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Learning sustainability on the ground in Nepal and China

ASU students learn from sustainable farmers across the globe.
Three-week program is open to all majors at ASU.
December 19, 2018

Summer 2019 program expands its locations; applications are open and due by March 1

As Arizona State University senior sustainability scientists Nalini Chhetri and Netra Chhetri know, some educational experiences are more effective outside the classroom.

That’s why the wife-and-husband pair of ASU professors have directed a study abroad program in Nepal for nearly five years.Though directing the program isn’t easy, Nalini Chhetri — who is also the assistant director of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society — said she keeps doing it because she wants to “provide students with immersive and hands-on experience that has authenticity and credibility. Doing so allows students to have a deeper awareness and respect for local knowledge that supplements their classroom learning, and that is invaluable in preparing them to make a positive difference in this complex world.”

While past programs have taken place only in Nepal, June 2019's three-week program, called “Innovation in Green Growth in China and Nepal,” will also take students to China as well. Students will spend time in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital; the farming community of Pokhara, Nepal; and Guangzhou and Shishou, cities in China.

Specifics have changed from year to year, but the focus of the program is always on engaging communities in sustainable growth and renewable energy. In 2018, 14 ASU students from various majors participated in five main activities: They led STEM projects for schoolchildren, attended workshops to design an eco-park protecting Rhino Lake in Chitwan National Park, produced high-quality biochar, installed a fully operational solar irrigation system serving an indigenous community and learned from sustainable farmers in Pokhara.

Almost all activities on this study abroad program, offered through the ASU Study Abroad Office, are done in conjunction with local university students.

“I attribute so much of my learning towards my interactions and conversations with these students and would not have learned anywhere near as much without them,” said School of Sustainability PhD student Leah Jones, who joined the study abroad program in 2017 (pictured at the top of this article). “I was able to pick their brains and learn about the nuances of Nepali culture in a unique way, while also being able to share my American culture with the students.”

For School of Sustainability undergraduate Mikka Suhonen, who participated in 2018, learning from the sustainable farmers was a major trip highlight. As he noted, the farmers had radically different landscapes on which to create their farms.

“In turn, each farmer had unique approaches to creating their livelihood on that land,” Suhonen said. “One farmer had an intricate system where water would carry pig slurry down a hill to a pond in order to feed the fish inhabiting it. Another utilized the different heights of trees and vegetation in order to grow shade crops such as coffee. And another raised fish in a rice paddy, which fed the fish on bugs that normally prey on the rice stalks. The best part? We call it sustainability, but they call it surviving.”

This aspect of the program will remain in 2019. “There is no alternative to learning by observing and engaging with the farmers to whom the practice of a sustainable system is a way of life,” Nalini Chhetri said.

The 2019 study abroad program will also give students hands-on experience with sustainable economy projects and sustainable development that revolves around renewable energy. Applications are accepted until March 1, 2019, and the program is open to all majors. Students will receive four credits by the end of their experience. The Chhetris will again direct the program, along with the support of John “Marty” Anderies, a professor in School of Sustainability and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

“If you ever have the opportunity to be a part of this program with the Drs. Chhetri, I highly recommend it,” Suhonen said. “They are fantastic people, and the trip is surreal, both in experiences and natural beauty.”

Video courtesy of ASU student Megan Dieu, who participated in the program in 2018.

Top photo: Leah Jones, a doctoral student in the School of Sustainability, joined the Nepal study abroad program in 2017. To learn more about the 250-plus study-abroad programs in more than 65 different countries offered at ASU, see the Study Abroad Office website.

Kayla Frost

Associate Editor , Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability

480-965-0539

 
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ASU engineers break solar cell record

December 19, 2018

Addition of chemicals to solution allows team to surpass their own record from last year

Arizona State University researchers continue to break solar cell efficiency records in an effort to harness the sun’s energy more economically as a renewable source for electricity.

Last year, Assistant Professor Zachary Holman and Assistant Research Professor Zhengshan “Jason” Yu in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering set a world record of 23.6 percent efficiency for a tandem solar cell stacked with perovskite and silicon. The number was a few percentage points shy of the theoretical efficiency limit for silicon solar cells alone.

Now, the team improves upon the record by nearly two percentage points, to 25.4 percent, in a joint project with researchers at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, predicting they’ll be nearing 30 percent tandem efficiency within two years.

“The cost of solar electricity is largely driven by the efficiency of the panels installed,” Holman said. “So, the increase in cell efficiency that we’ve demonstrated has the potential to lower the cost of solar energy, which will in turn mean that more solar panels will be installed.”

The results of a paper recently published in Joule, a Cell Press journal, outline how researchers achieved a new record by adding chemicals to the perovskite precursor solution.

While spinning the precursor solution on top of a silicon cell, the additives increase the grain size of the perovskite, enhancing its photovoltaic characteristics and resulting in a higher open-circuit voltage of the perovskite/silicon tandem solar cell. In other words, it increases the maximum voltage that the solar cell outputs.

