Monthly Archives: May 2016

Don MacKenzie’s Driverless Car Research Featured in The New York Times


Don MacKenzie

Within the next 5-10 years, it is expected that new automobiles will be able to drive themselves under limited conditions. This automation will likely change the way people use cars, which could in turn affect energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. An expert on the anticipated environmental impact of self-driving cars, Assistant Professor Don MacKenzie’s research was featured in The New York Times and more than 500 other news outlets. Read the New York Times article.

MacKenzie published a new study earlier this year together with researchers from the University of Leeds and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The researchers discovered that vehicle automation may lead to a dramatic increase in car usage, which could drastically reduce the environmental benefits of self-driving cars. With self-driving cars allowing people to work and relax while on the road, they may choose to drive more frequently, or choose their cars over other forms of transportation. The study estimates a 5-60 percent increase in energy consumption from cars.

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STAR Lab Collision Avoidance Research Featured on KIRO 7

STAR Lab Student on KIRO 7Ph.D. student Ruimin Ke, from the STAR Lab, was featured on KIRO 7 for his work on a collision avoidance project, which entails gathering data from 38 buses in the Seattle area that are testing out pilot technology that displays a warning to bus drivers when cars, pedestrians and cyclists get too close to the bus. Watch the video.

The project is being undertaken through a partnership between the STAR Lab and Washington State Transit Insurance Pool, with the goal of reducing the frequency and severity of transit vehicle collisions. The pilot technology consists of three displays in close proximity to bus drivers, at the left, center and right of the dashboard, which turn yellow or red to alert them about potential risks. The displays also indicate if the speed limit is being exceeded and if the bus is too close to the car ahead.

Ke is currently collecting data from the 38 buses, which are from transit agencies including King County Metro and Kitsap Transit. Each bus is tracked, and video is collected from each incident when the warnings go off. The STAR Lab is developing a methodology to evaluate the effectiveness of the collision avoidance system.


New CEE-Led Center for Air Pollution Research Funded by $10 Million EPA Grant

Julian Marshall

Julian Marshall, Co-Lead

Chris Tessum

Chris Tessum, Research Scientist

Matt Bechle

Matt Bechle, Ph.D. Student

To address the nation’s pressing need for better air quality, a research team that includes UW Civil & Environmental Engineering researchers has received a $10 million Air, Climate and Energy (ACE) grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The five-year grant funds a new research center, called the Center for Air, Climate and Energy Solutions (CACES), co-led by UW CEE Professor Julian Marshall in collaboration with more than 25 researchers from the University of Minnesota, Carnegie Mellon University and several other universities.

The new center is one of three ACE centers announced by the EPA at the annual Health Effects Institute conference held in Denver, Colo., on May 1, 2016. The new ACE centers were funded to address three primary objectives: better combined management of air pollution and climate change, the development of strategies for managing multiple air pollutants, and to tailor regulatory efforts to regions of the United States based on local context. A common theme in the UW effort is to improve access to air pollution data and models for both experts and novices.

“Several important steps for understanding and improving air pollution are challenging to carry out,” Marshall said. “We aim to make tools that are easier for others to use to understand how to improve air quality and reduce the negative health effects.”

Air pollution currently causes more than 3 percent of all deaths in the United States, according to the Global Burden of Disease study led by the UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. This is a higher percentage than deaths related to drug use or road injuries. Although air quality in the United States has generally improved in recent decades, recent findings have shown that air pollution is worse for public health than previously thought.

The researchers will specifically explore which pollutants are most damaging to people’s health, the levels of current pollutants and sources of pollution. The researchers will also provide guidance to the EPA regarding how air pollution emissions and concentrations are anticipated to change in the future and will evaluate strategies for reducing air pollution.

“A critical step for improving air pollution is understanding the contributions from specific sources, such as cars, ships, agriculture and power plants,” Marshall said. “Our research will provide critical tools and information for understanding people’s exposure to air pollution and what steps would reduce those exposures.”

The researchers will use a new approach, combining their air pollution research with the related areas of climate change and energy usage. Since air pollution and climate change are both largely caused by the combustion of fossil fuels, the integrated approach will address commonalities and encourage solutions that will positively impact all three areas.

“A critical need facing our country is addressing air pollution and climate change at the same time, and certainly avoiding solutions to one problem that exacerbate the other,” said Dr. Chris Tessum, a research scientist at UW CEE who is involved in the project. “We will investigate integrated approaches that identify win-win opportunities.”

Another critical aspect of the research is investigating environmental justice, to determine which populations have more exposure to air pollution and how new air quality management strategies may alter current disparities.

“We don’t all breathe the same air,” said Matthew Bechle, UW CEE Ph.D. student and a member of the research team. “Some management strategies will have a larger impact on people in our country who currently are exposed to the worst air pollution.”

The new center will focus on five specific research projects: developing new user-friendly models to assess air quality and exposure; measuring pollutant levels in three cities: Austin, Texas, Los Angeles, Calif. and Pittsburgh, Pa; developing multi-pollutant models for real-time analysis and to predict estimated average concentrations spanning multiple decades; investigating key air, climate and energy challenges and how they are related; and analyzing nationally representative health data to better understand multi-pollutant mortality risk and how it varies across the United States.

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Hydropower Research Featured in ASCE Civil Engineering Magazine

Faisal Hossain

Faisal Hossain

The work of CEE Associate Professor Faisal Hossain’s Sustainability, Satellites, Water and Environment research lab is featured in the May 2016 edition of the ASCE Civil Engineering Magazine, in an article titled “Blue Power.”

The article highlights how only a small percentage, about 3% of the more than 80,000 dams in the nation, are currently capable of producing electricity through hydropower. Hossain discusses the missed potential for hydropower, which he says is the result of keeping water at reservoirs at lower levels than needed during periods of overestimated flooding.

Hossain recommends that dam operation practices be reevaluated with more dynamic operating procedures in order to keep the water as high as possible for hydropower turbines to operate at full capacity without compromising flood mitigation potential. More accurate weather forecasts and observations are now available compared to 60 years ago when dam operating guidelines were drafted. It isn’t always necessary to decrease water levels so drastically when forecasts indicate a weaker flood to flow in the reservoir, Hossain says. Rather, he calls for a new approach that integrates modern weather forecasting with flood preparation to better meet hydropower needs without raising flood risks downstream.