ASU researchers showcase energy technologies at Innovation Summit

March 7, 2013

The Department of Energy’s fourth annual ARPA-E Innovation Summit showcased a wide array of ASU energy technologies at the Gaylord Convention Center in Washington D.C. on Feb. 25-27. Technologies ranged from cyanobacterial biofuels to carbon capture to metal air battery storage.

ARPA-E is the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy housed within the U.S. Department of Energy, seeking to streamline the awards process in fostering and cultivating cutting-edge, high-impact energy research that is too early for private sector investment. ARPA-E awards are highly competitive, awarded to transformative projects with the high potential of radically improving U.S. energy security, economic prosperity and environmental well-being. Willem Vermaas Download Full Image

“ASU’s participation in the ARPA-E Innovation Summit included faculty and students who presented their innovative energy-related research projects,” said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, senior vice president for ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. “Our ARPA-E research projects are aligned with the use-inspired focus at ASU and the advancement of entrepreneurship activities, resulting in economic development, as well as providing solutions to global energy challenges.”

Cyanobacteria as biofuel

Researchers at ASU are engineering Synechocystis, a specific type of photosynthetic cyanobacteria that has been modified to efficiently produce and excrete fatty acids, which can be used as a precursor for biofuels. This type of bacteria is already quite good at converting carbon dioxide and solar energy into fatty acids that are incorporated into lipids. Researchers at ASU have made modifications to the bacteria, which allow it to continuously convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into a desired fatty acid, laurate and excrete it. Rather than using solar energy solely for cell growth, this process maximizes the sunlight-to-fuel conversion process.

ASU’s research is uniquely emphasizing increased production of fatty acids when most biofuels research aims to increase cellular biomass. This process provides great potential in future transportation technology because the project has identified a way to convert harvested lauric acid into alkanes and their isomers that have specifications similar to existing transportation fuels and that can be directly incorporated into the existing infrastructure. Additionally, the process creates a carbon-neutral system that recycles carbon dioxide from fuel combustion back into a usable fuel without requiring extensive farming practices and arable land associated with many current biofuel crops.

The project also addresses climate issues and benefits the environment. “The challenge for society is to reduce CO2 emissions to a point where they don’t go through the roof. There’s only so much oil and natural gas you can extract from the ground, and there’s only so much CO2 you can put into the atmosphere,” says ASU researcher Wim Vermaas, who is a professor in the School of Life Sciences, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Electrochemical carbon capture technology

ASU researchers from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry; the School for Engineering for Matter, Transport and Energy; and ASU LightWorks have developed an approach to carbon dioxide capture technology through an energy-efficient electrochemical process. This new technique has the potential to vastly change the way energy is produced and consumed, and it can be used on existing power plants, separating the carbon dioxide from other emissions released from the flue, with the possibility of significantly reducing costs and energy requirements.

Carbon capture technology has gained attention in recent years in addressing carbon neutrality. Former Energy Secretary Steven Chu initiated carbon capture and storage (CCS) initiatives with the hope to fund technologies that efficiently reduce carbon emissions “by harnessing the power of science and technology.”

The CCS initiative “will not only help fight climate change, it will create new jobs and position the United States as a leader in carbon capture and storage technologies for years to come,” says Secretary Chu.

Spinout research in air battery storage

Fluidic Energy, a spinout from ASU directed by Cody Friesen, is developing high-power, low-cost, rechargeable Zinc-air batteries for renewable energy storage. Traditionally, Zinc-air batteries are found in small, non-rechargeable devices like hearing aids, delivering low power levels over extended periods of time and have thus not been useful for applications requiring periodic increases in power. Fluidic’s goal is to combine the low-cost, high energy, long running Zinc-air battery with new chemistry approaches that allow high efficiency, high power, quick responding battery technologies. 

This research has the potential to offer transformative, high-impact solutions for renewable energy storage issues in the grid. Electricity currently accounts for 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions and could substantially decrease with the grid resiliency provided by this new technology.

Friesen says that “ARPA-E has enabled us to go after technologies and solutions that we would not have otherwise gone after because of the degree to which those solutions and those ideas were off the beaten path from our core technology. That is massive impact.”

LightWorks as a strategic umbrella

ASU LightWorks is a far-reaching initiative that provides a strategic approach to leveraging ASU’s unique strengths in renewable energy research in areas of technology, energy and society, policy, social engagement and outreach.

“LightWorks looks at a problem like transportation fuel, surveys the expertise and infrastructure at ASU and creates collaborative groups both within and outside the university to focus on the problem,” says director Gary Dirks. “We emphasize working with other university groups, government agencies, NGOs and private industry to put the right minds and resources together to create meaningful solutions to real-world problems our energy system faces in the coming decades.”

ASU already has a massive renewable energy portfolio that continues to grow and a network of accomplished researchers who continue to provide innovative solutions to current energy problems.

"ASU is among the top universities in the country when it comes to energy technology," says Dirks. "Our algae biomass and solar facilities are some of the best in the country and we are on the leading edge of other areas such as policy innovation and socioeconomic implications of energy systems change. We have also had success in spinning out companies in many areas of energy research including battery storage, wind forecasting and algae.”

