Hydrogen-powered rockets

1) Sustainability Problem: Health and Safety (Radiation)

Rocket engines powered by mainstream hydrocarbon propellants release black carbon into the stratosphere, which is the second layer of the atmosphere. Because the particles are literally black, they absorb light and warm the stratosphere. These warmer temperatures accelerate the chemical reactions that deplete ozone, which we know protects us from harmful radiation. While total black carbon emissions from global space activity are not yet at high enough levels to have a significant impact, the global launch rate is experiencing a surge and is expected to continue increasing. Without any preventative or mitigative measures, the ozone depletion and corresponding radiation from aerospace activity could cause serious adverse effects for the human population.

2) Article Titles: “The Policy and Science of Rocket Emissions” and “Will hydrogen power the future of aerospace?”; Article Websites: Aerospace.org and Wha-international.com; Article Links: https://aerospace.org/paper/policy-and-science-rocket-emissions; https://wha-international.com/will-hydrogen-power-the-future-of-aerospace/

  • Hydrogen fuel is readily available and can be produced efficiently. (WHA International)
  • Hydrogen fuel burns cleanly and has the potential to have a 100% clean energy cycle if it is produced using renewable energy sources. (WHA International)
  • Hydrogen-based rocket fuel has no black carbon emissions and performs better as a propellant than other hydrocarbon fuels. However, it is more difficult to work with than other propellants because of its sensitivity. It is also low density, requiring a larger tank and more weight which is disadvantageous when trying to get the rocket off the ground. Finally, it requires much cooler storing temperatures. (Source: Martin Ross [my manager at The Aerospace Corporation, personal interview).

3) Organizational Stakeholders

Transitioning the aerospace industry to hydrogen fuel from hydrocarbon propellants will require research, acceptance and support, and changes in infrastructure. This means that the following stakeholders will be involved:

  • Aerospace engineers to adjust the actual rocket engines to use hydrogen propellant
  • Climate and atmospheric scientists to continue monitoring and researching the effects of rocket engine emissions on the stratosphere and other layers of the atmosphere not so well understood
  • Communication experts to translate the science to policy makers and make them understand the urgency of the situation
  • Policy makers so that policies can be implemented to make the transition
  • Aviation experts that have used hydrogen fuel to make connections between airplanes and rockets and this specific use case

4) Implementation Steps

As mentioned in the stakeholder section, making this transition will require lots more research as well as communication and changes in infrastructure, not to mention significant costs. Therefore, the following steps should be implemented:

  • Teams should be created to combine experts in aerospace, climate/atmosphere science, aviation, and policy. All perspectives should be accounted for and professionals from various fields should work together to implement the hydrogen technology to ensure that adverse effects in other areas are not being created.
  • Before implementing changes in infrastructure to accommodate hydrogen fuels only, research should be completed on other clean fuels to determine if there are even more ideal options. While hydrogen seems like a good fuel to use, there is always a need to continue searching for even better ones.
  • Financial modeling should be performed to determine how much it would cost to make the infrastructure and rocket engine modifications to accommodate hydrogen fuel.

Drone Use for Sustainable Precision Agriculture

1) Sustainability Problem: Health

As the world population increases, the planet has experienced increasing demands in food production and consumption. Additionally, climate change is leading to agriculture loss. These phenomena put pressure on farmers and agronomists to use and manage their resources more effectively and efficiently in order to secure the health and well-being of the people the industry serves.

2) Article Title: “The Role of Drone Technology in Sustainable Agriculture”; Website Name: PrecisionAg TecHub; Article Link: https://www.precisionag.com/in-field-technologies/drones-uavs/the-role-of-drone-technology-in-sustainable-agriculture/

  • Precision agriculture practices including fine-scale monitoring and mapping of yield and crop parameter data help farmers exercise more intense and efficient cultivation methods. They can make decisions based on economic and environmental factors to boost yields and achieve cost and environmental savings.
  • Using drones with robust data analytics can be a powerful method of supporting precision agriculture practices. Drones can be used in a variety of functions:
    • Crop monitoring to plan and make improvements such as the use of ditches and evolving fertilizer applications
    • Accurately tracing products from farm to fork using GPS locations throughout the entire journey
    • Carefully monitoring large areas of farmland, considering factors such as slope and elevation, to identify suitable seeding prescriptions
    • Assessing crop fertility with high-resolution drone data to more accurately apply fertilizer, reduce wastage, and plan irrigation systems

3) Organizational Stakeholders

Stakeholders for drone technology in precision agriculture could include the following:

  • Local community members that may be concerned about privacy, especially if drones are collecting data very high level data (controlled airspace, around airports, individuals’ privacy)
  • Famers
  • Drone manufacturers
  • Software providers
  • Agricultural service providers
  • Agronomists

4) Implementation Process

Before implementing drone technology for precision agriculture purposes, agricultural professionals need to decide whether to train an internal team to fly the drones or to hire a third-party. There are cost considerations associated with this decision.

