Research and Campus News, Fall 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010 10:00:00 AM




By Clare Wiseman

Dr. Clare Wiseman (Assistant Professor, Centre for Environment, U of T) is currently examining metal concentrations in Toronto soils and their uptake by various plant species.  While urban gardening is widely known for its community development and health benefits, there are concerns regarding possible contaminant exposures and related risks in consuming urban-grown produce. Urban soils of communities located in the vicinity of polluting industrial facilities and high volumes of traffic may have especially elevated metal concentrations.  Unfortunately, such communities often have greater poverty rates, which raise questions regarding justice and equity.
     Working closely with her lead community partner Foodshare, which is interested in cultivating underutilized urban spaces, Dr. Wiseman has been harvesting plants grown at four different locations in 2010.  Two on the St. George Campus (on Galbraith Building's rooftop and at the corner of St. George and Hoskin) and two in the west end of Toronto. Plant tissue and soil samples have also been provided by a farm located in the Simcoe region, to allow for a comparison of rural vs. urban contaminant levels.  Both bulk soil and soil rhizosphere (area immediately surrounding plant roots) samples will be examined for trace elements, as well as whole plants (i.e. leaves, fruit, stems and roots) to obtain data on root vs. shoot concentrations, as an indicator of metal bioaccessibility. In addition, half of all edible portions harvested have been systematically washed with distillated water to provide an indication of root metal uptake vs. atmospheric deposition.
     Preliminary results suggest that various traffic-related metals such as nickel and zinc have significantly accumulated in the bulk soil of the St. George campus roadside location over the summer months, compared to other sites. Soils from the rhizosphere of cultivated plants from this bed appear to have much lower concentrations of metals. This project is funded by a seed grant from U of T's Centre for Urban Health Initiatives, as part of the Environmental Health Justice Research Interest Group.

For more information, please contact Dr. Wiseman at


 Jeff LichtPhoto by Justin Kim

The Centre for Environment was pleased to host the visit of Fullbright Specialist Dr. Jeff Licht (Adjunct Professor at University of Massachusetts' Department of Environmental, Earth and Ocean Sciences and President of Botanicals Nursery LLC) for two weeks in late September to early October, 2010.  The Boston expert in green roof technology and infrastructure was invited to provide seven guest lectures to undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students at the Centre for Environment and the Faculties of Forestry; Engineering and Applied Science; and Architecture, Landscape and Design, as well as present a well-attended community seminar as part of the Centre's seminar series. For students in the Centre's graduate course on Urban Sustainability (ENV1004H), Dr. Licht set up an in-class lab exercise comparing particle size and distribution between green roof growing media and native soils. 
     Slated as a cultural as much as a scientific exchange, a whirlwind tour of the campus and Toronto, and a guest lecture at Humber College resulted in multiple opportunities to begin a series of experiments, advise students about ongoing projects and consult to faculty about prospective investigations.  At present, these appear to fall into two categories: (1) parallel scientific experiments seeking to confirm or disconfirm environmental solutions for problems commonly shared by Toronto and Boston and (2) targeted outdoor classroom learning featuring trips to specific locations in the Northeast United States.

Faculty and students interested in these two potential collaborations should contact Dr. Brad Bass at the Centre for Environment (and of Environment Canada's Adaptation and Impacts Research Section) at

BioZone, a new centre for collaborative bioengineering research, opened its doors in September 2010 to members of U of T research community. Guests had the opportunity to learn more about the centre and its research, tour the facilities, and attend a reception.
    The research conducted in the new centre focuses on the interface of biology and engineering, with most groups focusing on utilizing microbial proteins or enzymes for the remediation of soil, water and air as well as the creation of renewable bioproducts.  The group also works with researchers from other areas at U of T as well as industry partners.  Led by chemical engineering Professor Elizabeth Edwards, the centre is home to nine principal investigators and 127 graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and research associates. 
    To be housed in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry at the Wallberg building (200 College St.), the first phase of BioZone's development was recently completed allowing the new centre to be consolidated and space to be renovated on the third floor of the building.  The second phase is already under development and will include an expansion of the fourth floor of the building to add new space, in addition to further consolidating and renovating existing space.  The second phase is expected to be completed by the fall of 2011.
(This is an edited excerpt of an article found at

