Category: Uncategorized

A BU Center to Promote Cleaner Cities?

March 18th, 2013 in Uncategorized

Just one idea proposed at Smarter Cities conference

BU Today article by Rich Barlow

ENG's Christos Cassandras talked about technology being able to assist with the hassle of finding a parking space. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

ENG's Christos Cassandras talked about technology being able to assist with the hassle of finding a parking space. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

As both an engineer and a motorist, Christos Cassandras feels the pain of drivers on Commonwealth Avenue. Although he usually leaves work after the evening rush has waned, he invariably hits a red light at the BU Bridge, even when there’s no traffic coming on the cross street. After that, it’s one red light after another along the avenue with its synchronized traffic lights—“just to make my life as miserable as possible.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if communicating “smart” lights could sense when there’s no oncoming traffic and wave you through, the College of Engineering professor mused to a packed house attending Wednesday’s Smarter Cities conference at the Photonics Center. That dream could be realized someday by the nascent technologies Boston and other cities are pioneering to collect, analyze, and act on data such as traffic counts, according to Cassandras and other speakers.

In fact, we already have a high-tech version of the old-fashioned parking garage. Cassandras, who teaches electrical and computer engineering, said data shows motorists in major urban downtowns, including Boston’s, cruise an average of eight minutes in search of a parking space. BU has one garage linked to a “smart” parking system: motorists can check an app on their handheld devices to see if there’s an open space in the garage. (Reserving it, however, is one bug that still remains to be ironed out, Cassandras said.)

IBM bankrolled the conference as part of its Smarter Cities program, which supports data gathering to improve environmental, health, safety, and productivity initiatives in communities where company employees work and live. Lucy Hutyra, a College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of earth and environment, is working with a grant from the IBM program to calculate better traffic counts in Boston and their related greenhouse gas emissions, which foster climate change.

Tag-teaming with Cassandras on his presentation to the assemblage of BU, IBM, and municipal leaders, Hutyra proposed creating a center or institute at the University to study and coordinate projects in environmental sustainability.

Estimates of Massachusetts' greenhouse gas emissions, mapped above, need improving, says Lucy Hutyra, a CAS assistant professor. Image courtesy of Hutyra

Estimates of Massachusetts' greenhouse gas emissions, mapped above, need improving, says Lucy Hutyra, a CAS assistant professor. Image courtesy of Hutyra

Boston has cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below the 1990 levels, and Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01) has targeted a reduction of 25 percent below that year’s levels over the next seven years. Statewide, Massachusetts hopes for a whopping 80 percent cut in emissions by 2050. The problem, Hutyra said in an interview, is that current emissions counts aren’t very good: they’re based on taking gas consumption and industrial activities and estimating average emissions resulting from each. Traffic counts are used occasionally as well, she said, although they aren’t conducted frequently enough to be of much value. She said that depending on who’s measuring, current emission estimates for Massachusetts can vary by as much as 40 percent.

“Nobody’s trying to cheat,” Hutyra said. It’s just that “we need better verification.” That could be achieved with laser spectroscopy technology that measures emission levels directly in the atmosphere; BU has such a sensor atop CAS measuring carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. It’s part of a network of half a dozen sensors that BU and Harvard colleagues have established.

A center would enable government-corporate-academic partnerships, such as her Smarter Cities project, to “be more than one-offs—be something that is sustainable and something that can grow and evolve over time,” Hutyra said. She has discussed her idea for such a center with ENG Dean Kenneth Lutchen, another conference speaker, who expressed support in an interview.

Hutyra supports the idea of a BU center on urban science. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Hutyra supports the idea of a BU center on urban science. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

“I think there’s a tremendous opportunity to create an integrated center or institute,” he said. “It would be a University-wide hub institute, which would have coalitions and partnerships with the private sector and government.” Budgeting such a center would require “a foundation or a company or a benefactor,” and “in order to make that work, you need one or more iconic, visionary faculty leader to help coordinate it.

“The next step is to identify how the key stakeholders would like to integrate and work at a University hub institute or center,” Lutchen said, “and identify what should be the portion of it that the University has to ante up, both with some staff resources and faculty time, and what should be the contributions from external constituents such as companies, foundations, or perhaps government funding.…I think we’re potentially a year or maybe two away from a major center.”

He noted that BU’s Sustainable Neighborhood Laboratory (SNL) already works with IBM, the city, and other businesses to make Boston “smarter.” For example, SNL and partners are working to collect and analyze data about energy use in Boston residential buildings and hotels to improve energy efficiency. One result: the Lenox Hotel recently installed energy-efficient windows, lighting, and insulation.