LightWorks also had a booth at the ARPA-E Innovation Summit, displaying the wide range of energy technologies and research happening at ASU. Aside from the ARPA-E awardees, some of the projects showcased included the ATP3 national algae testbed at the Polytechnic campus, AzCATI algae facilities, QESST solar research, LightSpeed Solutions in sunlight-to-fuels, the new Energy Social Sciences Initiative, and Solar Decathlon.

Written by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks

College of Law to launch teaching law firm in summer

March 7, 2013

Arizona State University has approved the summer 2013 launch of the ASU Alumni Law Group, a teaching law firm that will hire and mentor recent graduates of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

The Law Group, a stand-alone, nonprofit firm, is modeled after a teaching hospital, a full-service, fee-based institution that will prepare new and recent graduates to move from the classroom to practice. It will provide legal services to a wide variety of clients, focusing on those who cannot afford to pay current market rates and using graduates supervised by experienced attorneys to deliver those services. Download Full Image

Dean Douglas Sylvester said the College of Law saw a need to further its educational mission, and is taking action.

“There is no question that law schools need to rethink their role in preparing students for legal careers,” Sylvester said. “In a market where many are calling for systemic legal reform, we at ASU are not waiting for others to change – we are changing how we educate and mentor lawyers right now, and are doing so in a way that makes sense for our graduates and for Arizona.”

The firm will be comprised of four to five litigation and transactional practice groups, with five recent College of Law graduates serving as associates in each, for terms of up to three years. The groups will each be overseen by experienced supervising attorneys whose connections to the legal community run deep, and who are dedicated to training new lawyers. In addition to providing on-the-job training, the firm will provide formal training to junior lawyers on substantive areas of law, essential skills, and client development and retention. The firm will hire about 10 ASU law graduates per year for a total of 30 associates at any one time.

“The ASU Alumni Law Group represents the next stage in the evolution of legal education,” Sylvester said. “This firm will bridge the gap between law school and practice by providing graduates with real-world training in a supportive teaching environment. Associates who go through this program will be well positioned to compete for a wide variety of legal jobs.”

The initiative is being embraced by the Arizona legal community. “The ASU Law Group will provide valuable training and mentoring for new lawyers, while also fulfilling a need for affordable legal services in the community,” said J. Scott Rhodes, Managing Attorney at Jennings Strouss in Phoenix. “I anticipate that many successful legal careers will start with a stint at the ASU Alumni Law Group.”

The firm intends to partner with other units at ASU, including SkySong, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center, to help new and emerging companies grow and spur economic activity at home, and the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Innovation, to provide low-cost, high-quality legal services to nonprofit organizations that will help them serve Arizonans more effectively. Such partnerships would leverage efforts already underway at ASU to help improve Arizona’s economy and quality of life.

In addition, the ASU Alumni Law Group will work with designated client groups, such as veterans and the Hispanic community.

“I am proud to see that Arizona State University continues to find innovative ways to prepare their graduates for success in these particularly challenging times,” said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (ret.). “The establishment of the ASU Alumni Law Group is another positive way in which the College of Law is putting its students and graduates first.”

The ASU Alumni Law Group is the latest in a series of innovative and student-centered initiatives from the College of Law:

• The College of Law has invested additional financial resources into student and graduate career services, including recently hiring a full-time recruiter to work with graduates in their job searches.

• In December, the Arizona Board of Regents and the City of Phoenix took steps to advance the relocation of the College of Law to downtown Phoenix. The new building, the Arizona Center for Law and Society, is scheduled to open in 2016. The move will bring students closer to many of the region’s largest public and private employers.

• The College recently announced the creation of the North American Law Degree, a three-year J.D. designed to prepare graduates to seek licensure in both Canada and the U.S., and also prepare them for cross-border practice, a growing area of need for businesses. The North American Law Degree will create opportunities for graduates to work in international law and uniquely position them for such opportunities.

• The College of Law played a key role in helping to lead the proposal – recently approved by the Arizona Supreme Court – to allow third-year law students to sit for the spring bar exam. This rule change is expected to give ASU students a leg up in the job market by effectively making them more employable more quickly.

• The College of Law has dramatically expanded the amount of hands-on, experiential opportunities for its students by more than quadrupling the number of clinics in the Clinical Program in the last 10 years. In 2002, the Clinical Program had three clinics. It now has 13.

ASU boasts more practical experiences, through clinics, externships, and pro bono opportunities, than almost any other law school in the country, with individual graduates averaging 250 hours of client contact while in school and each graduating class providing more than 100,000 hours of free legal services.

“The ASU Alumni Law Group stands as a testament to the innovative thinking and commitment to student success that have become the hallmark of the ASU Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law,” said Sean McGarvey, president of the College of Law’s Student Bar Association. “The College of Law, its administration and faculty continue to remain ahead of the curve in working with students to confront the challenges of an increasingly competitive legal market. Students are universally enthusiastic about this initiative, which is sure to launch many successful careers while enhancing professional development and legal acumen.”