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Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation Announces 2020 SEED Grant Recipients

PITTSBURGH (May 4, 2020) — The Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) at the University of Pittsburgh has announced the recipients of its 2020-2021 MCSI seed grant funding. The annual seed grant program – this year providing $194,104 in funding – engages a core team of faculty who are passionate about sustainability and apply it to their research. Seed grants support graduate student and post-doctoral fellows on one-year research projects.

“The projects we’ve selected can make a big impact for Pitt’s sustainability,” said Gena Kovalcik, co-director of MCSI. “Especially in these difficult times, we are excited to enable projects with so much potential to benefit our community in the future.”

Here is a look at the projects and faculty members who will receive funding in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. 

A Circular Chemical Industry: Closing the Anthropogenic Carbon Cycle with Biomimetic Reactors James McKone, assistant professor, Chemical and Petroleum Engineering


The circular economy can be an effective way to combat carbon emissions. James McKone’s project aims to develop a technology that can use renewable electricity to recycle carbon emissions back into fuels and chemicals. The technology, called the electrochemically pumped membrane reactor (EPMR), contains a metal oxide membrane that transports reactive hydrogen between two different chemical environments, mimicking the biological machinery of photosynthesis. If successful, this work will support the development of new technologies for a circular chemical economy.  

Mapping the Landscape of Seafood in Pittsburgh Markets: Do Safe, Sustainable and Accessible Meet?Carla Ng, assistant professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering

The seafood that sits on grocery store shelves may give shoppers mixed messages about how sustainable and safe it is. For example, consumers may be concerned about practices like overfishing and habitat destruction when they pick up wild-caught salmon, and a recent proliferation of labeling and certification schemes has resulted in further confusion. Carla Ng’s project will perform the first large-scale screening of seafood available for sale in Pittsburgh, in partnership with the USDA. They will screen seafood for a broad suite of veterinary drugs, pesticides and industrial chemicals; it will evaluate three critical dimensions of our local food landscape: sustainability, safety and accessibility.

Optimization of Traffic Signals on Pitt’s Campus Road Network to Reduce Fuel Consumption and Green House Gas Emissions from Vehicular TrafficAleksandar Stevanovic, associate professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering

There is a lot to hate about sitting in traffic: the time wasted, the starting and stopping. One more thing to hate is the environmental impact of the wasted fuel consumption and green house gas emissions caused by idling cars. Aleksandar Stevanovic’s project aims to build a microsimulation model of Pitt’s campus to optimize traffic signals on campus, minimizing the ecological impact of vehicular traffic.  The model will apply methodology not yet used by other researchers or agencies and, if implemented by the City of Pittsburgh, could significantly contribute to the Pitt Sustainability Plan.

Up-Cycling of Machining Scrap via Mechano-Chemical Attrition Enhanced Hydride-Dehydride Processing for Sustainable Ti-Powder FabricationJorg Wiezorek, professor, Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science; Ravi Shankar, professor, Industrial Engineering


Titanium-based powder stock is a critical component in an array of emerging advanced and additive manufacturing industries, spanning the transportation, biomedicine aerospace sectors. Jorg Wiezorek and Ravi Shankar’s project will study technologies for enhancing the sustainability of Hydride-DeHydride (HDH) processes, which are used to manufacture titanium-based powders. The research will enable development of energy-consumption and material waste-reducing pathways to improve the sustainability and add to the circular economy for titanium.

Author: Maggie Pavlick