Grand Challenge #1

Building resilience for a sustainable future

Many solutions to climate change — among them solar panels, storage batteries, and electric vehicles — are technologies. They will play a vital role in driving down global carbon emissions.

But like most technologies, they also have the potential to create unintended consequences. For example, storage batteries are vulnerable to thermal runaway and fire; they also currently require metals like lithium and cobalt, which are often extracted through dangerous mining practices.

Left alone, these and other problems will undermine the world’s transition to a clean energy future.

That is why we are working to build safety into the design, development, and deployment of renewable energy technologies.


Teaching the public to escape a home fire

Residents have less time than ever before to escape a home fire — potentially just three minutes or even less. FSRI in 2022 expanded its Close Before You Doze® public safety campaign to stress the importance of planning ahead to save lives during a fire. New messaging and materials educate the public on three lifesaving actions: installing smoke alarms properly throughout the home, creating and practicing an escape plan, and closing doors as a protective barrier to stop the spread of smoke and flames.

Mitigating the risks of lithium-ion battery fires

FSRI has expanded its research scope to quantify the hazards associated with lithium-ion battery-powered devices and develop strategies to mitigate the risk battery fires pose for firefighters and occupants. As this safety science research progresses, FSRI is working to deepen public and firefighter understanding of the science of lithium-ion battery fire and explosion hazards through an introductory e-book and detailed online firefighter training on the topic.

Deepening our understanding of WUI fires

About one-third of U.S. homes are situated in what is known as the wildland-urban interface (WUI), where human development mixes with undeveloped wildland. As WUI fires become more frequent, FSRI is leveraging its expertise in built environment fire dynamics to examine building-to-building heat transfer, a key contributor to conflagration in WUI fires.

Pursuing safe and efficient recycling of lithium-ion batteries

ESRI is working with Rice University in Houston to develop and optimize battery recycling to supplement our limited supply of raw materials and alleviate related economic, environmental, and ethical concerns. In 2022, the ESRI-Rice University collaboration optimized two main approaches. ESRI and Rice University will next expand the project’s scope, focusing on the scalability of these recycling processes, optimization of the metal recovery processes, and the characterization and optimization of regenerated batteries.

Paving the way for green hydrogen energy

In an effort to realize the promise of green hydrogen technology, ESRI and the University of Houston launched a collaborative research project in 2022 that aims to develop new materials and methods for producing hydrogen. The project also calls for characterizing the safety of hydrogen energy at all stages of production and while it is stored, transported, and used.

Developing new materials to address global safety challenges

The Materials Discovery Research Institute (MDRI) was founded in 2022 to create innovative materials for renewable energy and environmental sustainability. Led by newly appointed Dr. Stuart R. Miller, MDRI is establishing advanced computational capabilities to accelerate the targeted discovery of materials that will reduce the harmful impacts of humanity’s reliance upon fossil fuel resources and enable a transition to renewable energy sources.

Cultivating the next generation of safety scientists

Building on a platform designed to counter a loss of engagement in science common to middle school students, OREE has redesigned its Xplorlabs learning module on electrical power to produce the new “Science of Thermal Runaway: Engineering Solutions.” The redesign, which incorporated educator feedback, reflects contemporary best practices in science and engineering education. OREE held 10 half- and full-day workshops on using Xplorlabs in the classroom for more than 200 educators.

Building STEM career pathways

OREE has established a series of initiatives to support equity and access for post-secondary students through relevant, meaningful education and career opportunities. Among them is the Future of Safety Science webinar series, which translates ULRI research outcomes into an educational resource geared toward university students. OREE also held a series of focus group sessions on student perceptions of research experiences with college students and graduates from groups who have historically been excluded from STEM professions. OREE will continue the study throughout 2023.

Collaborating with partners to support STEM education

Several education collaborations extended OREE’s reach in 2022. For example, the Interactive Research Methods Lab (IRML) at Kennesaw State University in Georgia is collaborating with OREE to evaluate the outcomes and impacts of Xplorlabs implementation in Georgia’s Cobb County and Cherokee County middle schools in collaboration with area fire service and fire protection engineers. OREE also partnered with the GEM Consortium to establish ULRI as an employer partner.

Explore Our Other Grand Challenges

Advancing individual and societal health in the 21st century

Promoting safety at the human-digital interface