Applied Environmental Solutions

Creating Practical Solutions for Big Problems

The Applied Environmental Solutions center serves as the Wrigley Institute’s research and development hub for solving our world’s manifold and growing environmental challenges. We turn science into action by testing the feasibility of new ideas and determining how to convert them into workable practices and technology.

Student in a dark lab looking through a microscope
Wrigley Institute Senior Scientist Diane Kim and postdoc Andy Naverrete log algae growth while diving in a giant kelp forest Macro image of a kelp underwater

Kelp Aquaculture for Sustainability

When we see kelp, we see potential: for biofuels, bioplastics, fertilizers, and more. Our Kelp Aquaculture project focuses on developing kelp resources for commercial use and filling critical gaps in our understanding of the factors that affect kelp’s viability as a commercial crop.

Current projects are studying a novel approach to open-ocean kelp farming, exploring the use of seed banks for selective kelp breeding, testing kelp’s survival under varying conditions, and investigating the ecology of kelp at various stages of growth.

a student holds a trash bag and empty plastic water bottle collected from the beach at a cleanup event

Plastics Recycling

PI: Megan Fieser, Gabilan Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Plastics of all kinds continue to accumulate in our environment, posing growing challenges and threats to our ecosystems. Many of these plastics can’t be recycled, or the processes for recycling them have toxic byproducts or other damaging effects on the environment. This project focuses on developing catalysts that can recycle or upcycle existing plastics, especially stubborn forms such as PVC, into commercially useful chemicals through safer, more sustainable means.

the skyline of downtown Los Angeles seen from a distance, obscured by a heavy layer of smog

Renewable Energy, Air Quality, & Urban Warming

PI: Kelly Sanders, Dr. Teh Fu Yen Early Career Chair and Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Extreme heat and and poor air quality kill millions of people every year, especially in the world’s large cities. Moreover, climate change both intensifies and is intensified by these problems. To help determine how lower fossil fuel use might help solve these issues, this project will track Los Angeles’s air quality in the context of urban warming as the city works toward its goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045.

a dense mat of barnacles covers a red boat hull

Antifouling Coatings Made from Waste Plastics

PIs: Travis Williams, Professor of Chemistry; Clay C. C. Wang, Professor of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences

Biofouling is a major problem for industries ranging from shipping (e.g., barnacle growth on vessels) to medicine (e.g., rejection of foreign bodies such as reconstructive pins). The most commonly used antifouling coatings are effective but often have toxic impacts beyond their intended targets. Building on a prior discovery by the Williams Lab, this project seeks to use chemically treated ocean-sourced waste plastics to create antifouling coatings that are less toxic to non-targeted organisms.

dark blue ocean waves ripple under a cloudy sky

Emerging Carbon Sequestration Methods

PI: William Berelson, Professor of Earth Sciences, Environmental Studies and Spatial Sciences

Scientists are racing to come up with ways to combat greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on people and planet. One potential solution is to capture carbon at the point of emission and sequester it in the ocean. As part of a larger collaboration on new carbon capture technology, this project will test the potential environmental impacts of ocean-based carbon sequestration, to help ensure that the approach is safe for marine ecosystems. (Supported by the Jordan and Andrea Lott Foundation)

solar panels sit in a green field under a bright sun

New Materials for Converting Solar Energy to Fuel

PI: Smaranda Marinescu, Associate Professor of Chemistry

Sustainably produced liquid fuels are an important piece of the renewable energy puzzle, as not all applications can accommodate solar panels, wind turbines, or batteries. Yet current methods for producing potential alternatives, such as hydrogen fuel, often create toxic byproducts or still require the use of fossil-based energy. This project focuses on developing materials for solar-to-fuel technologies, which create sustainable hydrogen and value-added CO2 products.