Chemical engineer, psychology professor partner to promote air quality solutions

Larry Erickson, adjunct professor of chemical engineering, and Gary Brase, professor of psychology, wrote “Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Improving Air Quality: Two Interrelated Global Challenges.” (File photo | Collegian Media Group)

Air quality and greenhouse gas emissions are becoming larger concerns in our world. Two Kansas State professors — Larry Erickson, adjunct professor of chemical engineering, and Gary Brase, professor of psychology — are making solutions to these concerns more accessible with their new book, “Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Improving Air Quality: Two Interrelated Global Challenges.”

Kate Preston, junior in chemical engineering, contributed to the battery-focused chapter.

The book will be accessible to anyone interested in sustainability and implementing simple, solvable solutions.

“The technology is there,” Brase said.

The pair began working on the book several years ago. Erickson worked with undergraduate students researching sustainability. Erickson reached out to Brase because part of their focus on energy dealt with human decision making, which happens to be Brase’s research focus.

“One thing led to another, and we continued doing things,” Brase said.

Erickson’s 2017 paper on the issue, gained a “sustainable” amount of views in its first two months. That, along with his work with summer undergraduates and Brase, formed the basis of the book.

In 2017, Erickson and Brase also teamed up in the book “Solar Powered Charging Infrastructure for Electric Vehicles.”

“The urban air quality issue is a $4 billion issue,” Erickson said.

Brase looked at sustainable decisions and the implications of people switching from gas to electric vehicles.

“People make decisions in this way: there’s what they want to decide, and they look for reasons to believe what they want to believe or decide anyway,” Brase said. “They look for reasons to reject the things they don’t want.”

Brase said people use arguments, such as electricity coming from coal power plants, to believe using electricity would not help the situation.

“Interestingly, arguments start to fall apart if you think through using solar energy to charge electric cars,” Brase said. “Obviously, the coal plant becomes irrelevant, but the other interesting part is how solar power is generated.”

Erickson and Brase promote the idea of charging cars at work during the day with charging stations and solar panels. This energy is stored in a battery, which could be used to power a home when people return from work.

Brase noted these are problems not just affecting those of the future – areas already deal with large issues. Delhi, India, experienced record-high pollution this month.

“People were told to not to go to work, not to go to school just because the air quality was so bad,” Brase said.

Erickson said it is important to recognize air quality issues in urban areas affect all of us, even those in rural areas.

“It’s a common resource. We share it,” Erickson said.

A common resource is a resource individuals share, such as water or pasture. When individuals over-consume such resources, it affects everyone.

“If over-consumed, it can be a tragedy,” Brase said.

Once this occurs, changes occur in the delivery of this common resource.

“There are two ways it can be done,” Brase said. “It can be transitioned from a public to a private good, or it can be kept as a common resource.”

Work in this area is already in progress. In Norway, nearly 60 percent of car sales are electric. Public Transportation in Kansas is beginning to take the electric route.

“Wichita is getting electric buses, being the first city [in Kansas] to do so,” Erickson said.

The city buses will be from ProTerra. These same buses are on the cover of Erickson and Brase’s book.