For more information on Dr. Edwards' research, please visit

By Kathryn Grond and Eric Miller

The Cities Centre at U of T is working in partnership with ARUP (a global consulting firm) and the Clinton Climate Initiative (established by former US President Bill Clinton) to develop a carbon estimation model to help Waterfront Toronto set measurable and achievable performance targets for the West Don Lands with regards to green building and development.  The tool estimates the land-use and building related greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from five major sources: operation energy, waste generation, water consumption, construction materials and transportation.
     U of T's contributions to the tool are twofold.  Firstly, the TASHA (Travel/Activity Scheduler for Household Agents) model, developed at U of T, estimates associated GHG emissions of weekday travel made by residents, employees and visitors to the West Don Lands.  Researchers involved in this study are Professor Eric Miller (Director, Cities Centre), Kathryn Grond (Research Coordinator, Cities Centre), Yunfei Zhang (undergraduate student, Division of Engineering Science), Nik Krameric (undergraduate student, Department of Computer Science) and Peter Kucerik (M.A.Sc. student, Department of Civil Engineering).
     Secondly, Professor Chris Kennedy and Dr. Sybil Derrible of the Department of Civil Engineering have provided ARUP with Toronto baseline data of GHG emissions from current and future grid electricity, transportation modes, water treatment and distribution, construction materials, as well as landfill, incineration, compost and anaerobic digestion of solid waste. 

Kathryn Grond is the Urban Infrastructure Research Coordinator at the Cities Centre.  Eric Miller is Director of the Cities Centre and Professor of Civil Engineering.  For more information, please email or

Professor Nathan Basiliko
, a soil scientist at U of T Mississauga's Department of Geography, and colleagues in the Faculty of Forestry are studying how wood waste from Ontario's forest industry may be used to produce energy and biochar, making the wood a truly carbon-negative biofuel.
    Biochar is produced by pyrolysis, a process where organic matter such as wood smoulders at moderate temperatures with very little oxygen. Part of the wood burns, yielding heat and gases that can be captured and used as biofuel. But roughly half the carbon remains behind as charcoal that is very resistant to degradation. Although yielding more energy, fully combusting wood is at best carbon-neutral -- the amount of carbon released during combustion equals the amount of carbon taken up as new trees replace the original wood. Pyrolysis is potentially carbon-negative because a significant percentage of the carbon in the smouldered wood is locked into biochar, which can be incorporated into soil and stored for hundreds of years.  The net effect would decrease atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and may help reverse climate change.
    The benefits don't stop there. Biochar also soaks up nutrients such as calcium and magnesium, preventing them from leaching out of soil, and thereby boosts soil fertility. "
     Halibuton Forest, Dr. Basiliko's industrial research partner, is planning to invest millions of dollars in a bioenergy facility and has invited Basiliko and his colleagues to carry out their research on his forest. More research needs to be done on biochar before it can be used on an industrial scale in Canadian forest soils as most of the research on biochar has been done in the tropics and in agricultural systems.
(This is an edited excerpt from an article found at

For information on Dr. Basiliko, please visit:

include studies of human exposure to PFCs in Ontario fish, Canadian climate governance, and sustainable transportation policy in Toronto
The Centre for Environment (CFE) is pleased to announce the following three new research projects which started in 2010.  Please visit the Centre's New Research webpage for descriptions. 

1. Governance Innovation and the Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy (Douglas Macdonald, CFE);

2. Policy Instrument Choices Influencing Sustainable Transportation in Toronto (Douglas Macdonald, CFE);

3. Study of Human Exposures to PFCs in Ontario Fish Caught Near Industrial Sources (Miriam Diamond, Geography; Satyendra Bhavsar, OMOE; Scott Mabury, Chemistry; Eric Reiner, OMOE).

