2016 Sustainability Progress Report


Much of U-M’s sustainability research focuses on addressing big questions and their application and impact on communities — helping to create and foster a safer and healthier environment for all.

  • $1.5 million to develop safer, longer-lasting Lithium-ion batteries
  • $3 million to develop better fertilizers from the National Science Foundation

An untraditional fertilizer

U-M researchers are leading a $3 million project funded by the National Science Foundation to convert human urine into a safe fertilizer for agricultural crops.

In the fall, the team installed special toilets in the G.G. Brown building on North Campus that route urine to a holding tank to be treated. It will eventually be used to create fertilizers that will be used at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. The grant kicks off the nation’s largest program exploring the technology, systems requirements and social attitudes associated with urine-derived fertilizers.

Historic Milestone

Historic Milestone

Sustainability Center

The interdisciplinary Center for Sustainable Systems is established in 1999 within SNRE to promote research and implementation of the Life Cycle Design Methodology.

View other historic milestones

A target for hazardous waste

U-M researchers analyzed 30 years of demographic data about the placement of U.S. hazardous waste facilities and found minority and low-income neighborhoods and communities in transition to be disproportionately targeted.

For their study, the researchers relied on the same national database of commercial hazardous waste facilities used in the influential 2007 report titled “Toxic Waste and Race at Twenty,” which found that more than half of all people in the United States who live within 3 kilometers of a hazardous waste facility are people of color. Minorities and low-income communities are seen as the path of least resistance because they have fewer resources and political clout to oppose the siting of unwanted facilities.


Building the cities of the future

A team of U-M researchers are working on a smart water system that has the potential to reduce flooding in cities during heavy rainstorms, such as in Los Angeles, while redirecting the water for other needs.

Using sensors connected to the internet, this smart system could control valves and pumps needed to hold back water and divert it to neighborhoods unaffected by storms making infrastructure more adaptive and responsive.

Advancing battery technology

Safer, longer-lasting Lithium-ion batteries for technologies like electric vehicles, smartphones and laptops could be possible in the near future as a result of a $1.5 million joint venture between a U-M startup, Elegus Technologies, and two major players in the industry: XALT Energy and Energy Power Systems.

Elegus has developed an advanced battery separator that allows for increased energy density and longer battery life in Lithium ion cells without compromising safety. Elegus received $175,000 in funding from MTRAC program as part of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Entrepreneur and Innovation initiative, which focuses on establishing Michigan as the place to create and grow a business by providing high-tech startup companies with access to a variety of resources.



New research vehicles are open testbeds for academic and industry researchers to rapidly test self-driving and connected vehicle technologies at a world-class proving ground, Mcity.

These open connected and automated research vehicles, or open CAVs, are equipped with sensors including radar, lidar and cameras, among other features. The open CAVs are based at Mcity, U-M’s simulated urban and suburban environment for testing automated and connected vehicles. While a handful of other institutions may offer similar research vehicles, U-M is the only one that also operates a high-tech, real-world testing facility.