Skip to content

UW Earthlab Announces 2024-25 Innovation Grants Projects: JC3 and Collaborators Chosen for Feasibility Report in South Park for Biodigester

image of large balloon biodigester on a farm
Photo courtesy of Chomp Energy

EarthLab has announced that five community-centered teams have been selected for the 2024-25 Innovation Grants program. The UWLA department’s own Catherine De Almeida (Associate Professor) will be the Principal Investigator on one of the chosen teams, along with Graduate Student Assistant Sarah Chu (MLA ’25). Each team will receive $80,000 to research and develop new and actionable knowledge on community-driven projects at the intersection of climate change and social justice. To date, EarthLab has awarded nearly two million dollars in Innovation Grant funding to 29 transdisciplinary teams across five cohorts.

The Innovation Grants Program invests in collaborations that span academic disciplines, engage multiple sectors and center community questions that are taking equitable action on climate change. This year, 33 teams submitted letters of intent to apply to the Request for Proposals (RFP), of which 12 full proposals were submitted. Proposals were evaluated by a 10-member review committee that included faculty and staff from several disciplines and community partners from outside of the university.

Winning project teams include faculty from a range of disciplines at the University of Washington, including environmental & forest sciences, landscape architecture, civil & environmental engineering, French & Italian studies, marine & environmental affairs, international studies, global health, architecture, management & organization, and more. Partners from beyond the university include Tribal leaders and communities, city governments, community organizers and other universities.

This project, Catalyzing Just Circular Communities: A Feasibility Study of a Large-Scale Anaerobic Biodigester to Generate Hyper-local, Community-Owned Clean Energy Infrastructure in Seattle’s South Park, will engage in a feasibility study of a large-scale anaerobic biodigester for the South Park neighborhood of Seattle. The transdisciplinary team includes a novel mix of designers, engineers, planners, and economists that will collaborate with existing community partners in South Park to ensure the project aligns with community visions. The project will generate a schematic design for a biodigester co-developed through participatory design methods, a financial feasibility study and business plan for the biodigester’s operation and end-product markets, and complete economic contributions analysis to assess the broader social and economic benefits of the pilot project. Outcomes of the study will be gathered in a feasibility report for the development, installation, and short and long-term implementation of a large scale pilot anaerobic biodigester. The study will provide supportive documentation the environmental, social, and economic benefits of the project. The accessible dissemination of project findings to the community is a main priority of the team. Results will be shared via a community meeting with a multimedia exhibit, and published on the JCC website where community members within South Park, the Duwamish Valley, and beyond can engage with the data generated by the project.

The Just Circular Communities (JCC) collaboration is a community-initiated movement to develop community-envisioned, owned, and managed hyper-localized circular economies for Frontline communities. Such circular systems and infrastructure have the potential to address systemic displacement, economic stagnation, and resilience in communities that experience the worst effects of climate change through material recovery that maintains local resources and place-based employment. As mentioned before, one example of a resource recovery infrastructure is an anaerobic biodigester. By converting food waste into probiotic plant food and clean energy in the form of biogas for fuel and/or electricity, the biodigester can serve as a catalyst for a community-scale circular economy that supports a shift away from fossil fuels and privatization of essential goods and services and toward shared resources and community-benefitting infrastructures.

Research Team:

Principal Investigator: Catherine De Almeida, Associate Professor, UW Seattle College of Built Environments, Landscape Architecture

Community Lead: Edwin Alberto Hernandez Reto, Project Coordinator, Duwamish Valley Sustainability Association (DVSA)

UW Co-Investigators:
Gundula Proksch, Associate Professor, UW Seattle College of Built Environments, Architecture
Christian Primack Metcalfe, Affiliate Instructor of Entrepreneurship, UW Seattle Michael G. Foster School of Business, Department of Management and Organization

UW Student: Sarah Chu, Graduate student, UW Seattle College of Built Environments, Landscape Architecture

Todd Schindler, Community Collaborator, Project Coordinator, Duwamish Valley Sustainability Association (DVSA)
Michelle Benetua, Community Collaborator, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Programs, Seattle Parks Foundation
Nathanial Trull, Academic Collaborator, Associate, ECOnorthwest
Todd Schindler, Community Collaborator, Project Coordinator, Duwamish Valley Sustainability Association (DVSA)
Bonnie Gee Yosick, Academic Collaborator, Senior Economic Advisor, ECOnorthwest
Brian Allen, Academic Collaborator, Business Consultant, 360 Social