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Research

Dr. Sanders' Sustainable Systems Group's mission is to conduct system-level analyses that seek to resolve issues with technical, political, and societal significance to inform better decision making in regards to energy and water resource management. Our current research projects fall into the three categories detailed below.

 

The Energy-water nexus

Energy and water are vital to economic security and quality of life. Together they enable an ample food supply, safe drinking water, electricity production, and other elements of a high quality of life. They are also interrelated: energy is required to pump, treat, pressurize, and heat water, and water is critical to producing fuels and cooling power plants. Because of this relationship, there are cross-sectoral impacts, both good and bad. Without enough energy, access to potable water and proper sanitation is hindered, which is a problem that compromises the health and well-being of billions around the world. Without enough water, thermoelectric power plants cannot be adequately cooled, hydroelectric facilities cannot operate, and the production of fuels can be interrupted, which can lead to blackouts and energy supply shortages. Our research explores this relationship to identify strategies for holistic resource conservation strategies.

 Current Funded Projects

 NSF-EPRI: Evaluating synergistic opportunities to utilize impaired waters in coastal regions

  • Sponsors: Electric Power Research Institute & National Science Foundation
  • PI: Dr. Amy Childress
  • Co-PI: Dr. Kelly Sanders and Dr. Andrea Achilli
  • Award Value: $300,000
  • Status: Active

 

The Environmental Impacts of Electricity Production

 

Nationally, the US power sector represents 41% of water withdrawals, 4% of water consumption, 36% of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions, 73% of sulfur oxides, and a significant proportion of nitrous oxides making it a critical target for sustainable policy and technology deployment. We use sophisticated grid modeling tools to quantify the environmental impacts of electricity production across a range of climatic, technical, regulatory, and economic scenarios. We also analyze opportunties to utilize waste streams (i.e. waste heat, wastewater effluent, etc.) to create value within the power industry.

 Current Funded Projects

EAGER: Developing a Framework for Mitigating Environmental Externalities in the Power Sector to Maximize Regional Outcomes

  • Sponsor: National Science Foundation (Award number: 1632945)
  • PI: Dr. Kelly Sanders
  • Co-PI: Dr. Matthew Kahn
  • Award Value: $300,000
  • Status: Active

  

 The Food-Water-Energy Nexus

 

As growing economies get richer, their diets become more resource intensive, namely more meat intensive. Globally, agriculture accounts for one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, over half of which are associated with livestock cultivation. Growing demands of land, energy, and water due to shifts from plant-based diets to meat-based diets in growing economies will markedly change the energy, water, and nutrients required to meet global food demand.  Furthermore, increasing demand for resource intensive foods in growing economies will increase global greenhouse gas emissions without large-scale waste management interventions. This research area aims to assess the environmental impacts that will follow changes to regional food supplies and production systems from a systems perspective.

 Images: Katherine Duffy, BA in the John C. Hench Division of Animation and Digital Arts, Class of 2016, University of Southern California