Increased funds help future Sun Devils save for college

November 13, 2015

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded Arizona State University a grant, totaling $1 million dollars, which will go toward the Earn to Learn scholarship program. ASU will match the grant amount, increasing the program’s total funds to $6.5 million dollars, all of which is available for student scholarships.

“ASU Earn to Learn is an important example of how ASU is increasing access to higher education for Arizona's students and families,” said Sylvia Symonds, assistant vice president of ASU educational outreach.

ASU Earn to Learn is a college savings scholarship program which helps high school students build financial knowledge and establish a college savings account. Eligible students can save up to $500, and ASU will match the amount saved 8 to 1 — totaling $4,500.

"With ASU Earn to Learn, Arizona students and their families are able to benefit not only from financial support to pursue a university degree, but also gain a more comprehensive understanding of financial literacy to better their lives for years to come,” said Melissa McGurgan, Access ASU associate director.

Students who participate in ASU Earn to Learn can utilize their scholarship to take ASU courses while in high school through the Collegiate Scholars Academy, or when they attend ASU as full-time freshmen.

This fall more than 130 Earn to Learn students are enrolled at ASU — breaking the record as the largest cohort of student savers. Collectively, this group of students have saved $69,000 through the college savings scholarship program, a scholarship that amounts to $552,000 after ASU’s 8 to 1 match.

At ASU, a collaboration with students, parents and families is key to create broader accessibility and college preparedness among Arizona youth.

“As highlighted in our Charter, at ASU we want to be defined by whom we include and how they succeed,” Symonds said. “Our Earn to Learn program makes good on that promise by providing financial literacy and support to ensure students have what they need to achieve their higher education goals.” 

ASU Earn to Learn is open to current high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors planning to attend ASU in Fall 2016 or later. Students interested in saving with Earn to Learn, should complete the AZ Earn to Learn participant survey by Nov. 25 at

To learn more about the ASU Earn to Learn program, visit: To see the full list of September 2015 awardees, visit:

Quest to boost microalgae growth promises more sustainable energy

November 13, 2015

Arizona State University engineer Bruce Rittmann and physicist Klaus Lackner will lead a new research project to aid U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) efforts to boost production of a promising source for clean, renewable energy.

DOE has awarded ASU a three-year, $1 million grant to fund the Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Capture and Membrane Delivery project aimed at enabling more large-scale cultivation of microalgae. AzCATI algae ponds An ASU research team working to boost the growth of microalgae for use in fuels and other bio-based products will test techniques and technologies in algae cultivation ponds at the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI). Located at ASU’s Polytechnic campus, AzCATI is part of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. Photo courtesy of AzCATI/ASU Download Full Image

Microalgae are species of microscopic single-cell organisms, such as Spirulina and Chlorella, that exist in fresh water and sea environments and can be used to make biofuels and an array of consumer products, using only sunlight and CO2.

Besides renewable biofuel production, microalgae biomass is being used for a suite of products, ranging from food supplements to feed for mammals and fish to therapeutics and cosmetics.

“Our goal is to develop systems to make growing microalgae more affordable and sustainable and to produce it on scales large enough to meet growing demands in the United States and globally,” Rittmann said.

ASU’s collaborative spirit

He and Lackner are professors of civil, environmental and sustainable engineering in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Rittmann is director of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at ASU’s Biodesign Institute. Lackner is director of ASU’s Center for Negative Carbon Emissions.

Their centers will join forces with researchers in the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI) on atmospheric CO2 enrichment and delivery systems. AzCATI, located at ASU’s Polytechnic campus, is part of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

The project team will focus on two technologies: moisture swing sorption for capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and membrane carbonation for delivering the CO2 more efficiently to microalgae.

Game-changing systems and techniques

“The current atmospheric levels of CO2 are too low to produce high rates of microalgae growth. We want to feed the microalgae with CO2 concentration significantly higher than in the atmosphere to enable the microalgae to grow much faster. My part of the project is about a novel way to deliver that additional CO2 at very high efficiency,” Rittmann said.

“Because atmospheric CO2 is everywhere, our goal of linking CO2 enrichment and delivery will enable microalgae technology to work in any sunny climate or environmental condition,” Lackner said.

man working in lab
Klaus Lackner, director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at ASU, is shown monitoring carbon dioxide and atmospheric conditions to optimize plant growth and test moisture swing sorption technology designed to boost microalgae production. Jessica Hochreiter/ASU.


Microalgae grows best in the sunny, warm climate of the Southwest, but need a source of concentrated CO2 to grow. Power plant emissions are a potential source of concentrated CO2, but there are not power plants near most good locations for growing microalgae. Capturing and delivering CO2 directly from air is a game changer, Rittmann and Lackner said, because it allows microalgae to grow anywhere to make fuels and valuable products.

Lackner’s part of the project involves a new technology called moisture swing sorption, which uses a special material that, when dry, selectively adsorbs CO2 out of the air to enrich atmospheric CO2.  When the material gets wet, it releases the CO2 into a small volume of air so that CO2 is at least 100 times more concentrated than it was in the ambient air.

Helping algae inhale carbon dixoide

Lackner’s approach will be augmented by another technology,  membrane carbonation, that provides a method to deliver more CO2 to microalgae much more efficiently than the conventional method. This method, called sparging, works much like the way bubbles carry oxygen into the water in a fish tank.

Rittmann’s membrane material has no pores, so bubbles are not formed. Only individual CO2 gas molecules can pass through the walls of the membrane by diffusion. CO2 is then rapidly dissolved in liquid so it can be “inhaled” by the algae.

Bubbles, on the other hand, rise rapidly and allow the CO2 to escape back into the atmosphere before it can be “inhaled” by the algae, which reduces efficiency and increases costs.

“We can get a much higher CO2-use efficiency by membrane carbonation.  This is important when we capture and concentrate the CO2, which has a cost,” Rittmann explains.

Bringing it all together

To help meet the ambitious goals and milestones of the project, the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Applied Structural Discovery (CASD) is also supporting the project through the efforts of researcher Justin Flory, who will serve as the technical project manager.

Flory will coordinate the team’s efforts to meet timelines and critical proof-of-concept deliverables, as well as contribute technical expertise in algal systems and photosynthesis.

“This project is a good example of how CASD is building on its core expertise and generating fundamental knowledge of photosynthesis to develop next-generation clean energy systems.” said director Petra Fromme.

See the project website for more information.


Media contacts:

Joe Kullman,
Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Joseph Caspermeyer,
Biodesign Institute

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering