Aer E researchers receive $2.4 million grant to improve decision making with food, energy and water systems

Iowa State University researchers have received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to analyze food, energy and water (FEW) interdependencies and create a simulator that will assist in better decision making with FEW systems.

Christina Bloebaum

Led by Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Interim Department Chair, Christina Bloebaum, researchers will examine how decisions made by individual stakeholders within the FEW system can have an impact on everything else in the system. Further, the team will investigate how incentive and policy structures can be developed to achieve balance across stakeholders to avoid unintended consequences.

The researchers received a $2.4 million continuous grant from the NSF as a part of the Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS) program. Bloebaum and her team were awarded $1.1 million this year and will receive the remaining $1.3 million next year. The grant is part of a $36 million initiative from the NSF and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to research how best to provide food, energy and water throughout the world as Earth’s population continues to rise.

As decisions about food, energy and water are made at a federal level, unintended consequences can occur at a local level that have disastrous outcomes.

“Because this is a coupled system, decision outcomes propagate throughout the entire system,” Bloebaum said. “With food, energy, and water, people have been making decisions in one subsystem without having any responsibility for the impact on the rest.”

The Aerospace Engineering Connection

Although it might seem like an odd pairing, Bloebaum and aerospace engineering colleague, Peng Wei, are bringing their aerospace engineering research to FEW systems because of the similarities of the two complex systems.

“My research is in the field of multidisciplinary design optimization,” Bloebaum said. “In MDO, we want to know things like, how do you best design a complex system such as an airplane or spacecraft system? How do you rigorously model the interactions in the complex system? With this project, we’re bringing our aerospace engineering systems knowledge to the world of food, energy and water, which is another complex system, to understand the inherent couplings and to investigate the best means of supporting decisions to achieve consensus across the FEW system.”

That complex push and pull is something aerospace engineers know well. The strategies involved in designing a complex aerospace system can translate well to other situations.

“I have been developing decision support tools and automation for the aviation community for years,” Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering Peng Wei said. “This is a new challenge and I am excited to bring my work to the food, energy and water problem setting to make my contribution to this community.”

FEW in Iowa

This is intake for water drain off from a field of soybean and, in the background, corn. The water drainage often has excess nitrates. Des Moines Water Works spends more than any other water works to remove the nitrates from the drinking water in Des Moines.

Food, energy and water resources play an especially important role in Iowa with the agriculture industry. An example of the impact that changes can have on coupled systems occurred recently with Iowa at the center.

Government subsidies for biofuels caused many Iowa farmers to switch from selling their corn as food to selling it for biofuel. As enough farmers made the switch, that set off food shortages in other parts of the world  because of the lack of corn being sold as food.

Another Iowa-centric issue pertains to the unanticipated high nitrate levels in drainage groundwater from excess fertilization of farm fields. The water then flows into the Racoon and Des Moines Rivers, and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico. The excess nitrogen has been responsible for significant environmental impacts as well as high tax rates for Des Moines residents, given the need to remove the nitrates from their drinking water.

These domino effects are what the multidisciplinary team of researchers are trying to prevent by looking at large scale systems and understanding the couplings and the impact of them.

Simulating reality

One of the tools that the research team plans on creating to improve decision making is a simulator called IFEWS (Iowa Food Energy Water Simulator). Jim Oliver, Director of the Virtual Reality Applications Center and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Iowa State University will create the interactive visualization-based environment with the cyber-based simulator embedded within.

“Jim will create an environment that allows us to visualize the environment and then use our design and decision making strategies so that you can see how a decision will propagate throughout the system and the degree to which it impacts everything else,” Bloebaum said.

The simulator, which will match reality, gives researchers an opportunity to test different incentive and policy strategies to understand what the trades are.

Due to the large scope, the project will pull researchers from many disciplines to contribute.

“We’ve got people from agriculture and biosystems engineering, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, and philosophy,” Bloebaum said. “We’re bringing all sorts of people together so that’s a challenge, but it’s also exciting so we think that it will be fun.”

The ISU team also includes Clark Wolf, Director and Professor of Philosophy, and Amy Kaleita, Associate Professor of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering. Wolf is the Director of the Bioethics Program at ISU and performs research in sustainable agriculture, amongst other topics. Kaleita’s primary focus is on technology for precision conservation, with expertise in crop and hydrological modeling. The team will collaborate with with Ali Abbas, Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering and Public Policy at the University of Southern California, Director of the Neely Center for Ethical Leadership and Decision Making (DECIDE).

Paul Durbin awarded $1 million grant to study wall-bounded turbulence for U.S. Navy

Iowa State University aerospace engineering professor Paul Durbin will lead a $1,000,000 grant from the Department of Defense – U.S. Naval Research Laboratory to study wall-bounded turbulence. 

As Navy ships cruise through the water at 40 knots, even small objects along the hull such as barnacles, sand, and rivets can create turbulence that will affect the transport properties.

Paul Durbin, professor of aerospace engineering

Dr. Paul Durbin, professor of aerospace engineering at Iowa State University, received a $1 million grant from the Department of Defense – US Naval Research Laboratory to study wall-bounded turbulence by fundamental studies and data-driven modeling.

“The turbulent fluctuations are affecting the aerodynamic properties, or the drag, on the ship hull,” Durbin said. “The objective is to predict more complicated geometries than have wall-bounded turbulence to predict drag, lift, heat transfer, and lifetime erosion.”

Despite the massive size of a Navy ship, small objects can still cause problems. “Everything is bigger for the ship, so a barnacle is tiny comparatively,” Durbin said. “A barnacle for a ship might be more like dust. In aircraft engines, especially in the turbine, after the combustor you get carbon deposits that build up and that changes the heat transfer.”

Durbin, along with a researcher at the University of Michigan, will create simulations of wall-bounded turbulence that generate data. “We’re doing simulations and then we have different ways of modeling. We have two predictive strategies that we’re working on,” Durbin said.

With the first predictive strategy, Durbin will simulate the turbulence at much smaller resolutions so that it can become more practical. With the second, the researchers will develop predictive statistics through data driven modeling.

Kristin Yvonne Rozier | NSF

Investigator:

Kristin Yvonne Rozier

Sponsor:

National Science Foundation

Award Title: 

CAREER: Theoretical Foundations of the UAS in the NAS Problem (Unmanned Aerial Systems in the National Air Space)

Award Amount:

$105,054

Award Period Date:

February 15, 2016 – November 30, 2016

 

Status:

Completed

Summary:

Due to their increasing use by civil and federal authorities and vast commercial and amateur applications, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) will be introduced into the National Air Space (NAS); the question is only how this can be done safely. Today, NASA and the FAA are designing a new, (NextGen) automated air traffic control system for all aircraft, manned or unmanned. New algorithms and tools will need to be developed to enable computation of the complex questions inherent in designing such a system while proving adherence to rigorous safety standards. Researchers must develop the tools of formal analysis to be able to address the UAS in the NAS problem, reason about UAS integration during the design phase of NextGen, and tie this design to on-board capabilities to provide runtime System Health Management (SHM), ensuring the safety of people and property on the ground. Read more.

Kristin Yvonne Rozier | NASA

Investigator:

Kristin Yvonne Rozier

Sponsor:

NASA

Award Title: 

Multi-Platform, Multi-Architecture Runtime Verification of Autonomous Space Systems

Award Amount:

$600,000

Award Period Date:

2016-2019

 

Status:

Active

Summary:

Autonomous systems are only capable of effective self-governing if they can reliably sense their own faults and respond to failures and uncertain environmental conditions. We propose to design a real-time, onboard runtime verification and system health management (SHM) framework called R2U2, to continuously monitor essential system components such as sensors, software, and hardware for detection and diagnosis of failures and violations of safety or performance rules during the mission of autonomous space systems, such as rovers, small satellites, or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) flying in the skies of other planets. Read more about the research on NASA’s website.

Anupam Sharma | Argonne National Laboratory

sharma_argonne-grant

Investigator:

Anupam Sharma

Sponsor:

Argonne National Laboratory

Award Title: 

Unraveling Silent Owl Flight to Develop Ultra-­Quiet Energy Conversion Machines

Year:

2016

Summary:

Acoustic  emission  (noise)  from  wind  turbines  is  curtailing  the  growth  of  wind  energy,  which  is  currently  the  primary  renewable  energy  source  in  the  US  and  in  the  world.  A majority of the noise radiated from wind turbines is generated aerodynamically – due to interaction of wind with blade surfaces. Aerodynamic sound (aeroacoustics) is an issue not just  for  wind  turbines  but  also  for  aircraft,  jet  engines,  combustion  turbines  used  for  electricity generation, cooling fans, and ventilation systems.

A solution to the problem of aerodynamic noise generation is available in nature but has not yet been leveraged to develop silent machines. The nocturnal owl is known to have a silent  flight  both  when  gliding  and  flapping.  This  has  been  known  for  decades,  but  the  physical  mechanisms  enabling  its  silent  flight  are  not  well  understood.  Previous investigations  have  identified  three  feather  features  that  are  unique  to  the  owl.  Experimental  investigations  have  demonstrated  that  these  unique  feather  features  are responsible for the owl’s acoustic stealth.  However, these experiments alone are unable to identify  the  reasons/mechanisms  behind  noise  reduction.

This project supports very high resolution simulations to bridge the scientific gap between experimental results and theoretical understanding. A systematic numerical investigation of  the  unique  owl  feather  features  is  proposed  to  answer  key  questions  that  will  help  unravel  the  mystery  behind  owl’s  silent  flight.  The  extremely  high  spatial  and  temporal resolution offered by high-­fidelity numerical simulations will enable source diagnostics to identify  how  the  unique  feather  features  curb  noise  generation.  The  knowledge  and  understanding  gained  from  these  simulations  can  empower  us  to  design  nearly  silent energy conversion-­‐ and various other engineering machines.

Read more

 

Christina Bloebaum | National Science Foundation

Christina Bloebaum Grand Header_NSF

Investigator:

Christina Bloebaum

Sponsor:

National Science Foundation

Award Title: 

EAGER: Collaborative Research: Lectures for Foundations in Systems Engineering

Award Amount:

$150,000

Award Period Date: 

August 1, 2016-July 31, 2018

Current Status: 

Active

Summary:

The objective of the Early-concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER) collaborative project is to create a series of educational videos on foundational areas from which systems engineering theory will be able to draw. Dr. Bloebaum, along with Dr. Abbas from the University of Southern California, will promote the use of rigorous foundations in the development of a theory of systems engineering in ways that are accessible to a broad group of educators, researchers and practitioners.

For more information on the award, please visit the NSF website.

Peng Wei | NSF

Peng Wei Grant Header_NSF

Investigator:

Peng Wei

Sponsor:

National Science Foundation

Award Title: 

CRII: CPS: Towards an Intelligent Low-Altitude UAS Traffic Management System

Award Amount:

$1,000,000

Award Period Date: 

May 15, 2016-April 30, 2018

Current Status: 

Active

 

Summary:

The objective of this project is to provide theoretical foundations for cyber-physical systems to support the increasing autonomy in the presence of other manned/unmanned air traffic. Currently the United States air transportation is facing significant challenges due to the rapid evolution of increasingly autonomous systems such as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and their expanding presence. However, there has been little scientific investigation on the cyber-physical systems that supports unmanned aircraft operations operating in the presence of other air vehicles. This research project explores novel strategies of coordinating and managing the UAS traffic to ensure low-altitude airspace safety and efficiency in near future. 

Read more about the award on the NSF website.

Wei Hong | Partners of the Americas

Wei Hong_Grant Header

Investigator:

Wei Hong

Sponsor:

Partners of the Americas

Award Title: 

Self-Sustainable Study Abroad Programs at Xi’an Jiaotong University for U.S. Engineering Students

Award Amount:

$49,977

Award Period Date: 

July 1, 2016-August 31, 2017

Current Status: 

Active

Summary:

This is a newly developed semester-long exchange program between ISU and Xi’an Jiaotong University in Xi’an, China. Each year, equal number of American and Chinese students will spend one semester in the host universities, taking courses just like regular students. The first group of ISU students will depart in January 2017. Xi’an Jiaotong will offer Engineering courses in English, in addition to a variety of Chinese language/culture courses. No prior knowledge of Chinese language/culture is needed to enter the program.  The students will be able to keep up with the regular study plan after the semester, in addition to the unique study-abroad experience and some foreign language proficiency.

 

Peng Wei | Rockwell Collins

Peng Wei_Grant Header

Investigator:

Peng Wei

Sponsor:

Rockwell Collins

Award Title: 

En Route Flight Modeling

Award Amount:

$64,877

Award Period Date: 

November 1, 2015-October 31, 2016

Current Status: 

Active

Summary:

The Iowa State team is working with Rockwell Collins Advanced Technology Center to study the flight en route time variation under different convective weather events. Machine learning algorithms will be built by mining the large-scale nationwide flight data sets and meteorology data sets. The resulted predictive model is expected to provide estimation for aircraft en route time before departure given weather forecast, which is critical for decision making in both airline operations and air traffic management.