REFRESCH, an acronym for Researching Fresh Solutions to the Energy/ Water/ Food Challenge in Resource-Constrained Environments, is a Third Century Initiative project led by Johannes Schwank of the Energy Institute. The Third Century Initiative is a highly competitive $50 million, five-year funded research program developed by the Office of the Provost at the University of Michigan. Its goal is to provide freedom for researchers and students to tackle real problems, to learn immersively and together, and to prepare the University, as it approaches its bicentennial, for a third century of research leadership. REFRESCH itself is a $3 million program funded for three years.
In the process of establishing the program, the REFRESCH team, together with leaders from several governments around the world, examined real cases of resource-constrained environments where a variety of pressures are at work, such as energy supply and access to sufficient food and water. Through this process, Gabon, Kazakhstan, and Highland Park, Michigan were initially chosen as the locations for REFRESCH’s efforts.
The major goal of REFRESCH is to focus on promoting the multidirectional application of ideas and technology solutions to and from local and global settings, specifically solutions to energy/food/water challenges. At the center of the REFRESCH concept is the exploration of new models for energy production in locations that are off-grid or not dependably on-grid, closely considering the factors of water usage/quality and food security where those concerns overlap the energy challenge. The team draws on the University’s rich, multidisciplinary resources and location in the nation’s manufacturing heart to explore solutions to specific solvable, scalable problems. Education is a major part of REFRESCH, both in the involvement of students and in the development of a best-practices method of interacting with communities to achieve sustainable designs to meet human needs. Relationships with universities in Gabon and Kazakhstan will be pursued, as working with persons in those countries would be expected to deepen the educational experiences of students, provide additional insight into developing solutions, and improve sustainability.
Housed within the University of Michigan Energy Institute, the REFRESCH team includes investigators from the College of Engineering, the School of Natural Resources and Environment, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute, the Ross School of Business, the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and the Stamps School of Art and Design.