OTHER RESEARCH NEWS (see new publications webpage for citations, abstracts and links:

  • Human exposure to PFCAs linked to consumption of PAPs found in fast food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags (Jessica D'eon and Scott Mabury, Chemistry)
  • Dietary exposure of flame retardant BDE-209 in lake trout (Nilima Gandhi, Chemical Engineering and Environment, and Satyendra Bhavsar, Environment)
  • Integrated agricultural methods in villages in India (Peter Ralevic, Forestry)
  • Assessment of forest biomass for bioenergy (Peter Ralevic)
  • Decline of bee pollination possibility due to climate change (James Thomson, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology)

NEWLY FUNDED PROJECTS:  include research on energy recovery, clean energy and the bio-economy
The following three new research initiatives at U of T that focus on energy recovery, clean energy and the bio-economy have been awarded a total of more than $8.2 million from the Ontario Research Fund's Research Excellence program:

1. Professor Javad Mostaghimi, Dept. of Mechanical and Industrial engineering - High-efficiency spray-formed metal foam heat exchangers for high temperature energy conversion and recovery.  Every form of energy conversion needs high-efficiency heat exchangers to recover energy that escapes as exhaust. But because heat exchangers must withstand both high temperatures and corrosion, they are made out of refractory materials, which are difficult and expensive to form. 
     Dr. Mostaghimi and his colleagues have developed a novel forming technology for fabricating lightweight, low-cost high-efficiency heat exchangers that could revolutionize heat recovery.  The project received $3,471,879 and includes private sector partners Plasco Energy Group Inc., Pratt and Whitney Canada Inc. and Centreline Ltd.
For more information:

2. Professor Ted Sargent, Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering - High-efficiency low-cost solar cells. Although the sun is an abundant source of clean energy, it accounts for only a small part of the global energy market because today's technologies for harnessing the sun's energy are either efficient and costly or inexpensive and inefficient. Dr. Sargent aims to change that by creating the world's first low-cost high-efficiency solar cell by using a technology known as "quantum-size-effect tuning" to tap into a broader spectrum of the sun's rays, the key to improving solar efficiency. The project received $3 million.
For more information:

3. Professor Ning Yan, Faculty of Forestry - Bark bio-refinery: green adhesives and bio-based foams from bark.  Professors Ning Yan and Mohini Sain of Forestry are leading a multi-disciplinary team that is developing an innovative bark bio-refinery process that will turn bark biomass, a waste residue with unique compositional characteristics, into high-value, eco-friendly adhesives and bio-products with large market potential. The project received $1,750,000 and has seven private sector partners - FPInnovations, the Woodbrige Group, Huntsman Corporation, Arclin, St. Mary's Paper, Tembec and AbitibiBowater.
For more information:
(This is an edited excerpt from an article found at


By Daryn Caister
CIUT  The Green Majority

The Green Majority is a U of T environmental news radio program broadcast out of CIUT 89.5 in Hart House, every Friday from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. on CIUT 89.5 FM, or on the web at any time at We have been live for just over 4 years and recently produced our 215th show. Our aim is to talk about Canada wide environmental issues in an honest and critical way. Our model at the Green Majority is that we think that our listeners are smart enough to make their own decisions and do our best to challenge everyone who comes on our show as well as you the listener. Whether it's an oil company rep or the executive director of Sierra Club, we do our best to ask the tough questions and keep asking until we get answers. In the words of the shows founder Jordan Poppenk, "our only bias is green". We are a 100% volunteer program, with contributors and syndication through other community stations across the country.
     All previous shows are available for live stream download, or podcast. Featured are Canada wide environmental news, interviews with guests such as climate change guru Dr. James Hansen from the NASA Goddard Space Institute, Alex Gill from the Ontario Environment Industry Association, and Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada. In addition, we also cover arts and culture issues such as environmentally inspired musician and artists.
     We are also always looking for volunteers. If you or someone you know is inspired by environmental issues and wants to help, we always need a few extra hands.

Daryn Caister is the executive producer and lead host of the Green Majority radio program and is currently a third year undergraduate student with a double major in Environmental Policy and Practice and Urban Studies along with a minor in Geographical Information Systems.