Jason Yu holds a perovskite/silicon tandem solar cell

The perovskite/silicon tandem solar cell created by researchers at Arizona State University and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln has the potential to transform mainstream silicon technology and lower the cost of solar energy. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

“Based on our previous 23.6 percent tandem with a voltage of only 1.65 volts, we saw a huge opportunity for higher voltage to get higher efficiency,” said Yu. “The 1.80 volts open-circuit voltage of the new tandem is the highest demonstrated, making it one of the most efficient perovskite/silicon tandem cells in the world.”

Silicon solar cells make up 95 percent of the solar panels made today. The perovskite/silicon tandem has the potential to transform mainstream silicon technology and support the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative to cut the cost of solar-generated electricity by half between 2020 and 2030. At the cost target of $0.03 per kilowatt hour, solar electricity would be among the least expensive options for new power generation.

Holman cites a study that found in the business-as-usual scenario that 5 percent of U.S. electricity will be generated by solar in 2030. If the cost is reduced to the targeted $0.03 per kilowatt hour, that number goes up to 17 percent. This would result in a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of billions of tons.

The interdisciplinary team of chemists, device physicists, electrical engineers and material scientists are now turning their attention to the other two solar cell parameters that determine efficiency — short-circuit current and fill factor — in an effort to exceed the maximum theoretical efficiency of a silicon solar cell.

The team’s research is laying the foundation for the commercialization of perovskite/silicon tandem technology.

“This is a big advancement of ASU’s cutting-edge research on silicon-based tandem solar cells,” Yu said. “Once the efficiency gain is big enough to justify the add-on cost of the additional perovskite layer, we envision it would be first adopted by the residential and commercial markets, which have higher balance-of-system costs.” 

The team envisions its tandem solar cells will be on roofs in approximately 10 years.

In support of this and related research, Holman and Yu were recently awarded $2.5 million from the Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office to develop characterization tools that will allow the team to pinpoint losses in perovskite solar cells and use a new deposition technique to minimize short-circuit current and fill factor losses to improve solar cell efficiency.

The knowledge and development gained from the SETO awards will benefit tandem solar cell research in the future. 

Top photo: Assistant Research Professor Zhengshan “Jason” Yu holds a tandem solar cell stacked with perovskite and silicon. His research focuses on silicon-based tandem solar cells to exceed the theoretical efficiency limit of single-junction silicon solar cells. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

Amanda Stoneman

Science Writer , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-727-5622

 
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Graduate plans to shine light across the globe

November 30, 2018

Solar energy engineering master's degree student Siddhu Immadisetty found his calling to bring energy to remote areas thanks to his experience in Africa

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates.

When Arizona State University student Siddhu Immadisetty woke up every morning last summer in the Masai Mara preserve in southwestern Kenya, it was to the sound of hyenas whooping.

Immadisetty spent two months living in a tent in the remote area, working to improve an education center’s solar grid.

“It was a very unique experience that every person in ASU should be doing to get out of their comfort zone and get used to people and cultures they don’t know and do something good for the society,” he said.

Now, Immadisetty is graduating from ASU with a professional science master’s degree in solar energy engineering and commercialization. He plans to devote himself to bringing light to the developing world.

Even though Immadisetty grew up in Hyderabad, India — a city of almost 7 million — the setting in Africa was familiar. It reminded him of trips to visit his grandmother in a rural village back home.

“I have a sense of how a village and all those situations and conditions could be,” he said. “I was expecting how things would be, so it made my life easier. I told my friends it was just like a small village in India.”

Immadisetty went to Kenya for a U.S. Agency for International Development project. ASU pairs with the federal agency through the Global Development Research program offered in the School of Sustainability to match grad students with projects across the globe.

“It was an interesting project,” he said. “I never imagined I would be going to Kenya.”

After graduation, he plans on getting a full-time job to gain experience (and pay off his student loans). “My future plans are to go back to developing countries and implement some of the knowledge I have gained,” he said.

Question: Why did you choose ASU? 

Answer: Before I came to ASU … I realized I should be doing something besides my studies where I can get culture and international exposure. I went to ASU and found my program. I looked at some of the information — ‘Oh, 135 countries at ASU.’ It’s very diverse, multicultural and unique. Having about 13,000 international students, it’s really a wonder. … This is a university where I can be a global citizen, so I applied for it and got into the program. I’m very happy I’m in the program. We went to San Diego, to install (photovoltaic) modules on a low-income Indian reservation community. We literally climbed the roof and drilled and placed the rails and installed the modules on them, all by ourselves. I never imagined my program has got that unique opportunity. I was really proud I was enrolled in this program where I got to do all kinds of different things.

 Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

 A: When I came here last August, everyone on the road used to wave at me and say, ‘Hi, hello.’ It’s really good. … University is very different; people want to keep to themselves, but I haven’t seen something like that here at ASU. People are very friendly. The good thing I like here is everyone is willing to offer their help to whatever extent they can. I have learned the helping nature very much. I’m used to that only after coming here. I’m also now very ready to offer my help and am helping all my friends and others here. Helping nature is the main thing I have learned here.

 Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

 A: As part of this Global Development Research Program, we also need to take a supplemental course called International Development Theory and Practices. It’s taught by Dr. Milan Shrestha of the School of Sustainability. He’s a tough guy. He’s a tough professor, but at the same time I go to learn a lot from him because I was falling behind in grades and assignments. I had some interactions with him and he said he had gone through the same phase, assuring me that it’s part of student life. We should just be keeping up with the pressure and the work and never be afraid of what grades we are getting; what we are learning is more important. I really think the conversation we had was very useful to me to progress in my life.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: ASU is very huge; it’s a big campus, so many students here, and so many resources available, events, programs, whatnot, everything is happening now, even as we are speaking. At the same time you can’t be involved in all the things. I would suggest to the students take the most from ASU, as much as you can. It’s the important thing. … The more you learn, the more resources you have here.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

 A: It’s very hard, because ASU Tempe campus itself is very beautiful and elegant, having different unique structures. Every structure has its own good thing, like the (Memorial Union) where you have the palm trees and the lights in the night. I really feel it’s an excellent place. It’s something kind of a movie feeling for me, like a Hollywood movie. … It’s always very lively, with students coming and going and eating.

 Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

 A: As a child I always dreamt of building an education institution myself, because I believe education has changed me a lot. There are so many people in the world lacking education, lacking other facilities, but education is more powerful than other things. Once you are educated, your brain starts to think for the solutions. Collectively we all work together and we will keep progressing. It’s the basic tool that will explore different things, so I would invest in education.

Top photo: Solar energy engineering and commercialization graduate student Siddhu Immadisetty poses for a portrait on the ASU Tempe campus on Nov. 19. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

 
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Big power from a small container

November 28, 2018

With a $2 million grant from the Office of Naval Research, an ASU professor is working to improve on his solar-powered, electrical grid-in-a-box

Refugee camps. Disaster areas. Remote military outposts.

An Arizona State University engineering professor is working on improving microgrids for use in far-flung corners of the world where power doesn’t reach.

Microgrids are small isolated power systems, such as on oil rigs, in rural villages or at military expeditionary camps. Nathan Johnson created a solar-powered grid contained in a shipping container.

“Microgrids are often described as an on-grid system that can isolate,” said Johnson, an assistant professor in the Polytechnic School, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. In summer 2018, Johnson received a $2 million, two-year grant from the Office of Naval Research.

“The Navy is often the first to respond in emergency situations around the world: natural disasters or conflict,” he said. “As a consequence, getting them more equipped with services and capabilities is going to improve the impact for humanitarian welfare. Secondly, the national defense strategy, as written by the Department of Defense, is looking for more of what they classify as dual-use technologies, where the research has a benefit to the defense sector but also to the private sector.”

He’s working on four projects within the study:

1. Reducing vulnerabilities in microgrids.

2. Improving cybersecurity.

3. Creating and testing controls for multiple microgrids.

4. Creating water and power solutions for rapidly deployable medical facilities for military expeditions, disaster response and humanitarian aid. 

Half of the prototype of the medical facility is complete; the remainder will be finished in February. The unit will have a 10-kilowatt power system and a water treatment system capable of cleaning about 500 gallons an hour. The health care side is for primary care, with a triage area, blood testing capability, medicine distribution and outpatient services. The unit will provide healthcare, power and water to 12,000 South Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda.

“The focus of this work in a general form is doing additional research, but then focusing from the applied to commercialization,” Johnson said. “In all four areas we’re doing simulations and testing out at the Poly campus and then we have a physical one-acre grid modernization microgrid testbed where we’ll fabricate and test devices.”

At the end of the project, all four technologies will have a prototype which will be field-deployed and evaluated in the Grid Modernization and Microgrid Test Bed. “We have commercial partners to help facilitate that,” Johnson said.

By 2020, microgrids are expected to be a $40 billion industry worldwide. Part of the grant goes to technical training, with seven programs reaching 220 people in person and 410 people online. Approximately 50 percent of those trained will be veterans. Another 10,000 people will be reached in regular monthly podcasts on energy and cybersecurity. A total of 20 hours of online microgrid training will be provided free to the Navy in perpetuity.

It’s an opportunity to get into a burgeoning market.

“About 95 percent of the growth in global energy demand over the next 15 years is going to come from emerging markets,” Johnson said. “Training people to provide a high-quality skill set, intellectual engineering or design services that is broadly applicable to anywhere in the world also provides those individuals with a leg up for a type of market or a type of work with an international company that they may not have typically been exposed to in their standard university curriculum.”

Strategic advice will be gained from 12 project advisors including electric utilities, venture funds, strategy groups, technology providers, Naval and Department of Defense labs and government agencies.

Top photo: Assistant Professor Nathan Johnson poses for a portrait at the Polytechnic campus on Oct. 25, 2018. Johnson's work focuses on solar technology and how to innovate energy resources, smart networks and off-grid solutions in the Laboratory for Energy And Power Solutions (LEAPS) lab. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4502

Power and Energy Scholarship recognizes 8 ASU engineering students


November 13, 2018

Eight Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering students with a passion for sustainable power and energy were selected from a pool of 548 applicants to receive the IEEE Power and Energy Society scholarship.

