam methane reforming at 7 facilities, capturing economies of scale, located nascent to population centers throughout Iowa could replace all gasoline usage in the state. We find that none of the scenarios we analyze are dominant with regard to all of the dimensions of user cost, capital costs, environmental costs and safety risks. There are strong economies of scale in distribution paths, so that a major shift to alternative fuels is needed to achieve the most cost effective distribution methods. There is considerable uncertainty in our cost estimates, particularly for the production costs of ethanol from cellulosic biomass, feedstock costs for hydrogen production and the future price of petroleum.
  • Yan Xu

    Title: Development of Novel Contaminant Source Tracking with Molecular Microbiology.

    Project Description: Environmental restoration of watersheds contaminated with pathogenic microorganisms initially requires identification of the physical sources of contamination. Pathogens can be released to the environment from (1) improper handling of human waste (e.g., failing on lot septic systems, overflowing sanitary and combined sewer systems), (2) agricultural practices that allow domestic animals to traverse freshwater systems or that discharge wastes from confined feed lots, and (3) natural sources like wild animals (e.g., deer, raccoon, etc.). Identification of possible sources in a watershed is a relatively easy process; but determination of which possible source is contributing a significant load that can be reduced through better engineering or management practices is much more difficult. 

    In the past several years, a number of chemical and microbiological "source tracking" methods have been developed. Most of these enable the identification of the host organism source for a given pathogen found in a system. Unfortunately, they do not enable identification of the physical source of waste. So, while it is possible in some systems to identify that the pathogen loading is from human beings more than from deer, it is not possible to determine which sewer overflow location or which area of septic systems is the critical failure that requires remediation. Further, all current source tracking methods require a library of information to be generated from within the study watershed; these libraries are not generalizable to other watershed.