Research & Services

Research Units

The following research units at UIC study issues relating to sustainability:

If you know of a research unit at UIC that studies sustainability and is not listed here, please contact us.

Research Project Ideas

The following ideas, collected by the Office of Sustainability, are intended to give students ideas of ways they can make a contribution and/or formulate class projects, independent studies or research/capstone projects. The Office of Sustainability envisions UIC serving as a living laboratory for studying issues relating to sustainability. If you are interested in conducting research or carrying out a project that encompasses anything pertaining to a sustainable university, city, or world, please contact us.

Biodiesel Production and Utilization

Biodiesel can be made from waste vegetable oil produced by university dining facilities. The use of biodiesel can reduce costs while also utilizing a non-toxic, biodegradable fuel that generates fewer emissions and achieves gas mileage equivalent to that of regular diesel fuel.  Feasibility for on-campus use would be explored, and coordination with facilities managers required.  The UIUC Biodiesel Initiative began as a local project under Engineers Without Borders. Also, take a look at the UIUC Biodiesel Intiative’s Biodiesel Info Sheet (PDF) for more information.

Anaerobic Digestion

Anaerobic Digestion is the process of organic material, such as plant matter and food scraps, getting decomposed by microorganisms in an oxygen-starved environment. This process produces a gas whose primary component is methane (natural gas). When the gas is purified it can be used to fuel boilers or electric generators. Thus creating a waste to energy process. It also produces solid and liquid products that can be used as fertilizers. Some preliminary studies have examined the potential for this technology on-campus. Research could build on this opportunity.  Cross disciplinary opportunities include biology, engineering, environmental science and business.

Building Performance Analysis and Benchmarking

Engineering students can use energy data to analyze campus building efficiency and identify opportunities for reductions using alternative technologies and retrofits.  Currently many new electric meters are being installed in campus buildings allowing more detailed analysis than previously possible.

Wind Turbine Demonstration Project

In order to demonstrate how wind power works, small wind turbines may be deployed on campus. Output from the generator can be metered separately and used for study.  Data can be modeled and made available to others. This project offers cross-disciplinary opportunities for engineering, planning, and environmental science students.

Eco-Machine Demonstration

Eco-Machines (also known as Living Machines) are typically biological wastewater treatment systems, invented by Dr. John Todd and the New Alchemy Institute, designed to harness the cleansing power of ecosystems to serve modern human functions. Eco-Machines can be developed on a large scale (as a municipal wastewater treatment facility) but can also be focused on a smaller demonstration scale, such as a countertop water purification system or a self-sustaining aquaculture unit. Costs to produce small-scale Eco-Machines typically include equipment (such as water tanks, pumps, and tubes) but after initial construction cost the system functions on sustainable energy sources (the sun, which powers the plants that maintain the system). This type of system could function by itself or be a unique complement to a campus garden. A small unit can be located outdoors or in a public space (such as a lobby or library) if ample sunlight is available. Eco-Machines make excellent opportunities for education on creativity, environmentalism, and systems thinking.


Bike Infrastructure

There are a number of innovative opportunities available to support bicycling at UIC that remain un-utilized in the United States.  These include Bike Sharing programs like those being implemented at St. Xavier’s or Emory:
Bike Trees:

Both are examples of bicycle racks optimized for an urban environment with limited floor area.  They are visually interesting and would draw attention to UIC as being one of the first campuses to use these in the United States.  These facilities could also pave the way for an innovative bicycle sharing program.

Campaign linking personal choices with larger objectives

Students can use a number of existing calculators or devise new ones to educate others on how small choices, such as unplugging chargers, walking to the store, and reducing water usage can add up to big changes.


Campus activity groups can plan and implement events or projects that produce measurable outcomes and engage the larger campus or surrounding community.  Here are some ideas for friendly competitions:

Recycling Rate
Residence halls will compete to determine which can collect the most recyclable materials – plastic, aluminum cans and paper.  Points will be awarded based on quantity.
Energy Reduction
The greater the residence halls reduce electricity usage or demand below their per capita,the more points they receive.
Online Literacy Assessment
Residence halls are scored according to the percentage of residents that finish a survey, thereby helping the university assess the level of environmental literacy of the freshmen class.
Eco-Film and Lecture Series
Students earn participation points for their dorms by attending showings of environmentally-themed presentations, such as 11th Hour, Who Killed the Electric Car, and Paul Hawken.
Zero Energy Pledge
Residence halls gain points if residents promise to unplug appliances before leaving campus for one of the breaks.
Eco-Trivia Night
Points are awarded by taking an environmental trivia quiz.
Recycle for a Cause
Students earn points if they pick up bottles, cans and glasses around the Pavilion stadium following every home basketball game. High scorers could make a donation to cause of their choice.