In the past seven years, 37 of these scholarships have been awarded to Arizona State University students — earning ASU more Power and Energy Society scholarships than any other university in the awards’ lifetime. Power lines Photo courtesy of Unsplash Download Full Image

The Power and Energy Society (PES) scholarship recognizes undergraduate electrical engineering students with strong GPAs, distinctive extracurricular activities and a commitment to exploring the power and energy field.

“These two awards are national awards that are highly competitive,” said Gerald Heydt, Regents' Professor at the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering. “The students recognized will carry this honor throughout their careers, and there is no doubt that the recognition marks a high point in their work.”

The competitive selection process, from which less than 40 percent of the applicants are selected, requires students to submit essays and letters of recommendation, and judges look for a student’s passion about advancing power research. This year, the award granted the 210 recipients a financial award to fund their studies, one year of IEEE PES student membership and the opportunity to be mentored by leading professionals in their industry.

“Besides the generous financial support, I received recognition from the largest power engineering networking and standards group in the world,” said Tobin Meyers, a recipient of the scholarship. “This advantage helped me advance my knowledge of power systems by assisting with my internship search and an all-expenses-paid trip to Boston for the 2017 IEEE PES Student Congress.”

While at the student congress, recipients had the opportunity to network with peers and professionals, visit MIT’s nuclear reactor and tour the headquarters of Doble, a power test company. Meyers’ initial recognition paved the way for two summer internships with Arizona Public Service, which served as a career experience needed to renew the award.

From the initial group of PES scholars, industry professionals and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories select the Schweitzer Meritorious Scholars. These awardees, three of whom this year are students in the Fulton Schools, gain additional recognition for their academic excellence and interest in the field.

"In my application, I talked about the growing importance of renewable energy and how that led me to pursue a career at the intersection of electrical engineering and sustainability,” said Brian Wu, a 2018 PES and Schweitzer Scholar. “It’s all about how you tie your extracurriculars or work experience into what makes you passionate about power and energy.”

IEEE, or the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, is the world’s largest association of technical professionals. PES scholarships are made possible due to the generous donations of individuals and corporations to the IEEE Power & Energy Society Scholarship Fund of the IEEE Foundation.

For any electrical engineering students considering applying for the scholarship, Meyers, a three-time recipient, encourages them to apply.

“Power has been stagnant for many years, but with the increasing popularity of renewable energy, the traditional grid has evolved into a complex system,” Meyers said. “This award will help you get recognized so you can begin solving these issues as well as help fund the remainder of your education.”

Student Science/Technology Writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

ASU researcher innovates solar energy technology in space


October 3, 2018

Experts predict that by 2050 we’re going to have global broadband internet satellite networks, in-orbit manufacturing, space tourism, asteroid mining and lunar and Mars bases.

More than a gigawatt of solar energy will be needed to power these activities, or the equivalent of 3.125 million photovoltaic panels. However, because it is currently the most expensive component on a satellite, scientists are looking for ways to make solar energy in space affordable — and to keep solar power systems from degrading so quickly in the extremely harsh environment of space. A gloved hand holds a flexible solar cell in a lab. Arizona State University postdoctoral researcher Stanislau "Stas" Herasimenka's startup company, Regher Solar, is developing a thin solar cell to better withstand the harsh environment of outer space. Photo courtesy of Stanislau Herasimenka Download Full Image

Arizona State University postdoctoral researcher Stanislau “Stas” Herasimenka thinks he has the solution to provide cost-effective and efficient, next-generation solar power for space applications.

Exploring the next big thing in solar

Silicon heterojunction technology uses a low-temperature method to deposit layers of amorphous silicon with a high concentration of atomic hydrogen onto a crystalline silicon wafer. This method creates a solar cell that’s more efficient at converting sunlight into electricity than conventional solar cells, which are manufactured using standard high-temperature methods.

Pioneered in the 1990s, silicon heterojunction technology is not new, but it’s not widely used in the commercial solar energy industry. However, it holds great promise for the future of solar energy.

In conventional solar cells, the current manufacturing efficiency is up to 21.5 percent. Herasimenka believes silicon heterojunction solar cell technology can be manufactured to attain 23 to 24 percent efficiency without increasing the cost of production.

While that would seem to be a small step, it’s actually the next giant leap the solar power industry is looking to achieve. Seeing this as as an opportunity to apply his graduate research, Herasimenka founded solar cell technology startup Regher Solar with solar industry expert Michael Reginevich.

Stuart Bowden, an associate research professor of electrical and energy engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, praised Herasimenka’s work both as a doctoral student and a postdoctoral scholar to create commercial-grade silicon heterojunction solar technology.

“When I came to ASU in 2009, Stas was our first student to complete an experimental thesis, and his passion for solar was critical to kick-start the lab,” said Bowden, Herasimenka’s doctoral research adviser. “He did extensive theoretical modeling work but he was also the one who pushed on making his research commercial. Stas has really embraced the entrepreneurial spirit at ASU and it's great he has the support to take his lab work out into the world.”

