UC Berkeley and EBMUD announce new Centre for Smart Infrastructure

The University of California, Berkeley, and the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) have teamed up to launch a new research and innovation centre that will apply technology to address infrastructure challenges communities face due to climate change, aging systems and natural hazards.

Researchers at the new Centre for Smart Infrastructure, to be based at the UC Richmond Field Station, will develop and use remote sensors, data analytics and artificial intelligence tools, as well as other emerging technologies, to better inform decision-making among utilities and government agencies.

One of the first research projects on tap at the centre is the construction of a large-scale, fault-rupture pipeline testing facility. EBMUD, which supplies water for 1.4 million people and provides wastewater services to 740,000 people in the Bay Area, has provided US$1.5 million to fund this phase of the research, which has already begun.

As part of this partnership, EBMUD and UC Berkeley staff will also develop an undergraduate course on utility infrastructure operation and management, as well as engage students in East Bay communities in the research and innovation that will come out of this collaboration.

The establishment of this research centre comes at a time when infrastructure looms large on the national agenda. Congress and the Biden administration have been discussing both the $1 triilion bipartisan infrastructure framework as well as the president’s $1.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, to not only fund more traditional infrastructure needs in the nation, but also for modern needs like impacts of climate change and resilience of both physical and natural systems.

Clifford Chan, general manager at EDMUD and civil engineering alumnus of UC Berkeley, commented: “We have more than 4,2000 miles of water lines in earthquake country, so this is clearly a strategic investment for EBMUD, but we also expect that the research generated from this centre will benefit water and wastewater utilities everywhere.”

Discussions are underway with other water utilities for future partnership with the centre.

Kenichi Soga, professor of civil engineering and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley and founding director of the centre, said: “Ensuring the reliability of these critical systems, that our communities rely upon for many decades, stands as one of the greatest challenges facing engineers and public agencies in the 21st century. Cascading failure events are a manifestation of the larger problem of climate change that requires decision making on a societal scale. By connecting this initiative with other ongoing research at UC Berkeley, we can expand our insights to other infrastructure networks.”

Soga added that the research at the centre will leverage expertise across the campus and include collaborations with the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center, SimCenter, Berkeley Water Center, the Institute of Transportation Studies, Global Metropolitan Studies, and the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society.