SyracuseCoE – Density Collaboration Leads to Green Spaces, Big Returns

Together, SyracuseCoE researchers and SyracuseCoE Partner Density have developed a novel occupant-centric building management system using specialized sensor technologies, leading to reduced energy use and refined performance.

Click here to read the full story in The Central New York Business Journal.

Density designs and manufactures technology that measures how people use space in order to make better use of the space we have.

Eric Schiff Speaks with Paste Magazine on Indoor Transmission and Mask Wearing

As vaccinations rates rise across the U.S. and restrictions begin to be eased, you may be considering going out to your favorite bar or club. But as the pandemic continues, just how relaxed can we be? Interim Director Eric Schiff spoke with Paste Magazine to discuss the reopening of venues and indoor transmission of COVID-19.

“To wear a mask just for, let’s say, 10 minutes on the hour at the most, when you go to the bar or the bathroom, leaving 50 minutes of unmasked breathing—that would be almost no protection,” Schiff said.

Read the full article here.

Toward Resilience: Helping Companies and Faculty Develop Innovations Targeting COVID-19 and Healthy Environments

2020 was a challenging year. The world has faced unprecedented challenges, requiring governments, communities, businesses, schools, and families to quickly re-think their approach to health and safety in the built environment. There has never been a more crucial time for research and entrepreneurship to promote healthy buildings and urban environments – a key focus of SyracuseCoE’s historic mission. From the beginning of the pandemic, it was clear that the Center had an opportunity to play a vital role in developing COVID-19 resilience in the built environment.

Critical Communications

As our partners and faculty pivoted in response to the pandemic, so did SyracuseCoE. Leadership and staff looked for ways to bolster COVID-related research and commercialization activities by stakeholders. When the pandemic first began to unfold, SyracuseCoE assumed responsibility for wide dissemination of important resources and research-based information from its global community of stakeholders to the wider public. Early on, the Center shared funding opportunities and the latest guidance to help businesses navigate a safe re-opening process. As it became clear that indoor air quality and aerosol spread was critical to the transmission of the virus, SyracuseCoE used its voice to promote essential and informed discourse designed to advance a more COVID-resilient built environment. Further, we frequently broadcast the most up-to-date findings while also highlighting key leadership events with “trusted experts” from a community of world-class researchers specializing in topics related to indoor environmental quality.

Funding for COVID Related Innovations

SyracuseCoE continues to work closely with industry partners to support their efforts to develop technologies that target COVID-19, leveraging expertise from Syracuse University researchers and other faculty, generating new applications for existing products and transforming manufacturing operations to produce much needed supplies for frontline workers. For the Fall 2020 round of the SyracuseCoE Innovation Fund, an award by and for SyracuseCoE Partners, all proposals were required to address pandemic-related issues. In October, SyracuseCoE awarded four Partner companies $10,000 each for their COVID-related projects: Acumen Detection, Air Innovations, Elizion Tech, and M3 Innovations. Acumen will be working with SyracuseCoE researchers to develop a device to test for COVID-19 in the air. This could allow schools, offices, and other gathering places to detect if someone spreading COVID-19 has infected a room. Further, Acumen has also contributed to the Syracuse University wastewater testing project and has been manufacturing COVID-19 diagnostic tests since March. Air Innovations is enhancing their HEPAirX ventilating air purifier and HVAC unit to reduce disease transmission through UV-C light. It will also have the ability to turn any enclosed space into a negative pressure room. Elizion Tech will produce medical grade bio-based thermoplastics to be used in manufacturing sustainable, biodegradable, and recyclable filtration materials for personal protective equipment. M3 Innovations is developing ultraviolet options for lighting for sport venues that will combine high quality illumination and disinfect them when unoccupied.

Research for Resiliency

In an effort to make key findings from the Center’s researchers more accessible to a broader audience, we launched the SyracuseCoE Research Brief Series. The series started in an effort to quickly disseminate pertinent research that can inform reopening plans for schools and businesses. The first research brief from SyracuseCoE interim executive director Eric A. Schiff shows the efficacy of mask-wearing and ventilation in reducing the risk of transmission in classrooms. The second brief gives an overview of how displacement ventilation and semi-open partitions can be used as a defense strategy against airborne diseases. Since these briefs have been available, they have been viewed thousands of times and there has been a 29% increase in new visitors to the website. This brief series allows SyracuseCoE to highlight the work of our researchers, spark discourse with other top scientists, and advance scholarship and expertise in these critical areas of study.

One such SyracuseCoE researcher is Syracuse University Engineering professor and indoor air quality expert Jianshun “Jensen” Zhang. Zhang was among the 239 global scientists who signed an open letter urging the World Health Organization to formally acknowledge that the virus can be spread through aerosol droplets. While contributing to both SyracuseCoE forums and research briefs, Zhang has also been promoting the importance of ventilation in controlling virus spread indoors. In an editorial for the journal “Science and Technology and Built Environment,” Zhang outlined a three-step plan for reducing the risk of infection indoors. He has also contributed to The Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest and other media outlets.