Space: The solar frontier

It's very complicated for a novel solar technology to enter the market. The current cost of a commercial solar panel is about 30 cents per watt.

At this point in its development, silicon heterojunction solar cell technology is too expensive for the terrestrial market but may be very attractive to aerospace companies.

The current leading technology of solar energy in space is in the form of tandem solar cells, which are more efficient than terrestrial solar cells (28 to 32 percent efficiency), but they cost orders of magnitude more at $100 to $500 per watt. In comparison, Regher Solar’s silicon heterojunction technology is a great deal at $1 per watt cost even with the loss of about 7 percent efficiency.

Not only is the price right, Herasimenka and his Regher Solar team have ideas in mind to make solar cells that are more resistant to the harsh environment of space that theoretically could also increase their end-of-life efficiency.

Their research caught the attention of Albuquerque, New Mexico-based SolAero Technologies and the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant program, which seeks to fund technology to implement a space transport that could shuttle spacecraft from low Earth orbit to higher orbits. The area through which the transporter would operate is also where radiation is most damaging to spacecraft solar cells.

Thin is in

To address the unique challenges of providing reliable solar energy in space, Herasimenka is testing a hypothesis that Regher Solar can make silicon heterojunction solar cells extremely thin, which adds the benefit of radiation resistance.

Simulations conducted by Alex Fedoseyev — Regher Solar’s chief scientist for a previous NASA SBIR grant-funded project on which the ASU team was a subcontractor — show that when a silicon solar cell is very thin, high-energy protons can go through the solar cell without damaging it.

“In some conditions, it may be practically transparent to high-energy particles,” Herasimenka said. “Besides, in a thin cell, electrons generated by light don’t have to travel as far to be extracted and even if space radiation creates a defect in a solar cell, electrons will have much less chance to recombine through this defect, thus, increasing end-of-life efficiency of a solar cell.”

While typical solar cells are 160 to 180 micrometers thick, Herasimenka and Regher Solar are targeting 50-micrometer or even 10-micrometer-thick solar cells.

Manufacturing thin, easily breakable solar cells requires special equipment that makes production more expensive than 30 cents per watt, but this isn’t a problem for aerospace companies that presently pay 500 times more for a solar cell.

Another feature of Regher Solar’s technology is its very low weight. Because every ounce increases the cost of a space launch, solar cells up to 15 times thinner would reduce space solar energy costs even more.

As part of the SBIR grant project, Regher Solar will work with SolAero Technologies to test solar cells of different thicknesses to find the optimum balance of thinness and durability against radiation.

If Regher Solar can pull it off, the company will be well on its way to helping the space economy meet its power needs.

A quest to impact the solar industry

Herasimenka came to ASU as a doctoral student when Bowden and Christiana Honsberg — now a professor of electrical engineering — joined ASU from the University of Delaware as ASU was beginning to launch its major solar energy initiative in 2009.

In 2011, the Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies, or QESST, was established, with Honsberg as its director, to address the "terawatt challenge" and develop advanced clean energy technologies to help raise the living standards of people around the globe living in energy poverty. It is a collaborative consortium of eight universities, more than 100 students and 30 faculty working with industry to find energy solutions.

“One out of five people in the world live in the dark due to the high cost of electricity," Honsberg said. "QESST is focused on reducing solar costs while simultaneously improving its efficiency to the benefit of over 1 billion people living in the dark. Regher Solar is one of eight QESST spin-out companies making an impact in the market and we’re proud to have helped catalyze its formation.”

Herasimenka conducted his doctoral research at QESST and stayed on as a postdoctoral researcher working on a variety of projects.

He co-founded Regher Solar with the help of QESST’s initiative to encourage and expose its students to innovation mentoring resources at ASU and beyond.

QESST Industry and Innovation Director John Mitchell helped Herasimenka develop his startup pitch and business plan as well as connect him with resources to help make his venture successful.

Mitchell said Herasimenka is “a perfect storm” for QESST and its innovation goals.

“Regher is developing intellectual property, transferring knowledge, bringing technology to the marketplace and giving back to QESST,” Mitchell said. “When we present to the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy we talk about innovation in an abstract way. It's great to be able to show specific and concrete examples such as Regher."

Though being an entrepreneur wasn’t Herasimenka’s original career goal, it has turned into something he very much enjoys.

“Initially the company was founded to go for more (research grant) funding, but then, later on, I became more and more excited about the business world and got more deeply involved," Herasimenka said. "Now I think that’s what I want to do in my life."

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-727-1958

 
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Meeting the UN's Global Goals village by village

September 28, 2018

ASU community is working on sustainable solutions to global problems by starting with specifics

In 2015, world leaders agreed to establish 17 goals to achieve a better world by 2030. An end to poverty and hunger. Clean water and energy. Gender equality and decent work. Together, they are called the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

And when they’re met, it's remarkable.

Arizona State University faculty members working on projects that fulfill the goals have seen it in places stretching from Pakistan to Pacific islands.

