(UG1) Massachusetts Climate Resilience Policy, Planning, and the Needs of People with Disabilities: Paths to Improvement

People With Disabilities (PWDs) face a four-fold higher risk of death from climate emergencies, yet largely lack any meaningful inclusion in municipal climate vulnerability planning. This project maps out a strategy to increase PWD inclusion in a Massachusetts government agency, the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program providing municipalities with climate resilience technical assistance, funding, and guidelines, currently undergoing a 5-year update. Over 95% of Massachusetts’s municipalities participate in this program, so changes to this one entity are disseminated throughout the state. While this project was in its intermediate stage, sharing this project’s early findings and resources led to strong interest being expressed in increasing PWD inclusion by an MVP program official.

(GR3) Hydrothermal liquefaction of solvent-fractionated lignin for aromatic monomer production

Lignin is a natural aromatic biomacromolecule that exists as the second most abundant polymer. Its phenolic structure makes it a potential renewable source for organic compounds, especially those containing electron rich aromatic rings. However, valorizing lignin has presented a huge challenge owing to its recalcitrant nature. Co-solvent enhanced lignocellulosic fractionation (CELF) is an advanced biomass pretreatment technique that gives us a clean lignin byproduct. Depolymerizing CELF lignin via hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL), which is a green wet-based thermochemical conversion technique, produces aromatic hydrocarbon-rich biocrude or phenolic monomer chemicals. Hardwood derived CELF lignin yields approximately 52wt% of biocrude with valuable monomers like guaiacol, syringol, creosol, butylated hydroxytoluene, etc. Further processing and upgrading of biocrude could lead to production of usable biofuels.

(GR4) The Path Towards Fossil Fuel Disruption: Predicting Biofuel Costs with a Single Experiment and Thirty Seconds

Our current response to climate change has been through broad-spectrum electrification, as seen in electric vehicles, through the use of energy storage technology. However, to enable the long-distance travel required for freighting and aviation, the energy density of hydrocarbon fuels have yet to be beaten. We can leverage organic wet wastes to produce renewable, low carbon intensity biofuels using hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL).

(UG4) Exploring the Feasibility of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors for Research and Energy at WPI

The increased risks of climate change are forcing communities to rethink how they meet their energy needs. In this project, we investigated the feasibility of integrating a small modular nuclear reactor (SMNR) at WPI for both research and power generation. During this investigation, we conducted interviews, directed a survey, and viewed carbon emissions data. By analyzing this information, we found that implementing an SMNR would benefit the institution by providing additional research opportunities and reducing overall emissions through the cogeneration of heat and electricity in a safe manner by utilizing SMNR technology as soon as 2026, when it is predicted to be commercially available.

(GR9) Rare Earth Metal Recycling Using a Novel, Low-cost Distillation Technology

We are perfecting a technology that will extract rare earth metals from magnet scrap because rare earth metals are in short supply in the United States. 95% of rare earth metal production is carried out in China, and right now, there are no U.S. producers. The only non-Chinese producers are Estonia, Vietnam, and Thailand- a small market.

We are looking to build a start-up in the U.S. to fill the vacuum, and part of our research is to prove that out.