Zhang isn’t the only SyracuseCoE researcher trying to understand COVID-19 in the built environment. The most recent research brief explores SyracuseCoE Faculty Fellow Teng Zeng’s study on wastewater testing for COVID-19 and pharmaceutical drugs. Zeng received funding from the 2020 SyracuseCoE Faculty Fellows Program to research the relationship between pharmaceuticals found in Central New York sewer sheds and increased rates of COVID-19. Joining Syracuse University’s David Larsen’s team of researchers conducting wastewater sampling on campus, Zeng wanted to see if there was a connection between drug use and COVID-19 prevalence. After 4 months of sampling, Zeng found that sewer systems with a higher detection for pharmaceuticals also have a higher detection rate for the RNA associated with SARS-CoV-2. The association means substance detection in wastewater systems may be a tool for predicting COVID-19 hotspots and could help inform local or regional COVID-19 prevention plans.

Thought Leadership Events

The coronavirus halted in-person events in 2020, so the SyracuseCoE Research & Technology Forums made a digital debut in a new, all-virtual format. These forums bring partners and faculty together to present research and exchange dialogue on innovative products and technologies. So far, two forums have been focused on helping students and teachers return safely to classrooms by sharing the latest COVID-19 risk-reduction tactics, such as increased ventilation, air purifiers, and masking. Looking forward, SyracuseCoE plans to offer additional digital round tables, given the increased accessibility and attendance of the online format. Recordings of forums have also been made available through a new SyracuseCoE podcast.

SyracuseCoE’s mission is to develop innovations in environmental and energy technologies that promote sustainable well-being in built and urban environments. Syracuse University and the Central New York Region has established strengths and expertise in critical COVID-related topics such as indoor air quality and wastewater resources. Looking ahead into a post-pandemic world, SyracuseCoE will continue to be a hub for researchers and companies to drive innovation and create a more resilient built environment.

SyracuseCoE Accepting Applications for 2021 Innovation Fund, Deadline March 11th

Proposals for up to $10,000 are invited from current SyracuseCoE Partner companies for the first round of the 2021 Innovation Fund. The Innovation Fund is funded by member companies of the SyracuseCoE Partner Program to help Partners overcome barriers in the process of commercializing potentially transformative innovations. Apply here

Companies at all Partner levels — Industry, Affiliate and Start-Up — are invited to apply. Projects must incorporate a SyracuseCoE core focus area, and preference may be available for projects that address the ongoing pandemic, as well as post-pandemic challenges. We welcome research engagements with faculty and students, support for product development and testing, market analysis, proposal match requirement, and more. Innovation Fund proposals must be submitted and led by Partner Program members, but may include collaborations with academic partners or with firms outside of the Partner Program.

To date, SyracuseCoE has helped finance more than 49 projects by 30 companies, totaling over $527,000. While the 2020 proposals were required to address the COVID-19 pandemic, current applications do not have to meet this qualification.

Previous companies who were Innovation Fund winners include:

Visit the Innovation Fund Projects page to see how other Partners have used these funds.

“The Innovation Fund Awards are a great example of how members of the SyracuseCoE Partner Program can use their membership resources to take advantage of meaningful opportunities and overcome potential barriers to commercialization,” said SyracuseCoE interim executive director Eric Schiff. “The awards, based on technical merit and sound principles, have tremendous potential to strengthen each company through the success of their projects.”

Applications, due by Thursday, March 11th, 2021 at 5:00p ET, will be invited to give a brief pitch, via Zoom, with a panel of reviewers. Visit the SyracuseCoE Innovation Fund webpage to learn more, or, if interested in joining the Partner Program, contact Tamara Rosanio at

Up to $3,000 Available for SyracuseCoE Partners to Hire Summer Intern

Through the program, SyracuseCoE helps provide experiential learning opportunities for students and exposes Partners to new talent

SyracuseCoE is now accepting applications from its Partners for up to $3,000 to fund a summer intern through the 2021 Summer Industry Collaboration Internship Program.  The program supports paid internship opportunities for SyracuseCoE Partner Program companies to host a student pursuing a degree in science, engineering, or architecture. This opportunity allows the student to gain crucial knowledge, develop valuable industry relationships, and refine their technical skills by engaging in hands-on work at SyracuseCoE Partner firms related to SyracuseCoE focus areas: indoor environmental quality (IEQ), high performance/green building, clean and renewable energy, and water resources.

The deadline for companies to apply to the 2021 SyracuseCoE Summer Internship Program is Friday, February 19, 2021.

SyracuseCoE intends to fund 6 students, with up to $3,000 per company. To qualify, firms must be members of the 2021 SyracuseCoE Partner Program. To date, 42 companies and 121 students have participated in this program, which is supported by annual fees paid by SyracuseCoE Partners. For full details, click here.

