Energy, Water, Food

Sugarcane field at sunset

As rapid population growth and changing climate conditions put pressure on these critical resources, it is crucial to find new ways to protect and increase access to energy and to healthy food and water. Current CBIS investigations include sequestering carbon dioxide, preserving freshwater reserves using AI and data modeling, identifying new polymeric and synthetic membranes that are less attractant to organic matter, and developing unique architectural building blocks for supporting plant growth.

Current Research

Georges Belfort, Institute Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Member, National Academy of Engineering, Chemical and Biological Engineering

Professor Belfort is one of the premier academic scientists and engineers in the field of bioseparations engineering and is a leading academic chemical engineer in liquid-phase pressure-driven membrane-based processes. He has made seminal wide-ranging fundamental and applied research contributions to the understanding, design, and application of pressure-driven membrane processes for the recovery of biological molecules. His research, both fundamental and developmental, is conducted in the areas of membrane-separations engineering and surface science and the behavior of proteins at interfaces.

In particular, the research involves design of new membrane modules with highly efficient mass-transfer characteristics, modification of membrane surfaces for reduced fouling, and use of genetic engineering as a tool in the separation of biological molecules. Direct measurements are also made of intermolecular forces between proteins and polymeric films for application in separations and marine fouling.

Recent interest has focused on the effect of solid substrates on the conformation of proteins, the development of a new molecular two-dimensional imprinting technique, the use of helical hollow fiber membranes to fractionate foreign immunoglobulins from transgenic goat milk, and the modification new polymeric surfaces for synthetic membranes using photo-induced polymerization that exhibit low attraction to proteins (biotechnology applications), and natural organic matter (environmental applications).

Rick Relyea, Professor of Biological Sciences and David M. Darrin ’40 Senior Endowed Chair, Director of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, and Director of the Jefferson Project at Lake George

The Jefferson Project at Lake George, a collaboration between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, IBM Research, and The Lake George Association, is an unprecedented technological approach to studying fresh water so we can understand impacts of human activities and how to mitigate those effects. This research combines Internet-of-Things technology and powerful analytics with lake and atmospheric science to create a new model for environmental monitoring and prediction. The team also collects and analyzes data from a network of sensors that track water quality and movement and conducts cutting-edge experiments to examine the separate and combined effects of different human impacts. Scientific insights and technology created for the project are helping to manage and protect the Lake George, while also creating a blueprint to preserve important lakes, rivers, and other water bodies around the globe.


Richard Gross, Professor, Constellation Chair, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology

Professor Gross’ research is motivated by the urgent need to develop sustainable chemicals and materials to meet the demands of a rapidly rising global population while mitigating risks of increased green-house gas emissions associated with climate change. Professor Gross is focusing the groups inventiveness on research that has the potential to revolutionize the way we synthesize next-generation chemicals and materials as well as improve human health. For this purpose, the group is combining the best chemical and biocatalysts to develop efficient green routes to low molar mass molecules, polymers and materials.

He is also applying green chemistry principles to develop next-generation therapeutics. For this, his team looks to nature for tailorable bioactives and use a variety of tools to create matrices for tissue engineering and bioresorbable biomaterials. The result of his team’s emphasis on implementing green chemical principles is the development of synthetic routes that operate under mild reaction conditions (e.g., low temperature, ambient pressure, avoid toxic reagents) that increase worker safety, improve reaction efficiencies (i.e., atom economy) while avoiding protection-deprotection steps. This increases the chance of developing solutions that will be scalable and used.  


Green wall technologies have the potential to deliver clean air to urban populations and reduce the carbon footprint of cities and buildings by reducing the fossil fuel consumption of heating, cooling, and ventilation systems. A prototype of a green wall that uses plants to maximize the amount of airborne toxins filtered out is housed at the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. This project is a collaboration spanning the fields of environmental and mechanical engineering, biology, and architectural sciences. The team includes researchers from Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE), the Center for Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA), and departments in tge Schools of Science and Engineering.

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