About STORC

The Sustainable Technology Outdoor/Optimization Research Center (STORC) is a practical living laboratory and a multi-disciplinary center for learning that synergistically enhances research outcomes and student learning experiences. Interdisciplinary participation in STORC includes professors and students from Natural Science and Mathematics, Engineering and Computer Science, Social Science and Interdisciplinary Studies, and from various administrative offices such as Environmental Health and Safety, Risk Management, and Facilities Management.

Vision

We seek to become the Sacramento region, university-based resource for information about practical, scalable technologies that contribute to ecologically sustainable and financially viable approaches to managing energy, food, and waste.

Mission

Through faculty-led, student-centered scholarship, we 1) research, develop, and demonstrate innovative systems based on sustainable technologies, 2) disseminate information about these systems in the areas of public policy, scientific findings, and public welfare, and 3) secure externally sponsored funding to help support our work.


Areas for Research:

As stated in the vision statement there are three clear sustainability issues relevant STORC: energy, food, and waste. These categories can be further expanded to include transportation (a major contributor to the use of energy resources) and water (important in food production and socio-economic development). These areas all affect the health of our environment and, as an organization centered around sustainability, one or more of these topics motivate all the projects currently at STORC. To learn more about currently ongoing projects or submit a request to start your own, visit the Projects page.

Energy

A continuing increase in the economic growth of high population countries means a constant increase in energy consumption. Studies foresee a 70% increase in oil demand by 2050 and a 130% rise in CO2 emissions (GreenFacts). One of the greatest environmental challenges of the 21st century is to supply the ever increasing demand for energy by using clean, efficient, and cost effective methods.

Some of the most well-known and promising methods today make use of nuclear power, natural gas, water, wind, geothermal power, solar power and biofuels. These methods of clean energy harvesting can be scaled from huge energy producing companies all the way down to individuals and their personal products. STORC contributes to the research in this field with projects like the Tiny House, Zero-Net Energy Home and Biodiesel Production.

Transportation

Most forms of transportation today are highly dependent on oil, a fossil fuel that takes millions of years to form and is therefore considered non-renewable. Not only is it non-renewable, but it’s consumption emits greenhouse gases, contributing to pollution and climate change.

Some steps have been made to produce more energy efficient forms of transportation, for example electric public transportation networks, electric and hybrid cars, self-driving cars and magnetically powered high-speed trains (maglev). These technologies and more have great potential for replacing oil powered cars completely and more research to further increase their effectiveness would help to facilitate this process. Currently STORC is not conducting any research in this area.

Food

World food production faces several challenges some of which are loss of biodiversity, increasing human populations, and changing climate. Not only do those challenges need to be addressed, but a lot of the worlds food is produced using methods that are not environmentally friendly, leading to further problems such as topsoil depletion, groundwater contamination, deforestation, water scarcity, and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable farming practices are important in moving forward.

Some solutions today include agroforestry, permaculture, rooftop and urban farms, food computers, and aquaponics systems. Urban farming such as rooftop gardens can reduce harmful runoff, increase shading, and help counter the heat island effect. Food computers, now being developed by MIT use sensors to monitor the plants and the things they’re dependent on (temperature, water and nutrients) and through algorithms, constantly adjust these variables to the optimal values (climate recipes) for plant growth. Aquaponics systems make use of fish to provide nutrients for the plants, resulting in a very efficient and ecofriendly system. STORC is currently maintaining an aquaponics system.

Water

Between 1.7 and 3.1 billion people live with moderate to severe water scarcity for at least one month out of the year and inadequate sanitation is a problem for 2.4 billion people (WorldWildLife). High water use from the agricultural industry means the depletion of aquifers (underground water sources) as well as contaminated water from pesticides and fertilizers. There are many innovative solutions being developed in response to freshwater scarcity and the need for water purification.

Two solutions to improve efficient water use in agriculture are smart monitoring, in which sensor systems are used to quickly detect and pinpoint leaks, and precision irrigation systems, which collect real-time data on qualities that crops are dependent on in order to create predictive analytics which allow for more efficient farming. Some approaches being researched to desalinate and purify water are biomimicry and the use of biomimetic membranes (TheGuardian). Solar water pasteurization is another great method, always in need of innovation, that makes water safe to drink for people who don’t have the resources to buy clean water.

Waste

Several types of waste contribute to the pollution of the environment and the wasted use of our limited resources. Some of the most notable are food waste, electronic waste (e-waste) and recyclable waste.

Food

Every ton of food wasted results in 3.8 tons of greenhouse gas emissions (Waste & Resources Action Program) and in 2011 a study conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that one third of food produced in the world for consumption goes to waste.

A step individuals can take toward lowering food waste is turning old food into a useful resource by composting it rather than throwing it in the trash. STORC has its own composting system made up of CSUS food waste, which it then uses as fertilize for greenhouse plants.

E-Waste

E-waste has been on the rise as the importance of technology in our daily lives has increased. Only about 12.5% of e-waste is recycled properly (Earth911). E-waste that is not recycled pollutes the air, contaminates soil, and leaches into water sources.

Researchers have been studying ways to create biodegradable and biocompatible electronics. One of the ideas are "nanocomposites" made of natural materials for structural applications in casings and circuit boards. Another is the use of lignin and soy-based resins for circuit board construction to replace petroleum-based resins.

Recyclables

Recyclables such as plastic, aluminum, and other materials are often not recycled and instead sent to a landfill or incinerated. In fact, over 60% of the materials that end up trashed could be recycled (Conserve-Energy-Future).

The invention of better biodegradables and more innovative alternatives to commonly used material such as plastics could go a long way in reducing our ecological footprint.