Faculty Fellow Bing Dong to Chair Seminar at the 2021 ASHRAE Virtual Winter Conference

SyracuseCoE researcher Bing Dong will be chairing a seminar called “The Impact of COVID-19 on Building Energy Consumption, IAQ and Occupant Behavior” at the 2021 ASHRAE Virtual Winter Conference, taking place February 9th – 11th. Bing Dong is a Faculty Fellow researching smart building controls in the Total Indoor Environmental Quality (TIEQ) Lab and is also an Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Syracuse University.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed occupant schedules and behavior, impacts building energy consumption and indoor air quality. Understanding such effects is crucial for ensuring building performance and operations while also providing healthy and productive living and working environments. This seminar will provide an overview of such impacts from the following perspectives: (1) Social-psychological factors with the analysis of energy and indoor air quality in residential buildings, (2) how shelter-in-place orders affect energy use of office buildings, (3) indoor air quality at home, and (4) well-being at home.

Click here for more information or to register for the conference.

Podcast: Unexpected New Directions for the Future of Green Building


View our other Research & Technology Forums and Podcasts

Ian Shapiro, co-author of the newly released Green Building Illustrated, 2nd Edition, joins Dr. Nina Sharifi, an Assistant Professor of Architectural Technology at Syracuse University’s School of Architecture, to talk about updates to the new edition of the book, including: 

  • Will central heating systems be replaced by installing heat pumps in every room?
  • Shape efficiency helps reduce energy and construction costs. How can we maximize this new metric and retain the character of external features?
  • Lighting gains by LEDs and the thermal loss of excessive glazing may sunset a favorite green building strategy. Are the days of daylighting over?

This is Shapiro’s second collaboration with Francis D.K. Ching, the illustrator and co-author of both editions of Green Building Illustrated. Ching is a well-known architecture and design graphics writer. Adobe Originals typeface, Tekton, was modeled after his hand-lettering style and is the font used throughout the book. Both editions present a fully illustrated guide to the theory and practice of sustainable design. The new edition continues to create a typology through strategy, theory and standards, while building the visual lexicon for sustainable design and construction. Students, faculty, practitioners and green building advocates – tune in to join the conversation about new directions in green building! Learn more and purchase your copy at or


Ian Shapiro, PE, LEED AP, Founder and Senior Engineer, Taitem Engineering – Shapiro founded Taitem in 1989. He is the co-author of the books Green Building Illustrated, 2nd Edition (2020), Green Building Illustrated (2014) and Energy Audits and Improvements for Commercial Buildings (2016), all published by Wiley. He has been a visiting lecturer at Cornell University, Tompkins Cortland Community College, and Syracuse University. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University, and an M.S. from Columbia University, both in mechanical engineering. He is a licensed engineer in the states of New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania. In his spare time, Shapiro enjoys to spend time with family and friends, write poetry, and play soccer and basketball. Taitem Engineering is a long-time member of the SyracuseCoE Partner Program. 

Nina Sharifi, Assistant Professor of Architectural Technology, School of Architecture, Syracuse University – Dr. Sharifi’s research interests include the development of net-zero retrofit approaches for buildings in cold-weather climates, microgrid and energy sharing technologies, and low-carbon active enclosure systems. With a background in sustainable architecture and technology development, Sharifi now maintains interdisciplinary research and design collaborations across architecture, engineering, biotech, and materials science. Sharifi is a Faculty Research Fellow at SyracuseCoE.

Good Life CNY is Bringing Job Seekers to CNY Companies Looking for Talent

Young people are looking to make a good life in smaller, more tight-knit communities like Syracuse, NY – mid-sized cities that are less crowded, with lower costs of living and shorter commutes. With support from SyracuseCoE and others, a CenterState CEO project, Good Life CNY, aims to highlight Central New York as a region of growing opportunity for those looking to relocate. Visitors to the site, launched almost one year ago, can find information on the housing market, local schools, and job opportunities. The site also highlights various CNY hotspots, including restaurants, breweries, parks, and much more.

“The Good Life CNY initiative was built to promote the many job opportunities and high quality of life in the Central New York region,” said CenterState CEO Chief of Staff Benjamin Sio. “Companies are coming together through this initiative, to offer a collective message that they are looking for talent and CNY is a great place to live and work. We can see that it is working because people are visiting the site and many job seekers have found employment through the job board.”

Good Life CNY has amassed over 100,000 page visitors since early this year, surpassing their original goal by 600% percent. Almost 6,000 job seekers have used the site to learn more about companies and job opportunities in Central New York and have clicked to view open jobs over 10,000 times, again outnumbering early expectations.

The top geographic areas of visitors to the website, including New York City, Boston, Baltimore and Detroit, reflect areas with higher numbers of people interested in considering relocation to CNY. The age range of visitors was mostly in mid-to-late 20s to around 44 years old. Topics of greatest interest to those considering re-locating were food & dining, lifestyle, pets, news & politics, employment, sports & fitness and outdoor activities.

Any individuals looking to relocate to the area or companies in the CNY region looking for skilled employees can learn more at

Four Startups Join SyracuseCoE Partner Program

SyracuseCoE is welcoming four startups to the Partner Program:

Elizion Tech – Elizion Tech is a groundbreaking company leading the way in cutting-edge materials and product development to address 21st-century challenges. They leverage research-driven technology to make the world a better place — if it isn’t innovative, scalable, scientifically-validated, and green, it isn’t an Elizion product. Made of dedicated engineers and scientists, their team is committed to improving quality of life around the world by applying accessible, innovative technological solutions. Learn more about Elizion Tech.

IoT Right – Built from the ground up with the ability to interface with any sensor, network, or cloud – IoT Right provides the business intelligence their clients need to maximize their impact. They offer open, secure and easy to use end-to-end IoT solutions to fit any IoT vertical market.  IoT Right’s one platform can integrate any system; crossing the cloud, operating at the edge, and putting full control at your fingertips. Learn more about IoT Right.

Urbata Inc. – Urbata is a building-data utility that streamlines the seven essentials of architecture: use, spaces, systems/fixtures, energy, transit, site and history. With both public and private partners, Urbata is designing architecture principles into urban tech, anchoring the innovations of the future and illuminating buildings that need attention and retrofitting. By creating a building-centric utility, Urbata can illuminate the myriad issues that others have missed or ignored in our most valuable resources. Learn more about Urbata Inc.

Well Building Controls – description forthcoming

The SyracuseCoE Partner Program engages collaborating firms and institutions to address global challenges in clean energy, healthy buildings, and water resources. Members conduct targeted research, demonstrate new technologies, commercialize innovations, and educate the workforce. Visit the webpage or contact Tammy Rosanio at for more information.

Channel 9 Visits SyracuseCoE to explore COVID-19 Research

Channel 9 stopped by to see how SyracuseCoE is helping Partner companies create and innovate technologies that address the COVID-19 pandemic. One such partner is Acumen Detection, who has shifted from building technology to test pathogens in cows to creating a molecular assay diagnostic test for real-time PCR for COVID-19.

View the news segment below and access the full Channel 9 news story here.

SyracuseCoE IAQ Expert Featured in the Wall Street Journal

SyracuseCoE Faculty Fellow and air quality expert Jianshun “Jensen” Zhang was invited to discuss ways to improve your home’s air quality for the Wall Street Journal, including air filters, purifiers, fans, and, most importantly, fresh air from outside. In light of COVID-19 and wildfires burning across the west coast, keeping your home well ventilated and air clean is a critical factor in keeping yourself and your family safe.

Professor Zhang was also joined by leading IAQ experts Joseph Allen, Healthy Buildings Program director at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Max Sherman, residential team leader of the Epidemic Task Force at the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, and Jeffrey Siegel, civil engineering professor at the University of Toronto.

Click here to access the Wall Street Journal article.

WAER visits SyracuseCoE to see how air handling systems can help prevent COVID-19 spread.

WAER’s John Smith interviewed SyracuseCoE Faculty Fellow Jianshun “Jensen” Zhang and SyracuseCoE Researcher Meng Kong and took a tour of the TIEQ lab to learn more about how ventilation can affect COVID-19 spread.

“This system we can set-up the conditions so that everyone gets their own filtered, clean air… which can prevent cross-contamination in the case of Coronavirus infection, we can really control that,” Zhang says.

To listen or read the full article, click here.

SyracuseCoE Interim Executive Director featured in article on efficiency of masks and air purifiers

SyracuseCoE Interim Executive Director Eric Schiff was interviewed by the publication for his recent paper on potential transmission rates in the classroom. With poor ventilation and no masks, one super-spreader, someone who is 100% more infectious than a typical carrier, has the potential to transmit COVID-19 to 80% of students in a 20 person classroom. With proper mask wearing and sufficient ventilation, that rate can drop to 5%.

To read the full article, click here. To access Schiff’s paper, click here.

Two Faculty Fellows Appointed to NYS Climate Action Council Advisory Panels

Two SyracuseCoE Faculty Fellows, Robert Malmsheimer and Tristan Brown, have been appointed to New York State Climate Action Council Advisory Panels. The panels are tasked with determining possible emission reductions to help meet statewide emissions limits as well as outlining policy proposals or action plans in order to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Malmsheimer, Professor of Forest Policy and Law at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), will serve on the Agriculture and Forest Advisory Panel. Brown, Associate Professor of Energy Resource Economics as SUNY-ESF, was appointed to the Energy-Intensive and Trade-Exposed Industries Advisory Panel. As Faculty Fellows, Malmsheimer and Brown worked jointly to demonstrate the feasibility of the stacked energy concept of pathway combinations on the same land in southeastern New York and assess the feasibility of three individual and two combined pathways in preparation for integrated economic-environmental assessments to be conducted in the future.

To read the full story, click here. To learn more about the New York State Climate Action Council Advisory Panels, click here.

Podcast: Air Purifiers & Airflows: Minimizing COVID-19 Risk in Classrooms


View our other Research & Technology Forums and Podcasts

How do we minimize COVID-19 infection risk when we return to school?

Students are heading back to classrooms. Undetected, there may be one who’s infected by COVID-19. Beyond masking, what are the options for teachers and administrators to minimize the spread of disease through the air? Join us as we talk with Central New York experts about how air can be replaced or purified to help protect classmates and teachers. When do portable air purifiers make a difference if a superspreader is in the room? How do I choose purifiers that will be effective and economical? Where should I place them? How can I understand how air moves in my room? What are the possibilities for rearranging the flow to minimize the risk of disease transmission?

