Georgia Tech’s Energy, Policy, and Innovation Center Awards $400K in Seed Funding through Energy and Public Health Solicitation

<p>Banner image to promote the 2021 Energy and Health Workshop titled ,"Building the Foundation: Energy and Public Health."</p>

Banner image to promote the 2021 Energy and Health Workshop titled ,"Building the Foundation: Energy and Public Health."

The U.S. energy infrastructure is undergoing major transformations, and the way that energy systems interact with public health will similarly evolve. As the U.S. transitions towards renewable and more climate-friendly energy systems, new public health issues will inevitably arise, bringing increased focus to an already complex relationship. These challenges, however, also present an opportunity for researchers to develop the foundational knowledge necessary to anticipate and respond to interactions between public health and new energy technologies and infrastructure.

Georgia Tech’s Energy, Policy, and Innovation Center (EPICenter), which is housed within the Strategic Energy Institute (SEI), seeks to position Georgia Tech and key regional partners as thought leaders that will inform the direction of energy and public health research. To this end, EPICenter, with help from SEI and the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Biosciences (IBB), put out a seed funding call to solicit multidisciplinary research projects entitled, “Energy and Public Health: Building the Foundation.” The intention of this funding call is to proactively identify and mitigate new public health challenges brought on by changes in the energy system.

In May of 2021 , EPICenter, IBB, and SEI convened a workshop about the issues related to new energy systems and their impact on public health. They invited individuals from local universities, the CDC, the EPA, national laboratories, as well as other local public health professionals. Participants explored how to best leverage Atlanta’s public health ecosystem to address anticipated impacts of the coming energy transition. The attendance, participation, and diversity of disciplines represented at the meeting proved that there is much work to be done in this nascent area. In response, EPICenter established a seed funding program and asked Georgia Tech researchers to submit research proposals. The request for proposals encouraged multidisciplinary and multi-institutional teams. Faculty and researchers from EPICenter, IBB, and SEI served on the review committee. Four teams were chosen and awarded a total of $400,000 to support their projects over two years.

"Atlanta has some of the best public health assets in the world, and this seed funding has incentivized Georgia Tech researchers to form collaborations that otherwise might not have existed,” said Sharon Murphy, research associate at EPICenter and lead organizer of the seed funding program.

The seed funding program touches on several of Georgia Tech’s institutional research benchmarks. The awards help to frame key opportunities related to knowledge gaps, foster a diverse network of research partners, and are likely to bring about positive societal impacts.

“If we approach this research wisely, we will have the opportunity to inform the evolution of the coming climate-friendly energy systems, as well as the chance to avoid repeating our past mistakes of imposing the most severe public health risks onto the most marginalized communities,” said Rich Simmons, director of research and studies at EPICenter.

Moreover, research on the public health impact of energy infrastructure has traditionally been in response to the adverse and often unintended consequences of those technologies. Another of EPICenter’s objectives is to shift the energy and health paradigm from an historically reactive one to an increasingly proactive one.

“If we think about the health impacts of energy solutions on the front end, we may be able to alleviate some of the social, environmental, and health inequalities that result from energy technologies,” added Tim Lieuwen, executive director of SEI. “Our hope is that this approach results in more favorable outcomes, and facilitates stronger connections between energy engineers, public health experts, and decision-makers.”

EPICenter anticipates that there will be a growing interest in the energy, public health, and equity sphere in the U.S. By supporting multidisciplinary research in this area, EPICenter expects that the awards will help to position Georgia Tech researchers to take advantage of federal-level funding opportunities, should they become available. 

“Above all, our hope is that the seed funding will reinforce Georgia Tech’s commitment to finding multidisciplinary solutions to today’s most pressing energy and public health challenges,” said Andrés García, Executive Director of the Petit Institute of Bioengineering and Biosicience.

The four projects chosen for funding are listed below:

The Effects of Internal Combustion Engine Transit Systems on Health: An Interdisciplinary Research Program Linking Transit-Related Pollution to Birth Outcomes
PI’s: Dylan Brewer (ECON), Randall Guensler (CEE),
Other Investigators: Laura Taylor, (ECON), Michael Rodgers (CEE), Michael Chang (BBISS), Ted Russell (CEE)
Partners from Emory University, Rollins School of Public Health: Howard Chang (Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, and Noah Scovronick (Environmental Health) 

Climate-induced Air Quality Deterioration and Its Health Risks in the Southeastern U.S.
PI’s: Pengfei Liu (EAS), and Liuhua Shi (Environmental Health, Emory University)

Establishing Energy Efficient Indoor Air Quality Methods and Standards 
PI’s: Thomas M. Orlando (CHEM), and Sally Ng (CHBE and EAS),

Secondary Organic Aerosol High-throughput Toxicology to Enhance Epidemiological Models Used for Energy and Environmental Policy-Making
PI’s: Shuichi Takayama (BME), and Sally Ng (CHBE and EAS)

News Contact

Catherine Barzler, Senior Research Writer/Editor, Research Communications
Brent Verrill, Research Communications Program Manager, SEI