Here’s a look at three Global Goals-related projects coming out of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society: 

Fuel from a pest in Nepal

The Nepalese government has established buffer zones around their national parks so local people can gather firewood or fodder for their animals. In 2007, the buffer zone around Chitwan National Park began to be invaded by a vine similar to kudzu. One plant was recorded that year. Seven years later, it covered 75 to 100 percent of the forest surveyed. The vine, called mile-a-minute leaf, can grow very rapidly within a week, and it can cover the forest and kill the trees. The Nepalese jungle is trees and grasses, not vines, so the vine changes the dynamics. It creates extremely dense cover in the jungle. Women go to the jungle every single day for about two hours to collect wood and grasses.

“In that time you’re really risking your life because there are so many animals there that are threatening,” said Associate Professor Netra Chhetri. “In that way it’s taking more time to collect resources because where they used to go is now covered in the vine. They have to go deeper and deeper into the jungle to find the things they need. … We want to convert this problem into a solution through bio char.”

Bio char is charcoal used as soil enrichment.

“This charcoal is better than the coal we mine,” said Chhetri, who also is part of the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning.

In June, Chhetri began working with 29 communities in the buffer zone surrounding Chitwan National Park. “We engaged with them and went with them to the forest,” he said.

They built charcoal kilns, collected heaps of the vine, and created a solution to several problems.

The bio char is a source of fuel. It contributes to the health of the forest. It adds nutrients to the soil and helps retain moisture. Chhetri calls it a low-cost, high-impact solution to multiple social problems.

“It increases the productivity and farmers don’t have to buy these expensive chemical fertilizers,” he said. “The reaction was ‘Wow.’”

The work isn’t over. Chhetri is working on how to scale the solution and how to improve collecting the vine. “My job is to hone in on this problem.”

Socially driven, clean, cheap power in Pakistan

Along Pakistan's Afghan border in the mountainous north is an extremely poor part of the country where villages don’t have electricity — or don’t use it because it’s too expensive.

The provincial government has been building a series of small-scale hydropower projects in an attempt to bring electricity generation to local communities at a price they can afford.

In a collaboration with the University of Engineering and Technology in Peshawar, Associate Professor Clark Miller traveled to Pakistan in July.

Miller went in with a team from the university to collect data on the social and sustainability outcomes of the hydro projects, using a methodology developed at ASU in order to improve the design of future projects. The province has built a couple hundred of the projects and plan to build a couple thousand more over the next few years.

“The design specs for one of the projects contained 50 pages of engineering details — and four bullet points on how it would fit into the community,” Miller said.

“What our framework does is flip that around and ask the question to begin with: How are people going to actually use this energy to make a difference in their lives? To create new income? To improve their ability to deliver healthcare? Or to advance any one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: improve food security, access clean water, improve their agricultural productivity? How are they actually going to use the energy to make that difference in their lives? How do you design the technical part of the project in order to make it possible for them to use the energy in that way? It recognizes that effective energy systems have to be both socially and technically designed.”

Seven master’s degree students from the Pakistani university are at ASU this fall as part of an exchange-student program, training in social data analysis. A report on the project will be produced in May.

A library in a backpack, where there’s no power or internet

Obviously, remote communities without electricity — or internet access — don’t have the same educational advantages shared by the industrial West.  

Enter Assistant Professor Laura Hosman and SolarSPELL, a portable, solar-powered digital library that comes with its own digital Wi-Fi hotspot, able to function without electricity or existing internet connectivity.

“A library that can fit inside a backpack,” it’s full of educational resources. The only thing needed to access the information is a laptop, smartphone or iPad. The information in SolarSPELL is curated to include as much localized information as possible. This allows the device to teach things like science and mathematics, but also to preserve local indigenous knowledge.

“This project hits on a lot of ASU's charter aspirations,” said Hosman, who holds a joint appointment in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. “I'm all for engaging globally and providing access to those who don't have it.”

Today there are 220 SolarSPELL digital libraries in Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, the Federated States of Micronesia, Rwanda and South Sudan. They are used by teachers and Peace Corps volunteers.

"Since we received the SolarSPELL digital library, students do not miss school,” said the dean of students at a Rwandan primary school where SolarSPELL was introduced. “Previously, there were students who would come in the morning but leave in the afternoon. Now, we find them in the morning and the afternoon. … They say, 'If I don't go to school, I won't use the SolarSPELL.' When they arrive they ask teachers to use the SolarSPELL library. They are so interested.” 

Both biochar in Nepal and SolarSPELL are projects in GlobalResolve, a service abroad program with a student focus, headquartered in Barrett, The Honors College at ASU.

Top photo: United Nations headquarters in New York. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4502

Harnessing the sun for fuel

ASU LightWorks hire brings new energy to ASU


September 10, 2018

Decades ago, oilmen had little interest in natural gas, the byproduct of crude extracted from the earth. So, they burned it off, like so many lit torches atop Texas’s oil fields. Jim Miller’s grandfather recalled reading the evening paper by their light. Miller, too, recalls living in their shadows. Now he’s living in the Valley of the Sun, working to develop a different kind of energy industry. 