Read the editorial by Jianshun “Jensen” Zhang, Integrating IAQ control strategies to reduce the risk of asymptomatic SARS CoV-2 infections in classrooms and open plan offices

Read the research brief by Eric A. Schiff, Ventilation & Masks: Reducing Airborne Transmission of COVID-19 in a Classroom


Vinny Lobdell, President, Healthway Family of Brands Vinny Lobdell attended Oswego State for 4 years focusing on Marketing and Economics. Later, he continued on to receive an entrepreneurial masters in partnership with the Entrepreneurs Association at MIT. Lobdell took the leadership role at HealthWay in 2008 and soon thereafter, HealthWay was named to the Inc 500 list of fastest growing companies in America. In 2017, Lobdell co-founded Intellipure, a fast-growing B-to-C brand with a heavy emphasis on creating the best customer experience through handcrafted, individually certified air cleaning systems. Today, HealthWay Family of Brands is recognized as the global leading manufacturer of air cleaning solutions for almost any application.  Over the past 12 years, Lobdell has traveled to 50 countries educating and speaking to industry leaders, governments, and medical professionals on air pollution and the harmful effects that come along with occupying our built environments. In the last 6 months, HealthWay Family of Brands has been called on by NYC Health and Hospital, Atlantic Health Systems, The U.A.E. Ministry of health and hundreds of corporate clients to assist in getting people back to work. Several of these clients represent some of the largest and most sophisticated companies in the world. Healthway remains committed to the Central New York Community and has hired an additional 50 people and added 20,000 square feet of additional manufacturing space in Pulaski NY. 

Photo of Jianshun Zhang

Jianshun “Jensen” Zhang, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Syracuse University and Visiting Professor, School of Architecture and Urban Planning at Nanjing University, China, SyracuseCoE Faculty Fellow Jensen Zhang is Professor and Director of Building Energy and Environmental Systems Laboratory, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Syracuse University (SU), New York, USA, and a Visiting Professor and Chief Researcher of the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at Nanjing University, China. He received his Ph.D. from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and worked at National Research Council of Canada for 8 years before he joined SU. Zhang is a co-leader of the SU-wide research cluster in Energy and Environment that promotes and coordinates multi-disciplinary research on the campus. He is an expert in room air and contaminant distribution, material emissions, air purification, building enclosure performance, and combined heat, air, moisture and pollutant simulations (CHAMPS) for integrative design and intelligent controls of buildings. He has authored/co-authored over 200 technical papers and 3 American national standards. He is Associate Editor of Journal of Science and Technology for the Built Environment (STBE, formerly ASHRAE HVAC&R Research Journal) and The International Journal of Ventilation, and serves as a Member of the Editorial Boards of Building Simulations—an international Journal, International Journal of High-Rise Buildings, and the International Journal of Architectural Frontier Research. He is Fellow of ISIAQ and ASHRAE, and current Chairman of the International Association of Building Physics.  


Eric A. Schiff, Ph.D., Interim Executive Director, SyracuseCoE and Professor of Physics, Syracuse University Eric Schiff has a long history of leading complex research projects that bring together academics, industry scientists and other partners to discover solutions to society’s energy-related problems. He has been a professor of physics at Syracuse University since 1981, leading interdisciplinary research groups and collaborating with laboratories from other universities and private organizations throughout the world. He has been a principal investigator for externally funded research projects from government agencies (Department of Energy, National Science Foundation and the Empire State Development Corp.) and corporations (United Solar Ovonic LLC, Boeing Inc., First Solar Inc., and SRC Inc.). During his time at Syracuse, he has spent half-year sabbaticals at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and at Innovalight, Inc., a startup company. From 2014-1017, he served concurrently as a program director at ARPA-E, an agency of the Department of Energy. There he initiated the SHIELD research program of a dozen research projects seeking inexpensive efficiency retrofits for legacy single-pane windows. He also supervised a portfolio of additional projects on solar energy conversion and other energy technologies. Schiff’s own research accomplishments include development of low-mobility solar cell device physics for thin-film solar cells such as perovskites, amorphous silicon, and cadmium telluride. His fundamental physics contributions include work on electronic transport and defects in semiconductors as well as on plasmonics. He is co-author of more than 100 refereed research publications with more than 4,000 citations and he is co-inventor on three U.S. patents. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. 

Understanding Organic Pollutants in Waterways

Teng Zeng, Ph.D., Assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, College of Engineering and Computer Science, Syracuse University.

“It’s important to be able to test ideas before applying to a federal agency for a full-blown project. My research projects are all outcomes of early SyracuseCoE support.”

Project: Zeng studies organic pollutants in water systems, both natural—such as lakes and streams—and engineered—such as waste and drinking water facilities. His goal is to understand how organic pollutants enter aquatic systems and the implications for their presence.

Nuts and Bolts: In a project with Sharon Moran, associate professor of environmental studies at SUNY-ESF, Zeng is collaborating with the Upstate Freshwater Institute and New York State Federation of Lake Associations, making use of a citizen science approach to look at patterns of organic pollutants in more than 100 New York lakes. Zeng analyzes water samples collected by volunteers—typically lakefront residents—and communicates findings back to them. Zeng says pollutants enter the water via septic systems or agricultural activities, as well as atmospheric deposition. “The pollutants aren’t necessarily bad for the health of the lake, but information is helpful as a tool to understand watershed management, particularly for lake residents,” he says. “Some lakes are relatively clean while others are heavily impacted by urban or residential activities.” The project was initially funded by SyracuseCoE and later by the National Science Foundation.

