Understanding the Campus Metabolism at the University of South Florida Tampa

By Garrick Aden-Buie, Research Fellow; James Buckingham, Research Fellow; Kebreab Ghebremichael, Senior Research Fellow, and Kalanithy Vairavamoorthy, Executive Director of the Patel School of Global Sustainability

(This article appears in the September, 2012 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

As the eighth largest university in the United States and the third largest in the state of Florida, the University of South Florida (USF) Tampa serves approximately 40,000 students and 12,000 faculty and staff. Like many other university campuses, the USF Tampa campus is a veritable miniature city. Situated in an urban setting, the campus contains 250 buildings on 1,561 acres and generates 266 million gallons of wastewater and 1,190 tons of solid waste, while requiring approximately 183 million kWhs of electricity and 740 million gallons of water a year to support its educational, research and social endeavors.

3D Visualization of the University of South Florida (USF) Tampa Campus Urban Metabolism Model

Much like the arteries of an organism, everyday activities on campus are supported by a system of networks that transport goods, resources, and energy to or from their users. Twenty-eight miles of roads and 92 miles of sidewalks move students and faculty.

Another 28 miles of potable water mains deliver water to users and 15 miles of sewer mains remove wastewater from campus. Similarly, electricity and communications networks reach every corner of campus. The resources moving through these networks carry with them an environmental burden in the form of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as they are created, moved, used and or discarded. Understanding how and where these resources are used is important for meeting our Climate Action Plan (CAP) goals.

Resource use and waste are not generated independently of one another. However, resource and waste streams are generally managed independently. While efficiency gains may be found by updating resource and waste stream infrastructure, an integrated systems approach can suggest ways to optimize the resource, waste system holistically. The Patel School for Global Sustainability (PSGS), through a research project involving several PhD students is developing an urban metabolism model framework by which information of these subsystems is collected, modeled and utilized for efficient management of resources. This project is closely involved with the university’s Office of Sustainability, a part of the PSGS, and has received substantial support from university administration.

The goal of urban metabolism research is to explore and develop the urban resource management strategies of the USF Tampa campus. This will strive towards developing efficient resource management and will provide a means for harvesting resources from nature, waste or otherwise under-utilized resource streams to close resource flow loops.

The project will help the USF Tampa campus to be an intelligent and efficient example by implementing sensory technology, which will gather data that will be synthesized into an integrated urban metabolism optimization model and a spatial visualization tool. To achieve this goal, a network of smart sensors will be installed across campus. These intelligent sensors will not only monitor the flow of resources and people through campus, but also will interact with and control the resource networks to adapt instantaneously to changing optimal flows.

Information collected from the smart sensors network will be organized, processed and stored within an integrated resource model. Using network optimization algorithms with a systems dynamics approach, this model will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the on-campus energy, water and transportation resource networks by optimizing at the system and subsystem levels and by providing intelligent feedback to the smart sensors network.

The spatial visualization tool will animate resource flows across campus creating an interactive foresight workspace where campus users, researchers, experts, and USF stakeholders and policy-makers can conduct scenario analysis and foresight studies on alternate futures. The tool will be able to assist in such problems as optimizing classroom allocations to reduce student transportation and building energy demands. The spatial visualization tool can also be used to visualize the current state of the campus system to assist in the daily operation and maintenance of the campus.

In our efforts to achieve our CAP goals of a 50% reduction in carbon-equivalent emissions by 2040, USF will have to diversify its resource sources and strive to capture and reuse waste wherever possible. Intelligently managing the use and storage of these resources will be essential in this strategy. The tools generated by the PSGS can be used to guide in the design and implementation of renewable energy technologies, the reclamation of resources from wastewater, the routing and timing of public transportation, the scheduling of classes, and the strategic placement of trees and green space among many other examples.

As a winner of the prestigious Second Nature Climate Leadership Award, USF is committed to making its campus and community a cleaner, “greener” place to live, learn and work. This commitment is also represented through the PSGS administration of the USF Student Green Energy Fund and the sustainability projects it continues to incorporate on USF’s campus.

The PSGS through its M.A. program is devoted to taking the lead in training the next generation of leaders in the green jobs workforce through its concentrations in Water, Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Tourism.

The Patel School of Global Sustainability (PSGS) fosters sustainable urban communities and environments through collaborative research, education and community involvement. Its research generates innovations and new knowledge that will help cities around the world, including those in developing countries, reduce their ecological footprint while improving their form and function to make them healthier, more livable and resilient.

The Patel School of Global Sustainability comprises the Patel Center for Global Solutions, the M.A. School of Global Sustainability and the Office of Sustainability. It is an inclusive and holistic school based on interdisciplinary research, design, and education.