In another project, SNL is working with Roxbury’s Madison Park Development Corp., which operates more than 1,000 housing units for low-income Bostonians, to study energy use in those homes and how to make them more efficient.

Meeting Tomorrow’s Sustainability Demands Today

March 1st, 2013 in Uncategorized

By Rachel Harrington

A feedback control mechanism monitors the performance of the consolidated applications and makes resource allocation decisions to improve the energy efficiency while meeting the user-defined performance constraints.

A feedback control mechanism monitors the performance of the consolidated applications and makes resource allocation decisions to improve the energy efficiency while meeting the user-defined performance constraints.

When it comes to high-powered computers, increased energy consumption and lack of reliability continue to be problems researchers are trying to overcome. Unfortunately, some of the best current methods for achieving these goals have their flaws.

One example is seen in server consolidation, during which resources are shared across multiple applications and virtual CPUs. Without careful optimization, consolidation may result in sub-optimal energy efficiency or in high temperatures that increase cooling costs.

Over the last year, Assistant Professor Ayse Coskun (ECE) researched how server consolidation could be improved, in part thanks to an award from VMware, a leading provider in virtualization software.

Coskun and her team’s initial work focused on designing server consolidation techniques that run on virtualized servers, targeting high-performance computing applications. They now have a working system that is able to improve energy efficiency on a real-life server.

“Working with VMware has proven to be a rewarding partnership because they’re always offering valuable feedback,” said Coskun. “They work with customers so they’re aware of problems we might not be able to observe in the lab setting.”

Since 2011, she and her team have published several research papers on their progress in improving energy efficiency through server consolidation.

“We have met the early milestones that we set with VMware,” said Coskun. “Now, we’re looking at more broad, realistic data center scenarios and exploring the reliability aspects in addition to improving the energy efficiency.”

Assistant Professor Ayse Coskun (ECE)

Assistant Professor Ayse Coskun (ECE)

Pleased with their initial results, VMware recently renewed Coskun’s funding, providing $75,000 for another year of research.

“Based upon promising early results, we are excited to extend our collaboration with Professor Coskun to investigate techniques for energy-efficient use of multi-core processors with virtualized workloads,” said Steve Muir, director of the VMware Academic Program (VMAP).

Part of Coskun and her team’s continued research will include testing their techniques on multiple server nodes that are connected over the network as a representative data center scenario.

“Professor Coskun plans to build on this base by exploring clustered environments and extending experiments to include general enterprise workloads is particularly interesting; we look forward to our continued relationship over the next year,” said Muir.

The renewed funding will allow Coskun to hire additional PhD students or postdoctoral researchers later this summer. She will also continue supporting student researchers, Can Hankendi (PhD ’15) and Samuel Howes (ECE ’14). Hankendi played a major role in developing a technique for automated resource management while Howes, newer to the project, focuses on setting up the virtualized experimental infrastructure for data center benchmarks.

“Can has single-handedly done most of the implementations and has put together great work so far,” said Coskun, “and Sam is rapidly learning about virtualization, which is a hot research topic right now.”

Truly a team effort, students not only help with the research; they attend company meetings and symposiums with VMware as well.

“VMware is very research focused so we have a lot of exposure to their own researchers and engineers,” said Coskun. “It’s been a beneficial collaboration on both sides, so we hope to keep this partnership going in the future.”

Related link:
May 19, 2011 -”VMware Funds Coskun’s Server Consolidation Research

Nathan Phillips – Awarded Full Professorship

March 1st, 2013 in Uncategorized

BU promoted 17 faculty members, spanning a wide range of disciplines and expertise, to full professorships in 2013. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

BU promoted 17 faculty members, spanning a wide range of disciplines and expertise, to full professorships in 2013. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Full Professorships Awarded to 17 Faculty

Recipients represent several schools, fields of study

Tom Vellner can be reached at; follow him on Twitter @tomgvellner.

From mapping marketing strategies to mapping the brain, the 17 BU faculty members who have just been promoted to full professor cover a wide and compelling range of research interests.

Among them is David Somers, a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of psychology, who will become a full professor effective September 1. Somers (GRS’93) specializes in the investigation of mechanisms related to cognition and visual perception. The timing of his promotion couldn’t be better. President Obama announced during his February State of the Union address plans for a new scientific initiative that would map human brain cell activity on the scale the Human Genome Project of the 1990s.