That’s Not All: In a project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Zeng is collaborating with SyracuseCoE Faculty Fellow Christa Kelleher, assistant professor of Earth science, and environmental sociologist Rebecca Schewe, associate professor at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, to study the impact of manure and bio-solids on New York waterways. The goal is to understand the impact of bio-solids—treated human waste— used by farmers as fertilizer, which may transmit organic pollutants, including pharmaceutical residue, into waterways. “We want to find out what contaminants are present and, using hydrological modeling, how these contaminants are transported to streams,” Zeng explains.

SyracuseCoE Impact: Zeng says Faculty Fellow grants from SyracuseCoE have been essential to launching his Syracuse University research. “They are the only source of seed grants in my area of research,” he says. “It’s important to be able to test ideas before applying to a federal agency for a full-blown project. My research projects are all outcomes of early SyracuseCoE support.”

Led by Syracuse University, SyracuseCoE engages students, faculty, and collaborators at 200+ firms and institutions to catalyze innovations that improve energy efficiency, environmental quality, and resilience in healthy buildings and cleaner, greener communities.

Occupancy Sensors to Regulate Energy Use

Senem Velipasalar, Ph.D., Associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, College of Engineering and Computer Science, Syracuse University.

“This kind of technology could have many other energy-saving applications.”

Project: Developing a low-cost, high-accuracy sensor platform that detects human presence inside buildings to reduce energy use in residential settings by as much as 30 percent.

Backstory: About 13 percent of all energy produced in the United States is used to heat, cool and ventilate buildings. Much of this energy is wasted by heating, cooling and over-ventilating unoccupied or partially occupied spaces. Existing building automation systems rely mostly on motion detectors and are limited in their reliability and ultimate ability to substantially reduce HVAC energy use.

Nuts and Bolts: Through a $1.2 million ARPA-E grant, Velipasalar is leading a team that partners faculty from SU’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science with SRI International, a leading nonprofit research center with expertise in embedded vision and machine learning. Their goal is developing a sensor platform using an infrared sensor, a visible-range camera, microphone and low-power processor to detect human presence— including in low light conditions and when people are static—and to develop algorithms to analyze and combine data from these sensors to enable occupancy sensing that would be impossible by each sensor alone. “We are making use of off-the-shelf components to develop a battery-operated, stand-alone platform that can perform occupancy detection in an efficient and reliable way on site,” she says.

SyracuseCoE Impact: Velipasalar, who has a strong record
of securing NSF support, credits former SyracuseCoE executive director Ed Bogucz with informing and motivating the team about this funding opportunity, as well as guiding them through the ARPA-E proposal preparation. “The ARPA-E proposal and budget preparation is different from NSF,” she says. “SyracuseCoE was very helpful every step of the way, especially in helping us develop and manage the budget.”

Practical Application: While the ARPA-E project is designed specifically to reduce HVAC energy consumption, Velipasalar says, “This kind of technology could have many other energy-saving applications,” including lighting and sound systems.

Intellectual Collision: Velipasalar’s research is at the intersection of embedded smart cameras, computer vision and machine learning. Her focus on questions related to energy is a more recent development, an outgrowth of her connection with SyracuseCoE. In addition to the ARPA-E project, an ongoing project with Tarek Rakha, former SU assistant professor of architecture and SyracuseCoE Faculty Fellow, investigates heat loss in buildings using thermal cameras on drones. Velipasalar and her Ph.D. student have developed an algorithm that autonomously detects heat leakages from thermal images of building structures. 

Led by Syracuse University, SyracuseCoE engages students, faculty, and collaborators at 200+ firms and institutions to catalyze innovations that improve energy efficiency, environmental quality, and resilience in healthy buildings and cleaner, greener communities.

Battery Storage Systems for Buildings

Bing Dong, Ph.D., Associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, College of Engineering and Computer Science, Syracuse University.

“The facility is a fabulous test bed, unique in the United States, that provides me unprecedented capability to conduct the work I want to do.”

Project: Integrating battery systems into buildings to improve energy efficiency and reduce demand on the electric grid.

Backstory: Dong joined Syracuse University from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) in August. An expert in intelligent building operation, he was recruited as a signature hire to bolster SU’s priority research cluster in energy and environment, bringing nearly $1 million in research funding with him. Dong says he was specifically attracted to SU by the opportunity to work at SyracuseCoE. “The facility is a fabulous test bed, unique in the United States, that provides me unprecedented capability to conduct the work I want to do,” he says.

Nuts and Bolts: Dong is developing and integrating a battery storage system lab at SyracuseCoE to explore ways to manage peak energy offset and smart grid to server interaction in commercial properties. The system will store energy at times when energy demand is low (such as the middle of the night), then at high demand times can provide 20 to 30 percent of building energy needs, offsetting energy costs and demand on the grid. Dong hopes to have the system operational by spring 2020 and then will begin collecting data and fine-tuning control systems to work optimally with building systems and National Grid signals. “The battery can last for 20 to 30 years,” he says. “Over time, this kind of system can save a lot of money for building owners.”

