[IQP] Implementing Environmental Indexing and Monitoring at the Technological University of Panama

Sponsor: Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá
Student Team: Melanie Dworak
Theodore MacLeod
Nicholas Mears
Galahad Wernsing
Abstract: The Technological University of Panama (UTP) is positioning itself as a leader in sustainability in Panama. Our team developed a sustainability reporting plan for UTP that allows comparison to other universities and provides clear steps for improvement on campus. We also prototyped a wireless air quality sensor network as another facet of UTP’s environmental reporting. Recommendations include offering general sustainability courses, implementing an expanded air quality monitoring network, and installing resource efficient appliances in the ongoing construction.
Links: Final Report

Executive Summary

Our sponsor, the Technical University of Panama (UTP), is aiming to be a leader in environmental sustainability. Due to recent campus construction and development, UTP’s community is increasingly concerned with its impact on the local environment. UTP wants to improve their resource use efficiency and reduce emissions from construction and vehicles. In an effort to address these desires, UTP began reporting to the University of Indonesia GreenMetric sustainability indexing system in 2013, but the school’s score was not publicized and had little effect. The goal of our project was to effectively implement an environmental monitoring and indexing system at UTP.

Our project consisted of four main tasks: implementing a campus sustainability index, developing an air quality test case, surveying the school community on sustainability awareness, and generating recommendations for UTP based on our previous work.

Determining a sustainability index for the school was necessary to inform sustainability based decisions at UTP. The index must enable the school to accurately assess their sustainability and rank themselves against other schools. We considered creating the school’s own index, the AASHE Stars index, and the University of Indonesia GreenMetric. We compared how the values are calculated, what each index took into account, and why each index was created.

Prototyping an air quality monitoring system was an important project component. This prototype was designed to provide our sponsor with hard, real-time data on their environmental influence. The monitoring system used sensor modules developed by Libelium; specifically, the Plug & Sense Smart Environment modules. Five times an hour, these modules took readings of CO, CO2, NO2, SO2, O3. Each hour, the five data points were averaged together and sent off to UTP’s database. The website could then retrieve the data from the database and put it on display. After ensuring that the system would carry out these basic functions, factors related to large-scale implementation such as range and battery life were tested. Finally, all of this data was compiled into a technical manual for UTP to use in the future.

We conducted a campus wide survey to assess the sustainability knowledge and interest in UTP. The survey had separate faculty and student sections, covering interest in hosting a class and taking a class on sustainability, respectively. The remaining questions covered UTP’s knowledge of their own sustainability and gathered first hand recommendations.

After gathering information on possible sustainability indices, the air quality test case, and the school wide survey, we created recommendations based on that data. We compared current and previous data submitted to GreenMetric to identify areas of improvement. Based on the limitations of the prototype sensor network, we examined future methods of expanding the system campus-wide. Finally, using the survey data we suggested methods to spread sustainability knowledge across the school and motivate the population to be more conscious of sustainability.

Below are our findings gathered after the conclusion of our project. We present the GreenMetric as the best index for adoption, the results from the survey conducted on the campus body, and the effectiveness, or lack of effectiveness, of the modules from the air quality case study.

We found that the UI GreenMetric score would be the best choice for UTP to pursue. This is because UTP has similar climate to the University of Indonesia and has been reporting to the GreenMetric for the best three years. UTP’s 2016 GreenMetric score is 3638/10000, placing it 356th out of 516 institutions. UTP’s best section was Setting and Infrastructure, where they scored 57% of the available points. The two lowest scoring sections were Energy and Climate Change, with 19% of points available; and Water, with 16% of points available.

The survey of the UTP community on their sustainability knowledge provided valuable information. The self-reported student knowledge of campus sustainability was, on average, 2.9 out of 5, with 5 being the most informed. There was also an overwhelmingly positive interest in making UTP sustainable. The average student rated the importance of campus sustainability as 4.6 out of 5, 5 being very important. Students indicated a willingness to learn more about sustainability, on average rating their interest as 3.9 out of 5. This signified a lack of education opportunities and an interest in the subject.

The air quality case study identified a number of restrictions with the equipment at UTP. First, we discovered our five-year-old hardware had exceeded the two-year shelf life of the sensors, causing errors in setup and data collection. Additionally, the modules could not broadcast the advertised range of 7km, restricting sensor location, and failing batteries limited sensor readings. We were only able to measure a subset of recommended variables with available sensors, and acquisition of new sensors from the same company is expensive compared to a solution built by UTP from commercially available components.

We recommend a website as a prime platform to publish information regarding environmental sustainability education to the university, as well as act as a data display for the air quality network that will ultimately be implemented on-campus. Additionally, UTP should make their GreenMetric score and score breakdown more available to the community by displaying it on the website we have provided. Finally, a poster campaign around UTP’s campus would increase the campus body’s awareness of the GreenMetric system.

While UTP does offer 370 courses related to the environment and sustainability, none of them are available to all students regardless of their major. From the survey, we learned the students have interest in sustainability education, with 33 out of 56 students preferring a full course in sustainability. We recommend that UTP develop an intro to sustainability course that is oriented towards non-environmental engineering majors. The website could also be a hub of sustainability information.

After examining expansion plans, we concluded that 21 sensor modules would need to be installed to complete a full heat map of the campus. UTP could omit some of the harder to reach places in the forested areas of campus, but at least one should be left in a forested area for comparative data from the construction site. If the cost for a heat map is too great, the next best option would be to measure the air quality of varying distances from construction sites in order to analyze how construction is impacting campus air quality.

We recommend monitoring the following air quality variables around campus due to their risk to respiratory and cardiovascular health: particulate matter (PM 2.5 and 10), carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulphur dioxide (SO2). We recommend avoiding the Libelium modules in the future due to their limited shelf life as well as their comparatively steep pricing. We conducted a cost analysis of the Plug & Sense Modules and calculated cost of the Plug & Sense at $3711 per module, while a homemade module would cost about $125. The considerably reduced price does require additional labor to fabricate the modules, but UTP teaches Arduino design so there is no doubt that homemade alternatives would be feasible. Overall, we believe that using homemade Arduino sensor modules would save UTP considerable funds and debugging time.

We highly encourage UTP to continue their use of the GreenMetric indexing system. Given the past use of the index by UTP and the similarities in climate and location between UTP and UI, we believe the GreenMetric is the most suitable fit for the university. Implementing water efficient toilets and taps in the buildings currently under construction would reduce UTP’s water use at a smaller cost than retrofitting existing buildings. Using water efficient fixtures in the new building could also increase the GreenMetric Water section score by up to 10% of total possible points. If the UTP employed smart building technology in their new buildings (e.g. selfmonitoring air conditioning and light use) the school’s score would rise. Although this would take a lot of labor and planning to implement, UTP’s energy costs would directly go down.