U of T earned an A- grade in the 2011 College Sustainability Report Card, a marked improvement from a grade of B last year and one that earns U of T the designation of college sustainability leader. The report card is an independent evaluation of campus and endowment sustainability activities at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada prepared by the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Sustainable Endowments Institute. The fifth annual survey includes the 300 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada with the largest endowments, plus 22 others that requested inclusion.
     Survey participants were graded in nine equally weighted categories, comprising 52 individual indicators. U of T received As in five areas: administration, food and recycling; student involvement; endowment transparency; and shareholder engagement, and earned Bs in the remaining areas: climate change and energy, green buildings, transportation, and investment priorities.
     The university was cited for strengths such as a commitment to sustainability through a formal plan and parts of its master plan; spending more than half its food budget on local food and offering a wide variety of organic foods; Victoria University's environmental residence; the public nature of its holdings; and existence of a responsible investing committee.  The report card also cites recent innovations such as student-run gardens and reusable takeout containers, as well as food-scrap composting and the availability of fair-trade coffee.  Please see below for details on some recent sustainability initiatives.
For detailed survey results, visit
(This is an edited excerpt from an article found at

U of T has recently made a public commitment to continue to invest in being environmentally sustainable.  It will grow its sustainable practices with the expansion of a number of important initiatives that will have positive impact on the environment.  Some recent initiatives include:
  • Installation of 100 solar panels on the roof of the Athletic Centre at Harbord Street and Spadina Avenue. The installation is currently the biggest initiative of its kind in the Greater Toronto Area and the largest known system at a Canadian university. The panels will supply nearly 25 per cent of the heat for the building's showers and laundry facilities during peak sunshine months, substantially reducing natural gas use - and consequently greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions - throughout the year.
  • Paper conservation program: The U of T Sustainability Office and U of T Libraries teamed to start a paper conservation program by setting the printing defaults to double-sided on all duplex-capable printers at the central libraries, as well as three major federated college libraries. After a pilot program at the Gerstein Science Information Centre resulted in a reduction of sheets by 30%, it was expanded in 2010 to other libraries. It has the potential to save over 500,000 sheets of paper each year at the central libraries, with possible savings of an additional 100,000 sheets at the three federated college libraries. To learn more about the pilot at Gerstein library and what you can do to conserve paper at your library, visit
  • The Sustainability Office's Rewire program is building a culture of conservation in campus offices and student residences while reducing user-mediated electricity demand by an estimated 10 to 13 per cent. This success has inspired the creation of Start Green, an energy education program that launches in September and will engage more than 2,000 more students.
  • U of T is a leader in waste diversion, currently diverting 65.7 per cent of all the non-hazardous waste produced on campus. U of T Food Services continues its reusable and composting programs to help reduce waste on campus:

    Lug-A-Mug: bring your own mug and receive a 25 cent discount on any coffee or tea (hot or cold). For participating locations, please visit;

    o Reuseable Eco-trays: For an initial $5 (plus HST), purchase a reusable eco-tray card at various cafeterias on campus to enable you to have food served in a reuseable eco-try container. On your next trip to the cafeteria, drop off the eco-tray and receive a card back. Repeat as often as you wish. For more info, please visit:; and

    o Green composting bins are located at their large cafeterias; students are hired as part of a "Green Team" to remind students to compost at the start of each term. More information may be found in the Food Services Annual Report:
  • On a smaller scale, students are engaging in sustainability initiatives including the campus agricultural project that brings together students, staff and faculty to grow, eat and locally distribute their own food from green roofs and garden plots across all three campuses. Also, the Public Water Initiative  is a student group who advocates for sustainable, clean & publicly accessible water sources and to reduce bottled/commercialized water on campus facilities.

Please also visit the St. George Campus GHG Inventory, now updated to include data from 1990 to 2009.
The St. George Campus Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventory for Building Utilities has been updated to include the most recent data available, now covering 1990-2009.  This interactive graphing program allows you to examine the utility consumption of individual buildings on St. George Campus, including electricity, heating and water, as well as the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with each.

For more information on U of T's various sustainability initiatives, visit

(This is an edited excerpt from articles found at with additional information added from and