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ASU to lead renewable energy training, education in the Pacific Islands


October 24, 2012

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded $1 million over the next two years to Arizona State University’s College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) to provide education for solar photovoltaic (PV) energy equipment and technology to up to 12 Pacific Island nations. In collaboration with higher education institutions and other organizations, the program aims to train local capacities to support off-grid solar PV equipment installation, operation and maintenance.

This regional program is part of the five-year Vocational Training and Education for Clean Energy (VOCTEC) program, a CTI-led global initiative sponsored by USAID. VOCTEC’s mission is to develop and implement clean energy training and education to the local communities. VOCTEC also addresses the need for developing a sustainable pipeline of solar PV technicians and building human capacity within the island region though its ‘train the trainer’ approach, giving operators and technicians the support system and resources to continue to educate and manage future operators and technicians. Download Full Image

“We have carefully customized the pedagogy for renewable energy in Fiji to focus on training challenges within the region which not only include educational challenges but cultural and social obstacles as well,” said Mitzi Montoya, principal investigator for the project and dean of CTI. “Building human capacity is critical to filling the energy needs of the islands now as well as sustaining the program past its duration.”

All of the Pacific Island Nations face a number of barriers to clean energy development. Of the twelve countries in the Pacific Islands region, five are classified by the United Nations as ‘least developed’ countries, and all have limited financial resources. Development of human capacity for grid-connected and off-grid solar PV must also overcome the economies of scale that the islands face as they struggle to support multiple specialized training programs. In order to provide this institutional support, the VOCTEC team identified Fiji as the centralized training hub for the USAID project. 

“This project emphasizes the United States’ increased engagement and strategic support to the advancement of clean energy in the Pacific Islands,” said Gloria D. Steele, USAID mission director for the Philippines and the Pacific Islands. “We are building local capacities to develop and sustain renewable energy infrastructure in this important region.”

Prior to receiving the grant, representatives from VOCTEC travelled to the Pacific Islands region in order to meet with renewable energy stakeholders to assess conditions and needs for renewable energy. In addition to Fiji the team visited Tonga and Vanuatu. Tonga serves as an exemplar to other nations at it has already developed the Tonga Energy Roadmap (TERM), which demonstrates a strong renewable energy commitment from the government. Only 30 percent of Vanuatu’s population has access to electricity, and while they are working to develop their own energy roadmap, they need regulatory infrastructure to provide standardized training programs.

“Global agencies continue to invest in solar PVs in the Pacific Islands region to support renewable energy and displace fossil-fuel based generation,” said Govisndasamy Tamizhmani (Mani), associate research professor at CTI and principal investigator. “The most fundamental need in that area is creation of a program that trains the trainers that can continue to turn out technicians to support systems in the field and further train operators in the application of those systems.”

The $1M USAID associate grant enables VOCTEC to deliver trainer, technician and operator trainings in the Pacific Islands region over the next two years. VOCTEC will pursue additional associate grants to expand delivery of sustainable renewable energy training programs across developing nations.

Contributor: Sydney Donaldson, College of Technology and Innovation

Professor receives high honor from civil engineering society


October 25, 2012

Arizona State University Regents’ Professor Bruce Rittmann is now a “Distinguished Member” of American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), recognized “for exemplary advances to research and practice in environmental engineering, contributions to the technical literature, education of students, and professional leadership around the world.”

Rittmann is on the faculty of the School for Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. He is also director of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at ASU’s Biodesign Institute. Bruce Rittmann ASCE honor Download Full Image

An ASCE Distinguished Member honor is bestowed on those who have attained acknowledged eminence in a branch of engineering or in the arts and sciences, including the fields of engineering education and construction.

Rittmann is a leading expert in development of microbial systems to capture renewable resources and alleviate environmental pollution. His research combines microbiology, biochemistry, geochemistry and microbial ecology for the purposes of restoring water purity and generating usable energy from waste products.

Rittmann is known for pioneering the development of biofilm fundamentals and contributing to their widespread use in the cleanup of contaminated water, soils, and ecosystems.

The membrane biofilm reactor (MBfR), a technology Rittmann invented, uses naturally occurring microorganisms to remove contaminants such as perchlorate and tricloroethene from water. He holds five patents on the technology, which is being commercialized by APTwater, Inc.

Rittmann is at the lead of ASU teams using two innovative approaches to developing renewable bioenergy: using anaerobic microbes to convert biomass to useful energy forms, such as methane, hydrogen, or electricity; and using photosynthetic bacteria that can capture sunlight to produce new biomass that can be turned into liquid fuels, such as diesel or jet fuel.

The links between microbes and human health also are being explored through collaboration with the Mayo Clinic. Rittmann’s group explores how microorganisms in the human intestine contribute to obesity, which may lead to ways to regulate the microbial communities in ways that mitigate excessive weight gain.

Rittmann joined 10 others in the Class of 2012 Distinguished Members at the ASCE Annual Meeting in Montreal, Canada on Oct. 18-20. Founded in 1852, organization represents more than 140,000 members of the civil engineering profession worldwide and is America's oldest national engineering society.

This latest accolade adds to Rittmann’s long list of honors. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is an International Water Association Fellow, and winner of the Simon W. Freese Environmental Engineering Award, the Walter L. Huber Civil Engineering Research Prize from ASCE, the University Scholar Award from the University of Illinois, and the Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation.

Other notable achievements include the National Water Research Institute’s Clarke Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Water Science and Technology and ASU’s Faculty Achievement Award in Defining Edge Research, Natural Sciences/Math.

Rittmann is one of the world’s most cited researchers, according to the Institute for Scientific Information, and is a prolific author, having written more than 500 professional papers and books.

His textbook, Environmental Biotechnology: Principles and Applications, is used by universities throughout the world.

See a video about Rittmann’s accomplishments.

Joe Caspermeyer

Managing editor, Biodesign Institute

480-258-8972