“My lab has previously identified two new human brain structures and is currently engaged in identifying and characterizing several brain networks that support attention and cognitive control,” says Somers. “We are poised to contribute significantly to this national goal.”

The faculty promoted this year are from CAS, the College of Engineering, and the School of Management.

Shuba Srinivasan, a newly minted SMG professor of marketing, views her promotion as an acknowledgment of years of hard work.

“This promotion represents a major milestone recognizing years of sustained effort on several fronts,” says Srinivasan. In addition to designing  effective courses in her area of expertise—marketing analytics—Srinivasan has bridged the gap between marketing theory and practice in her research. “This promotion affirms all of this,” she says.

Ari Trachtenberg, who specializes in enhancing cyber security, says his promotion to full professor of electrical and computer engineering at ENG is an incentive to continue to do groundbreaking research.

“It represents an important motivation to continue spending sleepless nights developing my research,” says Trachtenberg, who received a 2002 National Science Foundation CAREER Award and is a Kern Faculty Fellow. “Failing that, I’m hoping students will at least take my jokes more seriously.”

Faculty are selected for promotion based on the quality of the research and scholarship conducted in their classrooms and laboratories.

“Outstanding faculty are at the heart of what defines a successful research institution,” says Jean Morrison, University provost and chief academic officer. “The 17 exceptional scholars we recognize are as talented as they are diverse, each demonstrating the passion for teaching and willingness to reach across disciplines that enable Boston University each day to create new knowledge, generate new ideas, and make important new practical discoveries. From the humanities and sciences to engineering and business, all have emerged as leaders committed to excellence in their individual fields. We are excited to announce their promotion to full professor and for the great work each has in store.”

In addition to Somers, Srinivasan, and Trachtenberg, the following are becoming full professors:

Robert Carey, CAS professor of physics

A recent winner of a National Science Foundation grant and a Neu Family Award for excellence in teaching, Carey has authored dozens of widely cited journal articles and papers on particle physics.

Jodi Cranston, CAS professor of history of art and architecture

Cranston is an expert on Italian Renaissance art and architecture, specifically Venetian Renaissance art, is the author of two books, and has spoken at numerous international academic conferences. She is currently at work on a new book, The Green Worlds of Renaissance Venice, and a digital mapping project that traces the collection of Titian’s paintings in 16th- and 17th-century Venice.

James Johnson, CAS professor of history:

A cultural historian focusing on modern and early modern European history, Johnson is the award-winning author of books about 18th- and 19th-century French and Venetian history. Recipient of a 1996 Metcalf Prize for Excellence in Teaching, he is a former CAS assistant dean and former director of the Core Curriculum.

Jonathan Klawans, CAS professor of religion

A leading scholar on ancient Judaism, Klawans has taught courses on subjects ranging from the Hebrew Bible to the Dead Sea Scrolls to ancient Jewish history. His most recent book is Josephus and the Theologies of Ancient Judaism.

Kimberly McCall, CAS professor of biology

McCall is the biology department director of graduate studies and a past recipient of a Clare Boothe Luce Professorship. Her laboratory focuses on research into cell biology, particularly the role of cell death in development and disease. Her research has produced important new scholarship about disease treatment and prevention.

Meers Oppenheim, CAS professor of astronomy

Specializing in space plasma physics using supercomputer simulations, theory, and data, Oppenheim’s research has recently focused on the physics of meteors. Astronomy department director of graduate studies, he has received multiple National Science Foundation and NASA grants.

M. Daniele Paserman, CAS professor of economics

Paserman, whose scholarly citations rank among the top 10 percent of economists worldwide, addresses critical economic issues in his research, ranging from Middle East policy and terrorism to electoral results and gender dynamics in European politics. He is a research associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Anita Patterson, CAS professor of English

Patterson’s areas of research include American literature, modernism, and black poetry of the Americas, focusing on transnational and intercultural dialogue. She has written two books on race and literature and is working on a book exploring the effect of Japanese culture on modernism.

Nathan Phillips, CAS professor of earth and environment

The author of dozens of widely cited journal articles and abstracts, Phillips researches plant physiological ecology—specifically how global environmental change may affect the processes by which plants and ecosystems regulate water loss and carbon gain. He is executive director of the Sustainable Neighborhood Lab at BU.

Kimberly Saudino, CAS professor of psychology

Director of the BU Twin Project and a recipient of numerous National Institutes of Health grants, Saudino’s research centers on the development of temperament in infants and children and the role genetic and environmental factors play in the development of temperament.

