Marriele Robinson Researches Biofuel and Natural Disaster Response in NYC

By Marriele RobinsonAs a Student Scholar at the Tishman Environment and Design Center, students are given the unique opportunity to explore, in-depth, a topic you are passionate about. In my case, the Tishman Center has allowed me to research the use of biofuel in natural disaster preparedness and response in New York City. The driving logic behind the paper being that; by prioritizing biodiesel as fuel for backup generation and short-term heating solutions, the city is committing to not only a stable supply of fuel in times of crisis, but also an environmentally responsible one. While my topic was vetted in-depth before applying to Student Scholars, various obstacles and surprises have arisen throughout.From the get-go, I did not expect my paper topic to evolve too far from my original proposal. However, as I spoke to more people and read more on the topic, the world of disaster management proved to be much broader than I had originally anticipated. I almost immediately had to narrow down my paper to focus on a more niche topic that interested me. In this case, it was immediate disaster recovery efforts, such as heating stations and power/heat generation for high priority buildings. As my topic became more specific, I discovered helpful tools in visualizing my arguments. To that effect, GIS has been instrumental. Using ArcGIS I was able to map the routes from local biodiesel providers to hurricane evacuation centers in New York City. The result is a map that makes the argument for biodiesel accessibility: transport is easy and effective due to provider proximity to evacuation centers (included below). I plan on continuing my use of GIS in effort to strengthen various arguments surrounding feasibility.                                        Secondly, one of the largest reality checks I faced (and continue to face) pertains to access. Ultimately, the interviews my paper will rely on -biodiesel industry leaders, FEMA, and government officials- are incredibly difficult to schedule. Government officials and FEMA representatives in particular are almost impossible to reach. I had to learn early on to rely heavily on persistence and networking to land interviews with the people I needed to talk to. I also explored alternative topics surrounding biodiesel use. The result is a paper written for Environmental Economics, exploring the future of biodiesel in New York City. An excerpt from that papers abstract is below.“In the One New York City: The Plan for a Strong and Just City (OneNYC), NYC commits to greenhouse gas reduction goals through energy diversification and efficiency measures. While OneNYC and its supporting publications offer various energy solutions necessary in meeting these ambitious goals, it fails to highlight biodiesel as an effective fuel solution, particularly as a heating source. Considering NYC's abundant used cooking oil market and already prevalent industry, a deeper delve into the future role of biodiesel is warranted.   This paper will explore the benefits, limitations, and concerns associated with using biodiesel for wide scale energy generation in the context of New York City. Within the NYC context, emphasis will be placed on biodiesel’s merit as a heating fuel source, its potential to contribute to a NYC based, green economy, and the environmental implications -both positive and negative- of acquiring, producing, and burning biodiesel for energy. Foreign, domestic, and local implications of an expanded biodiesel industry in NYC will also be reviewed. After an in-depth discussion weighing each of these aspects is achieved, investment and policy recommendations will be provided.Throughout all this, the moments are panic were relieved through Tishman Center collaboration. Even just brainstorming solutions with someone educated as to your topic (and knows your research struggle) helps to generate ideas. I can only hope that the result of my (and their) hard work is a quality paper with a unique perspective.