Researchers at the Duke Center for Sustainability & Commerce are working with industry and government partners to explore a range of infrastructure topics, which are each vital to effective and environmentally friendly commerce.

As seen in this graph, the planet is experiencing rapid urbanization, and for the first time in history we now have more people living in cities.

Large cities are growing and new cities are being created. The infrastructure required to support this transition is consuming a great amount of natural resources and minerals. Additionally, land is being transitioned from native agriculture and vegetation to engineered landscapes, which can result in alter climates (the urban heat island effect) and disputes over allocation of key resources such as water. Our research is focused on quantifying these impacts, modeling future scenarios and exploring opportunities to reduce environmental impacts. The following are some of our current projects:

Water Intensive Agriculture 

The Duke Center for Sustainability & Commerce is developing research on technologies and strategies for the use of water in agriculture. Researchers at the center are working to quantify and evaluate the various methodologies used in assessing and reporting water.  This includes evaluating the appropriatness and gaps in scarcity models in relation to productivity models. 

In addition the Center is examinging  land use and location "what if' scenarios  such as water consumption variation based on different crops or land use patterns such as urbanization.  We are also researching opportunities to reduce water consumption during the consumer use phase of products by examining food loss. More specifically, how reducing the volume of food being wasted can help reduce the water required to make it during the agriculture phase.

Energy-Water Nexus

There exists a strong relationship between energy and water. Energy requires water for cooling of thermoelectric power while water is necessary for the extraction and processing of vital minerals used for energy production and transmission in hydropower. In fact, more water is used for thermoelectric power than anything else in the United States (see graph).

With the U.S. requiring 30% more electricity by 2025, we will see an increased demand for our water. New technologies and strategies that better use this critical resource must be developed to compensate. Center researchers are exploring innovative technologies and strategies to reduce residential and commercial water demand from the use of consumer products and appliances. 

Freight Transportation 

What opportunities exist to more sustainability transport goods?  That is the question the Duke Center for Sustainability & Commerce is tackling. Transportation impacts various stages of a product’s life cycle. Consider all thetrain transportation required for a consumer appliance. 

Take copper for example. It is a ductile conductor used to wire consumer appliances such as washers, computers and televisions. To get it in these products and in consumer homes, the chemicals and equipment required to extract copper ore need to be transported to a mine. Once the ores are extracted they are shipped to a facility for processing, then a manufacturing facility where key components are harvested and shipped to a manufacturing and assembly facility. Here, the product will be made and transported to a distribution facility before it ends up in stores and eventually in consumers’ homes.

We are working with partners—who transport by sea, rail, air and roads—to find ways to quantify the impacts during each of these stages and optimize their process to reduce environmental burdens. 

Sustainable Buildings 

Duke University has developed the Duke Smart Home. This program is a research-based approach to smart living sponsored by Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering. The program is primarily focused on taking undergraduate students, from different academic disciplines, and forming teams that explore smart ways to use technology in the home.