Jenny White, CAS professor of anthropology

White’s research is on social anthropology, focusing on contemporary Turkey. She is the author of four books on Turkey, including Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks, as well as three novels set in 19th century Istanbul. She is director of undergraduate studies in the department of anthropology and is a former president of the Turkish Studies Association.

Enrico Bellotti, ENG professor of electrical and computer engineering

A NSF CAREER Award recipient and corecipient of a $15 million Army Research Laboratory grant, Bellotti specializes in the design of energy-efficient photonics materials and has developed water purification systems, infrared detectors, and lighter energy-efficient batteries and devices for soldiers in combat.

Siddharth Ramachandran, ENG professor of electrical and computer engineering

A fellow of the Optical Society of America, Ramachandran holds 32 patents, has coedited a book, and written or cowritten more than 200 articles, papers, and lectures in the field of optics and applied physics.

Joyce Wong, ENG professor of biomedical engineering

Currently a Kern Faculty Fellow and a past Clare Boothe Luce Professor, Wong studies cell-biomaterial interactions, tissue engineering, and theranostics, researching the regeneration of tissue and the integration of drug delivery with acoustic imaging.

BU Scientists Develop New Model To Measure Vehicle Emissions

February 27th, 2013 in Uncategorized

CAS Department News

A team of researchers in Boston University’s Department of Earth and Environment have developed a new, bottom-up model for measuring on-road vehicle emissions. The model will be used in Massachusetts to more accurately analyze roadway-level traffic data obtained from the Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS). Their findings have been published online ( in the journal Environmental Science and Technology (DOI: 10.1021/es304238v)

Because on-road transportation is responsible for 28 percent of all U.S. fossil-fuel carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, accurate measurement of such emissions is critical for effective regional planning. Using methods currently available, which are based on spatial proxies such as population and road density to downscale national or state-level data, planners have been unable to effectively measure vehicle emissions at regional scales because of data limitations. (Such procedures introduce errors where the proxy variables and actual emissions are weakly correlated.)

The new, BU-developed model makes use of a broad, temporal dataset that permitted the construction of a time series of highly detailed emissions estimates (high spatial resolution). The time-series estimates allowed the researchers to analyze trends in on-road emissions across space and time and to compare their results with other inventories. Because these estimates do not rely on spatial proxies such as population or road density, the BU team was able to conduct a full cross-section/time-series panel regression of population density on vehicle emissions at the scale of local towns. This approach offers urban planners a valuable new tool, because the intensity of emissions is likely to be strongly correlated with characteristics of the built environment such as household and population density, jobs-housing balance, and the diversity of land uses. Another advantage of this approach is that it allows researchers to investigate the interrelation of emissions, population, income, and land uses.

The researchers compared their results with on-road emissions estimates from the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR), with the Vulcan Product, and with estimates derived from state fuel consumption statistics reported by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). They found that their model differs from FHWA estimates by less than 8.5 percent on average, and is within 5 percent of Vulcan estimates. (EDGAR estimates systematically exceed FHWA by an average of 22.8 percent.)

This new approach may help resolve key issues in debates over how to reduce on-road CO2, which have centered on the nature of the relationships between emissions and vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and between VMT and other features of the built environment such as the density of roads, residences, and commercial activity.

Using their new model, the BU researchers found that, in Massachusetts, population density is positively correlated with vehicle emissions at densities less than 2,000 persons per square kilometer (km–2). However, above this level the correlation becomes negative, and emissions decline slowly until densities exceed 4,000 persons per km–2, and then more rapidly thereafter. These results suggest that it is only at the higher population densities associated with dense, urban-core towns that we would expect to see on-road emissions decline with rising density. For lower-density towns, increasing population density is more likely to result in an increase rather than a decrease in vehicle emissions occurring within the town. This result may be a consequence of adding new resident-drivers to the roads, or an indirect effect of denser development drawing more travelers into the area from neighboring towns.

“These results highlight the value of using an emissions inventory with high spatial and temporal resolution,” says Lucy Hutyra, assisistant professor of earth and environment and study co-author. “At coarser spatial scales, much of the variation in population density and on-road emissions between towns is lost in the aggregation to larger grid cells. By preserving this local variation, and by generating emissions estimates that did not rely on population density as a proxy for spatial allocation, we were able to highlight the shape of the response surface between on-road CO2 emissions and population density at the scale of local municipalities in Massachusetts.”

