Skip to Main content
Join the discussion
Direction icon

Shaping Resource Flows

Rethinking Our Resource Management

Resources and their flows are vital for sustaining the well-being and prosperity of society. These resources are finite, and their distribution across the planet and its communities is uneven.

The imbalance in resource flows is widely believed to be a root contributor to global warming. Fortunately, the global and regional systems that civil and environmental engineers envision, design and build are ideally positioned to alter the flow of resources to create more sustainable habitats. We are reimagining how to manage resources, implement new scientific approaches, design innovations, develop business models and create more equitable access to resources in ways that disrupt the modus operandi. In this way, the efforts of civil and environmental engineers will create efficient resource utilization and sustainable resource management.

We are rapidly moving from a single-use mindset to a circular mindset around use and management of resources. Materials previously classified as waste, such as municipal and industrial waste, can be safely repurposed for use by other sectors of the economy or other communities.

New approaches to capturing and managing all sources of fresh water, such as urban stormwater, can combat water scarcity and provide greater water security. Rich nutrients can be extracted from urine and used to produce fertilizers for food production. Carbon dioxide emitted by industrial processes, including in the creation of infrastructure materials, can be collected and sequestered in built infrastructure.

Novel approaches to managing resource flows require new ways of thinking and interacting with stakeholders and society, who are the ultimate managers, consumers and also producers of resources. We are using the principles of co-design and community engagement to share knowledge in ways that result in user engagement and conservation-minded behavior.

Read more Read Less

What does it mean to shape resource flows?

Associate Professor Krista Wigginton discusses how civil and environmental engineers can shape resource flows to create a more sustainable future.

  • 200 billion

    In 2015, 200 billion gallons of stormwater went down the drain in California, enough to supply 1.4 million households for a year.

  • $300 billion

    In the next 10 years, U.S. local governments will spend over $300 billion to replace 1.6 million miles of aging water infrastructure.

  • 16 kilos

    On average, everyone uses 16 kilos of resources extracted from earth every day—metal, fossil energy and minerals. If you live in the western world, this number is much higher—up to 57 kilos of newly-mined minerals per day.

Our Approach

Our strategic directions have a broad impact on the way we operate, influencing our approach to research, education and outreach. Explore some examples of how we are implementing the concept of Shaping Resource Flows across our department.


  1. Peecycling

    Like many other human wastes, source-separated urine is rich in valuable resources, namely nitrogen and phosphorus. Our researchers are developing new technologies to collect urine and convert it into fertilizer. We also seek to understand and address the infrastructure and societal barriers to capturing nutrients from urine.

  2. Making Waves

    Ocean wave energy constitutes a tremendous, untapped resource for utility-scale power in the United States. However, the development of devices to harness this resource is an enormous challenge. Not only must such devices be able to survive the harsh conditions encountered during storms and hurricanes, but they must also be equipped with sophisticated control systems that maximize the amount of energy they harvest from random waves. At the University of Michigan, researchers are collaborating with a number of commercial wave energy device developers to better understand control system design for these devices and to maximize energy output.

  3. Resource Cycles

    The way we harvest and leverage resources is constrained by how we initiate the infrastructure design process; it is influenced by “the way things have always been done.” We are re-envisioning the value of wastewater, stormwater, solid waste and even waves as resources by exploring disruptive and transformative approaches to achieve efficiencies in resource harvesting. Here, a University of Michigan researcher works with a system that achieves resource recovery through energy offsets, enabled by sensor-mediated control.

  4. Lock It Down

    University of Michigan researchers are finding ways to sequester carbon in manmade materials, such as engineered cementitious composites or “bendable concrete” as shown here. The resulting product not only locks away carbon that would otherwise enter the atmosphere, but also has mechanical properties that may be superior to traditional concrete.


Undergraduate and Graduate Courses

Courses such as “Advanced Fiber Reinforced Concrete for Sustainable Infrastructure,” “Subsurface Energy Systems” and “Materials Selection for Sustainable Design” introduce students to a cyclical view of resources for more sustainable engineering.


Engineered Cementitious Composites

The Center for Low Carbon Built Environment (CLCBE) seeks to cut the built environment’s carbon footprint by 50% by 2030. With partnerships across the value chain of building and infrastructure, the center is creating a new circular economy around climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Outreach to the U-M President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality

Our outreach efforts include working with the President’s office to assist U-M in reaching its goal of achieving carbon neutrality through carbon sequestration, reduced emissions, energy sourcing, policy change and technology development.


From plan to practice: CEE staff make research concepts a reality

Electronics Technician Ethan Kennedy creates a custom reactor controller for wastewater treatment

Read More
  1. Alternative sample text

    Analyzing brewery and food waste to create useful products

    A staff perspective on an innovative CEE project.

    Read More
  2. Alternative sample text

    Center for Low Carbon Built Environment sets ambitious goals for combating climate change

    The center aims to cut the built environment’s carbon footprint in half by 2030 and boost its productivity.

    Read More
  3. Alternative sample text

    Nancy Love honored with national award for outstanding environmental engineering education and research

    The American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists recognizes Love’s achievements with the Science Award.

    Read More
Background Image

Featured Faculty

Nancy G. Love

Nancy G. Love

Peecycling, Resource Cycles


(734) 763-9664

Krista Rule Wigginton

Krista Rule Wigginton

The Water Experience, Peecycling, Resource Cycles


(734) 763-9661

Jeff Scruggs

Jeff Scruggs

Making Waves


(734) 764-1812

Branko Kerkez

Branko Kerkez

The Water Experience, How Cities Work, Resource Cycles, Information Flow, Undergraduate Focus: Smart Cities, Urban Collaboratory Projects, Predicting Performance


(734) 647-0727

Victor C. Li

Victor C. Li

Lock It Down, Undergraduate and Graduate Courses, Engineered Cementitious Composites, Outreach to the U-M President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality


(734) 764-3368

Brian Ellis

Brian R. Ellis

Center for Socially Engaged Design, Lock It Down, Undergraduate and Graduate Courses, Engineered Cementitious Composites


(734) 763-5470

SangHyun Lee

SangHyun Lee

Sensing Stress, Engineered Cementitious Composites


(734) 764-9420

Yafeng Yin

Yin Yafeng

Engineered Cementitious Composites, Connectivity & Automation, Pricing Infrastructure


(734) 764-8249

Background Image

Shaping Resource Flows on Twitter

Join the Discussion

Subscribe for the latest updates on how we're working toward our strategic goals.


Support our research, education and outreach.

CEE is tackling ground-breaking projects, pushing ourselves to be innovative, daring and forward-thinking in our service to society. Our impact is built on the support of our community.