That’s Not All: Dong holds a prestigious five-year National Science Foundation Career Award that supports research on optimizing building-to-grid integration to server for better smart and connected communities. The goal is to better understand human use and energy demand in individual buildings in an attempt to stabilize the grid as a whole, creating smart cities. He also holds a U.S. Department of Energy ARPA-E grant to test and validate protocols to quantify HVAC energy savings from occupancy sensing in buildings. One year into his three-year ARPA-E project, Dong plans to use SyracuseCoE as a test bed to collect data—installing occupancy sensors that will automatically adjust HVAC set points based on the occupancy of a particular space to save energy.

Real-World Application: Dong is looking for entrepreneurial opportunities with plans to form a startup company that uses artificial intelligence to control buildings connected to renewable energy.

SyracuseCoE Impact: In addition to projects designed to use SyracuseCoE headquarters as a test bed, Dong works from an office on the fourth floor. “There is no better place for me on campus than at SyracuseCoE,” he says. 

Led by Syracuse University, SyracuseCoE engages students, faculty, and collaborators at 200+ firms and institutions to catalyze innovations that improve energy efficiency, environmental quality, and resilience in healthy buildings and cleaner, greener communities.

Mass Timber for Sustainable Buildings

Paul Crovella, Ph.D., Assistant professor of forest and natural resources management, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

“Studies show that using wood in interior spaces has measurable health and well-being benefits. People feel comfortable in a natural environment. Their heart rates are lower.

Project: Researching wood species suitable for mass timber construction to replace concrete and steel in commercial buildings.

Backstory: Steel and poured concrete production are two of the largest contributors to greenhouse gasses. By contrast, building out of wood has a carbon reduction impact. For many years, wood has been limited to residential construction using 2-by-4 or 2-by-6 lumber boards. New techniques allow construction using much larger pieces of timber that can be used as columns, beams, walls and floors, and can be used in structures up to 18 stories high.

“Performance is similar to concrete and steel in terms of strength and fire safety,” says Crovella. “While small pieces of wood burn easily, once wood is large enough in size, it is actually very difficult to start burning.”

Nuts and Bolts: Most research on mass timber construction has been conducted in Europe and North America. Crovella, who has been testing different species of wood for six years, has turned his attention to South America, where forest resources are abundant but little effort has been made to understand whether the wood is appropriate for mass timber construction. With support from a Faculty Fellows grant, Crovella is testing wood species from Brazil, finding they are more than twice as strong as current mass timber products in use. “The wood in South America grows under much different conditions, and because of that, the types of wood that grow are much denser than what we have in North America,” he says.

SyracuseCoE Impact: Funding from SyracuseCoE allowed Crovella to purchase the wood and build panels in his lab at ESF to do strength testing.

Added Benefits: In addition to reducing greenhouse gases, mass timber construction offers health benefits if the interior wood is left exposed and unfinished. “Studies show that using wood in interior spaces has measurable health and well-being benefits,” says Crovella. “People feel comfortable in a natural environment. Their heart rates are lower. Their stress hormone levels are lower.”

Extra Credit: Crovella has been on the advisory council for the New York State Green Building Conference for the last decade, helping plan the theme and structure of the event and to select speakers. He’s also served as technical advisor to two ESF/SU teams competing in the Department of Energy Solar Decathlon to design a net-zero building. Both teams he advised, in 2014 and 2019, were divisional winners in the national competition.

Led by Syracuse University, SyracuseCoE engages students, faculty, and collaborators at 200+ firms and institutions to catalyze innovations that improve energy efficiency, environmental quality, and resilience in healthy buildings and cleaner, greener communities.

Personal Cooling

Bush Technical personifies SyracuseCoE’s mission to connect companies with students and faculty to develop new technologies.

“The students are solving real problems for real companies looking for real answers. They become much more invested.”
– Bill Bush, Owner of Bush Technical

Medical teams in Africa working to combat contagious viruses such as Zika and Ebola are hindered by their need to wear full body suits in temperatures that often exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Wearing a cooling vest underneath can help, but the electricity required to make the ice used to cool the vest is often not available in remote areas, not to mention the burden of being tethered to a 20-pound cooler.

That’s just one application for a lightweight, battery-operated personal cooling vest being designed by Bush Technical, a one-man consulting and contracting company specializing in compressor technology, with assistance from engineering students at Syracuse University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Bill Bush was a retired Carrier engineer when he was tapped by H. Ezzat Khalifa, Syracuse University professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, to create a micro-scroll compressor for a SyracuseCoE-led research project funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). That was 2014.

The project was to develop personal environmental control (PEC) systems for office workers, units that would sit on or under a desk. Bush recalls thinking that the scroll compressor technology the team wanted him to develop wouldn’t provide sufficient efficiency for the system. But it did, exceeding its efficiency target by 17 percent. In networking with other ARPA-E stakeholders, Bush found other markets interested in uses for his ultra-efficient mini compressor

Now fully out of retirement, Bush is an adjunct instructor at the College of Engineering and Computer Science, for the last five years assisting with the senior mechanical engineering design course. For the last two years, and continuing for a third, Bush has also led teams of capstone students working with Bush Technical on refining a wearable system that provides personal cooling.