As a result of finding a highly nonlinear relationship between its bottom-up emission estimates and the spatially varying proxy variable used in prior studies, the study highlights the potential pitfalls of relying on linear predictors in the construction of downscaled emission inventories.

Alternative Visions/Sustainable Futures

January 31st, 2013 in Uncategorized

808 Gallery show kicks off collaborative project

Erin Thibeau can be reached at

Artists Maria Molteni (CFA’06) (left) and Colette Aliman stand inside their installation, a dome-like shelter called Festooning the Inflatable Beehive. Photos by Vernon Doucette

Artists Maria Molteni (CFA’06) (left) and Colette Aliman stand inside their installation, a dome-like shelter called Festooning the Inflatable Beehive. Photos by Vernon Doucette

How do we go about creating a sustainable future? That question is at the center of a new project titled Alternative Visions/Sustainable Futures, a collaboration between the College of Fine Arts School of Visual Arts and sustainability@bu. Taking place throughout the semester, the project features an art exhibition, speakers, and weekly forums that include collaborative art projects, film screenings, musical performances, and poetry readings.

Two years in the making, the cross-disciplinary project was the brainchild of Dennis Carlberg, BU’s director of sustainability, and Dana Clancy, a CFA assistant professor of visual arts, who wanted to explore the creative ways that artists, scholars, and members of the BU community might build a sustainable future.

CFA Dean Benjamin Juárez says that the project dovetails perfectly with this year’s Keyword Initiative, which focuses on the theme of resilience. “This exhibition is about discussion and growth,” says Juárez. “With a children’s program, interactive workshops, and stimulating lectures, this is a participatory exhibit that speaks to all ages with the hope that exploration will lead to tangible action. The hope is to open up dialogue across campus about the environment in the context of art.”

Kicking off the Alternative Visions/Sustainable Futures project is a provocative exhibition at the 808 Gallery titled System: ECOnomies. Curated by Clancy and Lynne Cooney (GRS’08,’15), CFA, School of Visual Arts exhibitions director, the show highlights work by individual artists and collaborators who have created proposed models for sustainable living.

Mary Mattingly’s Flock House is a mobile housing unit created from recycled materials.

Mary Mattingly’s Flock House is a mobile housing unit created from recycled materials.

Mary Mattingly’s Flock House is a mobile housing unit created from recycled materials.

The exhibition includes a range of work, from videos to drawings to installations. A focal point of the gallery space is Flock House, a mobile, self-sufficient housing unit made of reclaimed and redesigned materials organized by Mary Mattingly. The large, faceted, spherical unit uses green technologies, such as rainwater capture and solar power, and features gardens planted in troughs. An accompanying series of photographs shows the unit in a park, on a city sidewalk, and in other spaces. Mattingly’s compact urban habitat, like many of the other works featured in the show, is a blend of the conceptual and the practical.

Another striking installation is Marsh Island Radio by Plotform, an ecologically minded collective formed by Jane D. Marsching and Andi Sutton. This arresting work presents a system of modular salt marsh habitats that can be used for growing salt marsh plant species in the future. The prototypes are made from crocheted ropes of vibrant, patterned cloth and recycled water bottles.

One of the central works in the exhibition is Festooning the Inflatable Beehive, a large-scale inflatable shelter in the form of a Skep beehive. Created by artists Maria Molteni (CFA’06) and Colette Aliman, the dome-like space is designed to accommodate 10 to 15 people at a time. The artists hope that their work will help to educate people about the ways that honeybees have responded to environmental changes throughout time and the ways that beehives have influenced social structures.

A visitor studies Kim Beck’s Field Recordings, detailed drawings of weeds and grasses.

A visitor studies Kim Beck’s Field Recordings, detailed drawings of weeds and grasses.

A visitor studies Kim Beck’s Field Recordings, detailed drawings of weeds and grasses.

“The exhibits include some really amazing, thought-provoking work by artists who have a positive vision of our future, and not simply the doom and gloom often associated with discussions surrounding climate change and sustainability,” says Lisa Marie Tornatore (CAS’02), BU’s sustainability outreach coordinator. “We hope this will get folks who are interested in sustainability to think outside the box…and to engage more of the arts community to help us think of creative solutions to address climate change and resilience.”

Part of the exhibition area at the 808 Gallery has been transformed into a conceptual space, designed by School of Visual Arts students, where members of the BU community and the public can hold interdisciplinary events, such as discussions, performances, and collaborative art projects, throughout the semester. Information gathered during these so-called ECOnversations will then become part of the exhibition.