The parties using the drone need to assess regulations in the area before using the drones. Regulations vary by region and are constantly changing, so drone users need to make sure they comply with regulations involving controlled airspaces around airports or the privacy of individuals.

A technology evaluation must be completed to determine which type of drone with which software is best suited for the land in question. Since drones have so many uses and can collect so many different types of data, some types may be better suited for certain situations.

Smart Lifts

1) Sustainability Problem: Energy

Vertical transportation is a crucial element of city dwelling. More than 7 billion elevator rides occur every day in tall buildings around the world, and this number will only grow as the number of people living in cities increases. In the United States, elevators often operate with outdated technology and infrastructure and are not energy-efficient. Elevators account for 2-10% of a building’s energy use. Creating more energy-efficient methods of vertical transportation is a critical sustainability challenge. (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/elevators-are-going-green-180968907/)

2) Article Title: “Energy-efficient vertical transportation with sensor information in smart green buildings”; Website Name: IOP Science; Link: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1755-1315/40/1/012079

  • Indoor sensors can detect physical criteria in buildings such as temperature, humidity, motion, and light. Vertical transportation systems can implement this sensor technology to make elevators more energy-efficient. Sensors can detect elevator users before they push the call button and this information is sent to the elevator control system. This more rapid transmission of information helps the system control moving time and direction more efficiently. By reducing the distance of unnecessary travel, energy is saved.
  • The elevator control system named ESG (“Elevator control for Smart Green buildings”), presented by researchers from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea, makes use of this concept. Three types of sensor devices including RFID (radio-frequency identification), video, and floor sensors collect information about elevator users before they arrive at the stop and push the call button. A reservation call is generated for the user, and the moving time and moving direction of the elevators are controlled based on the compilation of all the reservation calls.
  • The ESG system has been shown to reduce energy consumption by 28-31%. It was also shown to reduce average waiting time by 15-30%, as minimizing wait time is another objective of elevator control systems.

3) Organizational Stakeholders:

Stakeholders involved in implementation of this technology could include:

  • Sustainability consultants looking for opportunities to earn points for a building’s LEED accreditation by making elevators more energy-efficient
  • Facilities management professionals looking to address complaints on long wait times
  • Facilities management professionals looking to heighten security in buildings that require it (banks, government buildings, private corporations, etc.) that could use the information collected from the RFID, video, and floor sensors for other reasons

4) Implementation Process

While the ESG system has been shown to produce measurable results in several experimental settings, its effectiveness must be ascertained in the target building. To make sure the system would be a good match, the target building should first conduct an evaluation of its current elevator usage. Customer surveys should be conducted to assess complaints (are long wait times a concern, like they are in most other settings?), energy usage by elevators should be calculated (what level of energy efficiency are the elevators currently at), etc.

A technology evaluation should be conducted for the different types of sensor devices. While the ESG system is meant to use RFID, video, and floor sensors, a very wide range of these devices are commercially available. The effectiveness and cost of the different options needs to be evaluated to determine which are best for the target building.

Complimenting the point made above, the budget for whoever is managing the target building upgrades needs to be assessed. Perhaps more complaints are being made about other aspects of the building and more money needs to be spent elsewhere, leaving less funding for elevator upgrades. Perhaps there is an opportunity to partner with some manufacturers of sensor technology by providing those manufacturers the opportunity to pilot their devices, lowering overall costs.

Smart EV Charging: JuiceNet Enterprise


1) Sustainability Problem: Energy

Electricity grids can be powered by different generating sources. Fossil-fuel powered sources release significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming and causing negative climate change effects that have a detrimental impact on many species on Earth. Renewable energy generating sources, on the other hand, do not have these associated emissions. However, renewable energy such as solar and wind power are often only available to power the grid at certain times of the day. When they are not available, the grid has to pull from more “dirty”, emissions-heavy sources like coal and natural gas plants. Additionally, grids might still have to pull from dirtier sources of power during periods of peak energy demand when the renewable energy sources are used up and utilities need to supply more power.

2) Article Title: “eMotorWerks Launches JuiceNet Enterprise Cloud Platform”; Website Name: EnelX (EV Charging); Link: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/emotorwerks-launches-juicenet-enterprise-cloud-platform-300645109.html

Electric vehicles (EVs) will have lower emissions factors if the grid that powers them is itself powered by “cleaner” sources of energy. Maximizing the use of renewable energy instead of fossil fuels to power EVs would lower their associated greenhouse gas emissions.