The native Texan says he wanted to be a chemical engineer because the successful people he knew as a child either worked in chemical plants or they worked for NASA. “That was it,” he said.  Jim Miller (second from right) with colleagues at Sandia National Laboratories and the CR5 thermochemical reactor. Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories Download Full Image

But years later, he found himself working not in a chemical plant nor at NASA but instead thinking up ways to create and harness alternative energy — energy gleaned not from fossil fuels but from renewable sources.

He has also worked on radioactive waste cleanup, catalysis, desalination and automobile exhaust treatment, all while serving as a research scientist at Sandia National Laboratories. 

“I’ve had this weird career,” said Miller.

He is a chemical engineer by training. He is also a recent arrival at ASU LightWorks, where he once again will be thinking up ways to create and harness alternative energy — using sunlight, of course.

“Our focus is solar thermal chemistry,” said Miller. “The idea is to make a solar fuel.” 

Plants and bacteria have been making their own solar fuel through photosynthesis for billions of years. Miller and his colleagues want to mimic that process.

“Plants take carbon dioxide out of the air,” said Miller. “They take water out of the ground, and through some biological magic, plants are made using the sun as the energy source. The carbon dioxide and the water are the building blocks.”

Over a long time, some of those plants turn into fossil fuels: coal, natural gas or oil. When we burn fossil fuels, we reverse the process of photosynthesis, dumping millions of years’ worth of stored carbon into the atmosphere much faster than it can be removed by plants.

So Miller and his colleagues are aiming to use a thermochemical cycle to ensure there is no net release of carbon dioxide. The cycle begins when a metal oxide is heated until it gives up some of its oxygen. At lower temperatures, the material wants that oxygen restored. If exposed to carbon dioxide or steam, the material will take an oxygen atom from those molecules to yield carbon monoxide or hydrogen, respectively.

Carbon monoxide and hydrogen are both energy-rich molecules, and they can be reacted with one another (in a separate process) to form more conventional hydrocarbon fuels, such as jet fuel, gasoline and diesel.

“You cycle between these two reactions,” explained Miller. “That’s why it’s called a thermochemical cycle. You use heat to drive the reaction, but it’s two steps. So there’s an inherent separation built into it. There’s a lot of good things about it, but there’s also a lot of complicating factors.”

The good things include the possibility to emulate photosynthesis; that is, to store sunlight as hydrocarbon fuels, but much more efficiently and with much less water consumption. 

The complicating factors — some that remain to be discovered — are why Miller is joining the LightWorks team and the faculty in the School of Sustainability as a professor of practice. He will be working closely with Ivan Ermanoski, an experimental physicist and also a new arrival to ASU LightWorks, and Ellen Stechel, co-director of LightWorks and an expert in solar thermochemistry. Like Miller, both Ermanoski and Stechel worked at Sandia National Laboratories before coming to ASU.

“We are very excited that Jim is joining us in LightWorks and for the opportunity to build a platform program based on solar thermochemistry — for fuels, but also to make ammonia, to store energy and to produce clean water. I appreciate his ability to make complex concepts easy to understand and his unwavering dedication to solving important problems,” said Stechel.

“When we first envisioned making fuels from sunlight and thin air, there were people telling us that it is impossible, that we were violating the laws of thermodynamics,” she continued. “This did not faze or discourage Jim. There are challenges to making this a reality but it is not only possible (that is, not even new anymore) it is plausible. The person you want working to demonstrate that it can be made efficient, robust, scalable and economic is Jim. We expect many new collaborations with a range of faculty that engage with LightWorks, especially through our Sustainable Fuels and Products working group.”

Reflecting on what would be the ideal outcome for this bold, highly experimental endeavor, Miller said, “The perfect outcome is that we have closed the cycle on carbon so we’re not extracting fossil sunlight and putting it (the fossil carbon) back into the environment, maintaining the advantages of modern society, but staying mindful of future generations.”

This research is funded in part by the Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Communications Specialist, Knowledge Enterprise Development

Summer research sizzles at ASU

Students gain valuable skills in the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates program


August 23, 2018

This summer, more than 50 undergraduate students from across the nation studied in labs at Arizona State University to develop solutions to some of the world’s most vexing problems. 

The students are part of the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program that provides valuable educational experiences for college students through active participation in science, engineering and education research at ultramodern facilities. REU projects offer universities a chance to tap a diverse talent pool and broaden student participation in use-inspired research initiatives with meaningful impact. student holding a light illuminating object on table “My favorite part of the REU experience has been working with my teammates and mentors. Getting the chance to collaborate with others, particularly people who specialize in a different subject or major, has taught me a lot,” said Jacquelyn Schmidt, a major in engineering physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Photo by Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU Download Full Image

By integrating research and education, REU aims to attract students to science and engineering programs, retain them and prepare them for careers in those fields.

NSF is interested in increasing the number of women, minorities and people with disabilities who participate in research, and particular attention is paid to recruiting students from underrepresented groups. REU sites across the country are also encouraged to involve students from communities and academic institutions where research programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are limited, including two-year colleges.