Among the integral components of Alternative Visions/Sustainable Futures are workshops and performances by participating artists, who will discuss their work more fully. The events include Stitching the Shore, a collaborative crochet session with Plotform on March 6; Outside the Work: A Tasting of Hydrocarbons and Geological Time, a $40 tasting of small plates and drinks presented by artist Marina Zurkow and chef Lauryn Turell, on March 22; and lectures by artists Amy Franchesini and Chris Jordan on March 26 and April 18, respectively.

A complete list of events is here.

Alternative Visions/Sustainable Futures runs through April 20. System: ECOnomies runs through March 30 at the 808 Gallery, 808 Commonwealth Ave. Gallery admission is free and open to the public. Events are held in the 808 Gallery and are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted in the schedule. The gallery is open Tuesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.

The Invisible Elephant in the Room: Gas Leaks and Climate

January 29th, 2013 in Uncategorized

Posted by Mariella Puerto

This entry originally appeared on the (members-only) blog of the Environmental Grantmakers Association at:

Mariella PuertoNearly two years ago, I started hearing about a professor doing research like I had never heard of anyone doing on greenhouse gas emissions. Professor Nathan Philips teaches in the Earth and Environment Department at Boston University (BU).  He had put sensors on the roof of his office building to measure what he calls Boston’s “urban metabolism.” This is the ebbs and flows of carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane in a city’s atmosphere. Phillips had also driven nearly every street in Boston with a methane sensor in his trunk, taking readings of gas that leaks from natural gas pipelines that run under our streets.

I had read that methane is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of climate impacts (see the EPA’s analysis for more on this). But I couldn’t find any good information on how big a problem this actually was. Meanwhile, advances in hydraulic fracking were triggering huge increase in our reliance on natural gas – which was being aggressively touted as a “clean energy” breakthrough.

I called Professor Phillips and asked for a meeting. What I wanted to know was: how big was this problem? And why was no one was talking about it?

That initial conversation led to others and, in mid-2012, Barr provided support to Boston University and to the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) to investigate the extent of natural gas leakage in Boston and Massachusetts and to explore potential policy solutions.

Both BU and CLF produced reports on their work at the end of November. Some of the major findings are below, though the most surprising and alarming takeaway is evident in this info graphic – we may be losing more ground than we’re gaining:

Major Findings from the BU and CLF reports include:

  • Natural gas is escaping from more than 3,300 leaks in Boston.
  • Most leaks are tiny -­ although six had gas levels higher than the threshold at which explosions can occur.
  • In 2010, Massachusetts saved 1,097 million cubic feet of natural gas through energy efficiency programs. But in the same time period, Massachusetts lost more gas through leaks than it saved.
  • The costs of these leaks – about $38.8 million a year – are passed on to gas customers in Massachusetts.
  • Current state and federal policies provide disincentives for pipeline owners to find and fix leaks unless they are considered hazardous.
  • Building new transmission lines and new gas generation would be costly. Reducing leaks and increasing the efficiency of the existing infrastructure (including gas storage) could provide a more cost-effective, environmentally beneficial means of meeting energy needs.
  • There are a number of policy solutions that can be pursued cost-effectively and expeditiously, solutions that are outlined in CLF’s report.
  • Almost one-third of the natural gas pipelines in Massachusetts are made of cast iron or unprotected steel, materials that are highly prone to leaks.  Fifty percent of the cast iron pipelines in the U.S. are concentrated in Massachusetts and only three other states: New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, where this issue deserves a much closer look as well.

For more information, visit:

Conservation Law Foundation – “New Report Shows Lost Natural Gas Emissions Costing Millions To Massachusetts’s Gas Customers And Harming Environment

Boston University – “Boston’s Street-Level Gas Leaks: 3,300-Plus

Living on Earth, Public Radio International – “Rampant City Gas Leaks

In a related report issued by the Analysis Group, Paul Hibbard – former Chair of the Massachusetts DPU – and Craig Aubuchon describe a benefit-cost model they used to quantify the benefits of reducing gas leaks through expanded utility pipe replacement programs.  Reducing leaks generates economic benefits by (1) reducing the amount of gas that utilities buy and charge ratepayers for, and (2) reducing the social impact of higher greenhouse gas emissions.  The authors quantify significant benefits under a wide range of assumptions, and compare them to the cost of utility pipe replacement programs.