As a one-man operation, Bush says partnering with the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering on a capstone project is a win-win situation. Rather than working on an abstract technical challenge, “the students are solving real problems for real companies looking for real answers,” he says.

“They become much more invested.” In turn, he gains valuable engineering assistance while retaining intellectual property rights.

In 2018, students designed a manufacturing process for mass production of the compressor. In 2019, with support from the SyracuseCoE Innovation Fund, they developed a breadboard prototype to prove that the wearable vest technology would work. Bush describes the breadboard prototype as having all of the components connected and operating, without the size restrictions the actual device would require. “It’s basically an open system with easy access to fiddle with and make tweaks,” he says. For 2020, a third capstone team is designing a test facility for both cooling system components as well as for complete cooling systems.

Working from his lab space at SyracuseCoE, Bush is working step by step to refine the system. “Once I’ve got the kinks worked out, another very good capstone project will be to develop it into an actual wearable prototype,” he says. There will also be an opportunity for computer science students to support the development of an application that controls the device through a cell phone app.

Bush credits SyracuseCoE for “snowballing” the entire enterprise—beginning with submission of the ARPA-E proposal for the PEC system, to providing support to help develop his technology, to providing space and infrastructure for Bush Technical at SyracuseCoE headquarters. “This Bush Technical initiative wouldn’t exist without SyracuseCoE,” he says.

Led by Syracuse University, SyracuseCoE engages students, faculty, and collaborators at 200+ firms and institutions to catalyze innovations that improve energy efficiency, environmental quality, and resilience in healthy buildings and cleaner, greener communities.

Bird’s Eye View

Students take unusual approach to the problem of harmful algae blooms at Ramboll Think Tank at SyracuseCoE.

“Between the resources available and the proximity to the Tech Garden and Ramboll office downtown, SyracuseCoE was a great environment for the interns to develop and grow their network.”
– Jamie Newton, Director of Innovation, Ramboll

Harmful algae blooms (HABs) have become a growing threat to the ecological, recreational and economic services provided by waterways in New York state due to toxins that can cause sickness and fatality among people, pets, livestock and wildlife. Due to their ephemeral nature—they can grow rapidly and be moved by wind and water currents—HABs are difficult to characterize and manage.

A team of college students from Syracuse and Clarkson universities is promoting the use of unmanned aerial systems (drones) to collect information pertaining to HABs and associated patterns of lake dynamics to better understand where and how HABs develop and guide how they can be managed.

Ramboll hired the six students—Haleem Alakiu ’20, Trufat Emanuel ’20 and Bryan King ’20 from Syracuse University and Noah Poirer, Kaitlin Rossiter and Adam Sherwood from Clarkson University— who spent the summer engaged in the first-ever Ramboll Think Tank, housed at SyracuseCoE. During its 11-week internship, the team studied a health and environment statement around HABs, developed ideas to collect and quantify data, and engaged industry and municipal partners to validate the uses and demand for such information.

Ramboll is a global engineering, design and consultancy company that acquired Syracuse-headquartered engineering and design consultancy OBG on January 1. According to Jamie Newtown, director of innovation at Ramboll, the Think Tank was an outgrowth of OBG’s SPARK competition, a 24-hour innovation think tank where teams of college students brainstorm and problem solve to find innovative solutions to real- world industry challenges.

“We recognized there was a lot of talent within these SPARK programs and decided to extract the top talent out of a competition held in Central New York to help with our own innovation,” he says.

Holding the Think Tank at SyracuseCoE was natural. OBG was a founding Industry Partner, and Neil Webb, Ramboll director of growth and markets, chairs the SyracuseCoE Partners Council. SyracuseCoE has partnered on SPARK, hosting numerous Central New York competitions.

“SyracuseCoE was the perfect collaborative environment for the Think Tank to meet,” says Newtown. “Between the resources available there and the proximity to the Tech Garden and Ramboll office downtown, it was a great environment for the interns to develop and grow their network.”

In August, the Think Tank team participated in Drones Over Downtown in Syracuse and the following week made a poster presentation at the SyracuseCoE Innovation Showcase with additional support from Syracuse University Blackstone Launchpad. Their work culminated with submission of an application to GENIUS NY, the world’s largest business accelerator program for unmanned systems.

“Their goal is to be selected for 2020 and be able to create and launch a new business to refine their idea,” says Newtown.

Regardless of the outcome, the interns found the Think Tank experience an invaluable addition to their education.

“A lot of engineering is physics and math,” says King, an engineering major. “This internship allowed me to develop business and networking skills, allowing me better insight into other avenues I could pursue with my combined engineering and newfound business knowledge.”

Led by Syracuse University, SyracuseCoE engages students, faculty, and collaborators at 200+ firms and institutions to catalyze innovations that improve energy efficiency, environmental quality, and resilience in healthy buildings and cleaner, greener communities.