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Pitt faculty will study circular economies with a $750,000 National Science Foundation grant

The Fort Pitt Bridge leads into Downtown Pittsburgh

Eric Beckman and Melissa Bilec, professors in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, will be co-principal investigators on a study of circular economies that earned a $750,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant.

NSF’s Convergence Accelerator is funding projects to advance the circular economy, a model which keeps products and materials in continual use by design. Beckman and Bilec, along with project lead and University of Georgia Professor Jenna Jambeck, will analyze data from Pittsburgh and Atlanta. The project, "A Tale of Two Cities: Optimizing Circularity from Molecules to the Built Environment," aims to build a more circular economy in the cities — and beyond.

"We’re connecting and converging a path forward toward a circular economy across multiple materials and scales, and we’re doing it in two large metropolitan areas in geographically different regions," said Bilec, who is also a co-director of Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. "If we are successful, this model could be translated to other locations through the U.S. and globally, and maybe eventually scaling to thousands of cities." 

The success of a circular economy depends on collaboration between government, businesses, local stakeholders and many more individuals and organizations. The team will examine circularity at all levels, from molecular optimization for recycling to reusing deconstructed building materials.