Boston’s Street-Level Gas Leaks: 3,300-Plus

December 7th, 2012 in Uncategorized

Watch this video on YouTube
CAS prof and team spur repairs at potentially explosive sites

Rich Barlow -BU Today

That gas you smell is not your nasal imagination: Boston’s underground pipes are pimpled like pumice with more than 3,300 leaks spewing natural gas into the streets, according to the latest research from BU’s Nathan Phillips.

The work done by Phillips and his team has prompted repairs to six leaks with gas levels that could potentially have triggered an explosion, the Boston Globe reported recently. The vast majority of the leaks are small, but Phillips, a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of earth and environment, noted in previous research that leaking gas is not just an explosion risk: it also contributes to global warming and wastes gas that utility customers are charged for. He believes the gas is responsible for killing millions of dollars’ worth of urban trees, a contention that utility companies dispute.

The Boston research, coauthored with colleague Lucy Hutyra, a CAS assistant professor of earth and environment, and her research assistant, Max Brondfield, among others, appeared last month in the journal Environmental Pollution.

To catalog Beantown’s pipeline flatulence, the team drove all 785 miles of road in the city during six weeks last year. They measured gas levels with a machine attached to the outside of their car that vacuumed street-level molecules and fed them into an analyzer measuring the amounts of gas.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is described in the paper as “a greenhouse gas ore more potent molecule for molecule than carbon dioxide.” The 3,300-plus leaks found had methane levels up to 15 times higher than the ambient background level.

Almost two years ago, Phillips coauthored a paper for a federal conference that estimated the fallout from leaking gas in greater Boston, with consequences ranging from higher residential gas bills to damaged trees. What’s different about his most recent study is, first, that it documents the specific number of spouting spots within Boston’s city limits, and second, the paper made it into a peer-reviewed journal. “Knowing it passed peer review,” Phillips says, “means that agencies, utilities, municipalities, and policy makers have to consider this work seriously now.”

And they are, at least to the point of fixing the six big leaks. Otherwise, National Grid, which provides natural gas to Boston and half of Massachusetts, told the Globe that rather than repair small, nondangerous leaks, it replaces about 150 miles of old piping annually.

“It is easy to point fingers at one group—a utility or its stakeholders,” says Phillips. “The truth is, energy is cheap. All stakeholders—consumers and shareholders—should be taking advantage of gas’ historic low cost and pay a little bit more to bring our buried infrastructure up to an acceptable state of basic function. It shouldn’t be too much to ask that we have a functional pipeline system.”

Boston University – LED Lighting Retrofits

November 15th, 2012 in Uncategorized

from BU Sustainability Website
Have you noticed the lights on campus are changing?

Over the past few months the University has been upgrading outdoor lights on buildings across campus and replacing the old metal halide bulbs with more energy efficient light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. LED bulbs use less power (watts) relative to the amount of light generated (lumens) and also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by saving energy. Two-hundred A19 (typical screw-in base) LED bulbs can save enough energy per year compared to a 60W incandescent to power an entire home in the United States all year. These A19 LED bulbs can last up to 25,000 hours while metal halide bulbs usually last about 2,500 hours. The Custodial staff is using the freed up labor to expedite this upgrade effort to other sections of the campus.

The replacement of these lights is part of a larger energy saving initiative that also includes the retrofitting of interior light fixtures with more efficient bulbs across campus to create a unified standard of lighting. Since the sustainability initiative began in September 2008, 14 lighting retrofit projects have been done across 12 locations including the Fitness & Recreation Center, Agganis Arena, Mugar Library, Sargent College, George Sherman Union, College of Arts & Sciences, and Myles Standish Hall. Metal halide, T12, and other lower performing fluorescent bulbs were replaced with high-performance super-T8 or T5 fluorescent bulbs which typically use 10-15% less energy. All halogen bulbs were replaced with more efficient LED or compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. These projects have resulted in a savings of 5,794,883 kWh/year and 2,706 metric tons of CO2e/year, which equals 497 cars or 69,385 trees.

lighting-chartIn addition, all new buildings on campus are being outfitted with energy efficient lighting. The use of LED lighting in the new Center for Student Services helped to reduce lighting energy consumption by 53% over a typical building of the same type. Recently the lights in the alley adjacent to the Center for Student Services were upgraded as well with fixtures that are 44% more efficient than the existing lights. LED A19 bulbs are also being installed in boiler rooms and mechanical spaces with high ceilings, replacing the CFL lamps installed within the last two years to save even more energy.