3) Organizational Stakeholders:

JuiceNet and the JuiceNet Enterprise add-on can be utilized by a range of EV-related stakeholders including electric vehicle supply equipment manufacturers, vehicle operating equipment manufacturers, electric car owners, truck fleet owners, and commercial real estate facility managers such as large corporations or parking lot owners. (https://support-emobility.enelx.com/hc/en-us/articles/115001517872-What-is-JuiceNet-) (https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/emotorwerks-launches-juicenet-enterprise-cloud-platform-300645109.html)

4) Implementation Process:

The first step in implementing JuiceNet and the JuiceNet Enterprise add-on is completing an assessment of all charging stations owned or operated by a given entity to determine all locations of chargers and general charging history patterns. The Enterprise add-on is meant to manage large numbers of chargers, so charger fleet owners should definitely consider first if they actually need the Enterprise add-on (in other words, do they have enough stations to justify a software that is meant to manage many of them).

The second step would be conducting consumer surveys to assess the user friendliness of the software. The software should be easy enough to use so that the user can go with presets that optimize charging times and amounts without having to adjust settings. At the same time, the software should allow users to easily override presets in case of unique circumstances. Identifying flaws in usability from the beginning of implementation is critical to long-term success and effectiveness of the technology.

Next, a financial assessment should be conducted to calculate potential cost savings for customers. In order for the software to be utilized, the business case must be made clear. If the future users can be convinced that they will save money in the long-run, they will be much more likely to use and take advantage of the technology.

Agricomb–measuring the “digestive processes” of cows more precisely

1. Sustainability Problem: Safety and Health

The “digestive processes”–in other words, the burps and poop–of livestock are significant emitting sources of the greenhouse gas methane as well as ammonia, a harmful pollutant. While the effects of these gases are known, it is difficult to measure them precisely with conventional sensors in agricultural settings due to variability in management and cattle characteristics in different farms. This lack of precise measurement is a significant problem: it can hinder progress in accurately quantifying emissions from large areas, determining environmental dependencies of methane and ammonia emissions factor ratios, and improving understanding of microbial activity and carbon exchange. If more precise measurement techniques can be applied and the methane and ammonia emissions from cattle are better understood, more sustainable and productive cattle management can achieved to ultimately reduce emissions. (https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/14/eabe9765)

2. Article: “‘Agricomb’ is the perfect tool for measuring gases from cow burps”; Website Name: Ars Technica; Link: https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/05/agricomb-is-the-perfect-tool-for-measuring-gases-from-cow-burps/

  • Scientists and researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Kansas State University have introduced an “optical frequency comb” called the “agricomb” that measures the gas emissions from cattle by measuring different colors of light. These optical frequency combs are created with lasers that emit pulses of light and each tooth in the comb is a different color of light, depending on the frequency of the light wave oscillation. The agricomb can identify the trace gases in question (methane and ammonia) based on the shades and amounts of infrared light absorbed by the atmosphere.
  • Compared to a commercial sensor, the agricomb was shown to be better at capturing emissions in downward plumes, determining gas sources, and measuring many different gases at the same time.
  • For the first phase of this research, scientists measured emissions from a feedlot holding 300 cows that consumed a mix of hay and corn silage. Next, they want to measure the emissions from fewer cows living in a pasture that consume native grasses instead. By conducting different measurements like these, scientists can identify what type of cattle environment and feed type produces the fewest emissions.

3. Organizational Stakeholders

Farmers would be the main stakeholders involved in implementing this technology. While the agricomb helps address the sustainability goal to reduce methane and ammonia emissions, it may also lead to financial benefits by increasing efficiency and productivity (again, through better understanding of processes by more precise measurement). The usability of this technology, however, is unclear. While farmers are certainly those most affected, it may require an external party, such as the scientists in this study, that possess enough knowledge about the technology in order to operate it. This might require government involvement to fund research in this area in order to achieve federal or state emissions reductions goals. Finally, beef and dairy suppliers may be involved. These stakeholders may wish to lower their Scope 3 emissions and might engage with the farmers and agricomb to do so.

4. Implementation

The first step in implementation would be securing funding to carry out more studies such as the one listed in the article. As mentioned above, the manufacturers or advocates of agricomb should perform outreach to interested parties that have access to capital: in this case, it may be more likely that the beef and dairy suppliers have greater access to this or that the state or federal government have grants available for implementation of emissions reduction technology in the agricultural space.

Second, the agricomb should be tested on a larger scale. The study in the article performed measurements in a feedlot, which is a small and enclosed space. The scientists already plan to conduct measurements in a larger pasture setting and this should be replicated numerous times. It is important to do this to identify areas for improvement in agricomb technology: precise measurement for large-scale farms will be critical in achieving a more significant impact on emissions reductions.

Before the owners of agricomb attempt to deploy the technology on a larger scale, they should engage with farmers and other interested parties to listen to their questions and concerns. By consulting with involved stakeholders early in the process, the manufacturers of agricomb will be able to tweak the technology to meet the needs of the farmers and others. This will create a more desirable result for all parties in the long-run: there will be less miscommunication about resources required to implement the tech on a certain farmer’s land, a farmer or stakeholder who understands the benefits and process will likely support implementation and provide ease of access of land, etc.