Carnegie Mellon University
Environmental Engineering, Sustainability, and Science Research Overview

Environmental Engineering, Sustainability, and Science

Sustainability addresses the ability of societies to maintain and improve quality of life while preserving both the quality and availability of its natural resources. As the world’s population increases, engineers face ever-evolving challenges with regard to issues of sustainability and the health of our natural environment. The EESS research group seeks to meet the growing challenges of environmental stewardship and sustainability, and focuses on:

  • air and water quality engineering, science, and modeling
  • environmental nanotechnology
  • environment-energy studies, including, bioenergy, carbon capture and sequestration, and shale gas
  • environmental sensing
  • green design and construction
  • industrial ecology
  • life cycle assessment
  • remediation risk assessment
  • sustainable engineering
  • climate change

Airborne Particles and Climate Change

Professor Peter Adams and his students work with global climate models to improve how they represent airborne particles and their effects on clouds. Special areas of interest include the organic chemistry of airborne particles and the micro-physics of particles and clouds. 

Investigating Air Quality: CMU’s Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies (CAPS)

Looks can be deceiving—even the clearest air is full of microscopic and even nano-sized particles. CEE/EPP Professor Peter Adams and his colleagues are investigating where these particles come from, their effects on us, and their role in global climate change. 


Future Scenarios for the US Environment

EESS faculty members are exploring future scenarios for domestic environmental resource sustainability challenges facing the United States. Professors Dave Dzombak and Mitch Small are investigating the influence of population, economic growth, and other factors on water demand. Professors Scott Matthews and Chris Hendrickson are assessing the overall environmental impacts and resource requirements associated with the large amount of internal migration taking place between various regions in the country, and the impacts of changes in and loads on transportation systems. 

Environmental Performance in Electricity Production

In collaboration with the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center, Professors Scott Matthews, Chris Hendrickson, and Costa Samaras are evaluating the environmental and economic impacts of various electricity production scenarios. Projects explore variables in energy generation sources in different states, as well as the benefits and costs of renewable electricity sources, life cycle emissions, and other factors.

Energy Extraction Impacts on Drinking Water

Professor Jeanne VanBriesen is studying the role of energy extraction activities (including shale gas) on surface waters and drinking water systems in the Appalachian region. Fossil fuel, extraction and processing contributes bromide-containing wastes to source waters that increase formation of disinfection by-products in municipal drinking water. 
Water Sampling

Environmental Implications of Shale Gas Extraction

Pennsylvania has a rich history in energy resources, from the first oil well to centuries of coal mining. Recently, Pennsylvania has been central to a national discussion of the potential and the challenges associated with domestic natural gas from shale reserves in the Marcellus and Utica formations.


Environmental Biotechnology

Professors Jeanne VanBriesen and Kelvin Gregory develop technology and fundamental understanding of the implications and applications of microbiology for environmental processes. Research is focused on bioenergy, nanotechnology, environmental restoration and improving fossil energy extraction. 
fuel cell

Developing Microbial Fuel Cells for Remote Power Generation

What do deep-sea bacteria have in common with your refrigerator? Both are the subject of research efforts concerning energy generation and use, and may become key factors in the way we think about energy. With climate change concerns coupled with a rising demand for power, researchers are striving to develop energy technology that will meet consumers’ needs while preserving the health of the environment.


Environmental Nanotechnology

Professor Greg Lowry leads the NSF Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT) at Carnegie Mellon, which also includes Professors Kelvin Gregory, Jeanne VanBriesen, and researchers from Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, and Engineering and Public Policy. Projects focus on elucidating the fundamental biogeochemical processes controlling the fate of nanoparticles in the environment and their effects on organisms to ensure that nanotechnology is developed safely and sustainably. 

Scanning for Silver: Investigating Nanoparticle Absorption in Plants

There might be metal in your gym socks. That’s because nanosilver is being increasingly added to a variety of household products. While its antibacterial properties may be great for keeping sweat socks odor-free, researchers are still working to understand nanosilver’s effects on the environment. 


Sustainable Energy Production: Geologic Carbon Sequestration

Professors Dave Dzombak, Kelvin Gregory, Thanasis Karamalidis, Greg Lowry, Dave Nakles, Costa Samaras and Mitch Small are conducting multiple projects on sequestration of CO2 in deep saline aquifers. Research is focused on understanding the potential for leakage of injected, supercritical CO2 through overlying rock and cemented wellbores; on development of monitoring systems for detecting such leakage; on evaluating impacts of leakage on overlying aquifers; and on development of leakage models for inclusion in risk assessment models.
Offsetting the Greenhouse Effect: CEE Achievements in Carbon Storage Research [PART 1]
Carbon Storage and the Underground Environment [PART 2]
Assessing the Risk of Carbon Storage [PART 3]

This three-part series explores CEE research on carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS). Part 2 continues by focusing on how CCUS could impact the underground environment, while Part 3 looks at efforts to develop a risk assessment framework for use in CCUS operations.  

Energy and the Environment

The Pittsburgh region is a global hub of energy research and innovation with particular focus on fossil fuel (coal, oil, natural gas), nuclear, and wind. All EESS faculty are engaged in research to improve the environmental sustainability of conventional and unconventional fossil energy extraction and use. Projects aim to enhance the understanding of environmental processes related to the protection of air, water, and land resources; to develop new technology for reduced environmental impact; and to develop energy transition strategies. 

Electric Vehicles

Professors Chris Hendrickson and Costa Samaras, in collaboration with faculty from Engineering and Public Policy, Mechanical Engineering and the Robotics Institute, study the environmental impacts of hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles. Research aims to guide the energy-related decisions of policy makers and consumers, and focuses on life cycle implications, battery technology, vehicle systems, and public policy. 

Climate Change Adaptation for Infrastructure

The CEE Department has a cross-group, interdisciplinary research initiative focused on investigation of the implications of climate change for the design, operation, and maintenance of infrastructure. The impacts of regional changes in temperature, precipitation, wind loads, snow loads and other environmental factors on built and natural infrastructure are being explored. Projects include examination of the need for adaptation in urban water supply and storm water management systems, and in the design and operation of buildings in particular regions. Implications for built infrastructure of response of natural systems, such as permafrost, ice, and surface waters to changes in long-term climate trends are being investigated. 

More information about the exciting projects being done by our world-class faculty and students can be found by visiting the websites of our faculty and their individual research groups, as well as the Research Profiles section of our website.