Since the bulbs last much longer than before there is also a significant reduction in maintenance and cost as they don’t need to be replaced as often meaning in-house staff can be used more efficiently. The project has resulted synergy between environmental awareness and operational efficiency. Tim O’Connor, FM&P’s Electrical Manager, is extremely happy as the need for routine bulb replacement has drastically decreased which allows for his staff to provide better services in other areas. The routine building lamp replacement labor savings have also allowed custodial staff to maintain higher cleaning standards.

The next phase of the project will be the replacement of the incandescent bulbs in pole lights across campus. So far 2 pole lights have been retrofitted with LED and there are plans to replace 50 more, all of which would be eligible for a rebate from NSTAR.

World’s First Web-based Environmental Science Textbook

November 7th, 2012 in Uncategorized

By Robert K. Kaufmann and Cutler J. Cleveland

We are pleased to announce the publication of the world’s first entirely web-based, authoritative, introductory textbook on environmental science:

Environmental Science by Robert K. Kaufmann and Cutler J. Cleveland of Boston University.

Environmental Science takes advantage of the latest technologies to transcend the traditional textbook to create engaging, interactive content uitlizing video, social networking, image galleries, and other features that only the Web can provide.


  • 100% Web-based and accessible on any device
  • Price = $50.00
  • Thorough coverage of the key topics in environmental science; integration of ecology, economics, and policy using energy and material flows and a systems perspective
  • Case Studies and Policy in Action that develop critical thinking included in each chapter
  • 63 videos and animations, and a Glossary embedded in text to bring content alive
  • Electronic highlighting tool
  • 500 multiple choice question test bank upon adoption
  • Social networking tools to engage students and instructor in online discussion
  • Ability for instructors to quickly and easily customize by deleting/re-ordering chapters, and by adding content of their own (text, links, labs, lecture notes, video, assignments, images, PDFs, Powerpoints, etc.)

To see a sample chapter and request access to an examination copy, please visit

Robert K. Kaufmann
Professor, Department of Earth and Environment
Director, Center for Energy and Environmental Studies
Boston University

Cutler J. Cleveland
Professor, Department of Earth and Environment, Boston University
Founding Editor-in-Chief, Encyclopedia of Earth

Solar Energy for the Masses

October 31st, 2012 in Uncategorized

By Rachel Harrington (

Dr. Supratik Guha, director of the Physical Sciences Department at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, spoke at Boston University in October.

Dr. Supratik Guha, director of the Physical Sciences Department at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, spoke at Boston University in October.

As the need for renewable energy sources grows, solar energy has become a popular area of research. However, developing solar cell technology that can be used by the masses continues to be a challenge because of high prices and great performance demands.

“There are still some breakthroughs needed to bring down the cost and make the design more scalable,” said Dr. Supratik Guha, director of the Physical Sciences Department at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center.

Guha, whose research centers around new semiconductors and oxides for logic and energy analytics, visited Boston University on October 3 as part of the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering Distinguished Lecture Series. As part of his talk, he spoke about the challenges of designing better equipment to collect solar cells.
by Rachel Harrington (
“The demand for solar energy isn’t growing as quickly as we would like in the US because the demand for new utility systems isn’t as high,” said Guha.

As part of his research, Guha is exploring one of the ways solar energy can be harnessed by studying photovoltaics, a method of creating electric power by turning solar radiation into electricity using semiconductors.

Globally, solar photovoltaics is the third most popular renewable energy source behind wind and water power, but until cheaper materials are used to design solar cell equipment, the technology is not likely to pass fossil fuels as a top source of energy.

Enter Guha whose research team is looking at fabricating solar cells with copper-zinc-tin-sulfide (CZTS). According to Guha, the material is non-toxic and has the potential to have higher efficiency rates.

“We want to get away from fancy and expensive techniques,” he said.

The initial results show room for improvement since voltages were poor, but Guha said that his team will make advancements.

He believes that the ultimate goal, set forth by the Department of Energy, is to design a module that costs less than 50 cents a unit with the rest of system costing no more than $1 per watt.

“We’ve made a lot of progress, but new material discovery is still needed in order to make solar cells a widely used energy source,” said Guha.

Guha’s talk was the first in the two-part Fall 2012 Distinguished Lecture Series. The next talk features Professor Keren Bergman, Chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering at Columbia University. She will speak on the topic, “Scalable Computing Systems With Optically Enabled Data Movement.” Hear her on Wednesday, November 7, 2012, at 4 p.m. in PHO 211.