DOE Grants SJU $1 Million to Study Alternate Fuel Source and Green Roofs

Thursday, October 7, 2010

PHILADELPHIA (Oct. 7, 2010) – Saint Joseph’s University has received a $1 million grant from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program (EEREA). The grant will fund key research and public education projects that will promote and advance responsible environmental stewardship at the University, in the greater Philadelphia area, and throughout the country. The award will also enable SJU to formally establish a proposed Institute for Environmental Stewardship.

“This DOE award will position Saint Joseph’s to enter into research that will be meaningful to both the sustainability movement and to the education of students who are interested in careers in the environmental sciences,” says William Madges, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “With its emphasis on public education programs, it also supports our Jesuit mission by providing opportunities to contribute to the greater good.”

The planned research initiatives focus on two different projects, one involving switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), a potential biofuel crop, and another involving a comparison of green roof systems. Both initiatives will be conducted on Saint Joseph’s campus, but field studies of switchgrass will be carried out at the Konza Prairie, near Manhattan, Kan., which is a National Science Foundation Long Term Ecological Research site.    

While switchgrass – which is prolific in the tallgrass prairie ecosystem of the Great Plains – has been identified as a potential alternative energy source for biofuel production, very little research has focused on how its yields, and the characteristics that make it a biofuel candidate, will be altered by the predicted changes in climate specific to the Great Plains. Most of the switchgrass cultivation is slated to occur in this area of the country.

“We will initiate a multi-year, basic research project examining the effects of changes in precipitation, temperature, nitrogen deposition and elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide on the potential yield of varieties of switchgrass,” says Michael McCann, Ph.D., associate dean, College of Arts and Sciences and professor of biology. “In addition, we will examine the physiological and structural mechanisms that lead to changes in yield.”

“Understanding the effects of global change on switchgrass is critical because we do not want to be caught off guard if we are relying on this crop for fuel,” says Clint Springer, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology and principle investigator of the study. “Future changes in climate would have negative consequences on both the yield of the plant and the attributes that allow it to be used as a biofuel.”

Green roof systems, which provide a wide range of benefits including reduced energy use and increased energy efficiency, also help extend the life span of buildings by providing waterproofing. Basic green roofs usually involve a structure that is built on an existing roof that includes a waterproofing membrane and additional layers of root barrier and drainage systems. Growing medium and specialized plant vegetation is then added to that structure.

According to McCann, there are a variety of commercial green roof systems available, precipitating a need for research focused on direct comparisons of different systems and plant communities. To address this need, SJU will install a system that will permit the direct, side-by-side comparison of a variety of green roofs on the SJU's Science Center roof deck. “This novel, ‘many roofs on one building’ approach will provide valuable data on the various systems in use in Southeastern Pennsylvania,” says McCann.

Additionally, faculty and students in programs like Environmental Science, Biology and Chemistry will use the roof systems for both research and research training.

Educational events and conferences informing the public about environmental stewardship practices, research and potential solutions to complex ecological problems are integral to the mission of the proposed Institute for Environmental Stewardship. Public tours of the green roof facility will be possible after installation. Conferences highlighting the work supported by EEREA funding are planned for the future.

Media Contact

Patricia Allen, Senior Associate Director of University Communications, 610-660-3240,


Founded in 1851 in the Jesuit tradition of academic excellence, Saint Joseph’s University is a top-ranked Catholic University that provides a rigorous, student-centered education. With a total enrollment of 8,500 undergraduate and graduate students, SJU offers a wide-array of academic programs designed so that each graduate enters the world with a competitive resume and global perspective. This is achieved through intense academic study led by thought-leading faculty scholars, a comprehensive campus experience and robust study abroad, service-learning, internship and co-op programs. Upon graduation, nearly 100 percent of students are employed, pursuing advanced degrees or volunteering in prestigious service programs. A member of the Atlantic 10 Conference, SJU offers 20 Division I intercollegiate men’s and women’s sports. SJU alumni – over 60,000 strong - provide a powerful network that spans the globe.

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