REU students participated in integrative, hands-on research with a focus on bio-geotechnical engineering, drinking water and industrial wastewater treatment, sensor device design and algorithm development, solar energy and photovoltaics. Participants helped develop solutions for a broad scope of challenges, from facilitating access to clean water to restoring degraded landscapes and revolutionizing electricity generation.

The Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering hosted REU programs this summer at sites in the NSF Engineering Research Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics, the NSF Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment, the Sensor Signal and Information Processing Center and the NSF Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies Engineering Research Center.

REU provides the building blocks to succeed

Jeremy Nez, a civil engineering major at Scottsdale Community College, has been interested in creating sustainable, resilient and environmentally compatible solutions for geotechnical infrastructure since he took a tour of the NSF-funded Engineering Research Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics with the Phoenix Indian Center as a high school student.

Last year, he participated in the center’s Young Scholars program for his first exposure to research. This summer, he returned to the center to complete the REU program.

Nez worked on a bio-inspired process to stabilize and control clay swelling, teaming with Associate Professor Claudia Zapata, postdoctoral research associate Hamed Khodadadi Tirkolaei and graduate mentor Hani Alharbi, a doctoral student in civil, environmental and sustainable engineering.

Many types of infrastructure are built with a clay foundation beneath them. When some clay foundation soils come in contact with water, they expand dramatically. Clay swelling is problematic because it contributes to cracked foundations, walls, driveways, swimming pools and roads — costing millions of dollars each year.

Nez helped establish protocols for conducting efficient and economically competitive stabilization of problematic clay soils by comparing compaction characteristics of clay-treated soil with plant-based silica extracted from rice husk. Results of this research will help prevent and mitigate damage caused by clay swelling.

“I liked how the REU program was interdisciplinary,” Nez said. “You have biologists and geologists as well as civil, geotechnical and mechanical engineers working together to improve civilizations. There’s not just one major in this program, it’s very diverse.”

Nez’s two summers of research at the center have inspired him to transfer to ASU. He’ll start an undergraduate program in civil engineering this fall. Nez is one of four students participating in the REU program this summer who plan to transfer to the university.

six students standing

Six students from Glendale Community College, Phoenix College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Scottsdale Community College and the University of New Haven participated in the summer Research experience in the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics at Arizona State University. From left to right: Ibrahim Ibrahim, Lydia Kelley, Leslie Bautista, Colleen Adams, RJ Mabry and Jeremy Nez. Photo by Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU

Interdisciplinary experience drives plan for the future  

Jacquelyn Schmidt, a major in engineering physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, also wanted to study at ASU based on the interdisciplinary component of the Sensor Signal and Information Processing Center REU program.

“I have a lot of interests: data science, internet of things, machine learning and electrical engineering,” Schmidt said. “The SenSIP REU was one of the only summer programs I came across that touched on all of those areas.”

Schmidt’s research project focused on reducing turtle bycatch, which happens when turtles drown from being caught in fishing nets. Schmidt said marine biology research suggests the number of sea turtles accidentally caught can be dramatically reduced with the use of light-emitting diode, or LED, lights.

“Several research groups are continuing this research today, but a clear problem has emerged,” she said. “The LED lights are battery powered. When the batteries run out, they’re just thrown into the ocean.”

Schmidt’s team included Associate Professor Blain Christen, postdoctoral fellows Mark Bailly and Martyn Fisher, Associate Professor Michael Goryll and Assistant Research Professor Jesse Senko. They sought to find a more sustainable solution to this problem by using renewable energy to power LEDs on fishing nets.

For this project, Schmidt studied different types of renewable energy sources to determine which would be ideal for potential designs. Given that the nets are submerged in water but dried in the sun, Schmidt considered tidal and wave energy as options as well as solar charging.

“Turtle bycatch is a huge global issue and is impacting communities in Mexico, North Carolina, Hawaii and Indonesia, just to name a few,” Schmidt said. “In the future, we’re hoping to see our prototypes mass produced and used in fishing enterprises around the world.”

Schmidt said the research experience gave her valuable skills in developing a real-world product. She’s more confident in her abilities to take an idea through the product development process, from the original concept to a physical device.

Going into the SenSIP REU program, Schmidt wanted to determine whether engineering graduate school would be on her horizon.

“So far, the answer seems to be yes,” she said.

Changing the world one research experience at a time

These research centers in the Fulton Schools represent four of about 600 different REU sites across the U.S. For more than 30 years, the NSF has funded nearly 9,000 undergraduate students each year in the REU program. REU participants gain in-depth scientific research experience under the guidance of faculty members and research mentors to learn how to develop solutions.

Read more about all the REU programs hosted in the Fulton Schools this summer. 

Amanda Stoneman

Science Writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-727-5622

ASU research demonstrates silicon-based tandem photovoltaic modules can compete in solar market

Nature-Energy features ASU study that depicts acceptable intersection of improved solar technology costs vs. efficiency


July 30, 2018

New solar energy research from Arizona State University demonstrates that silicon-based tandem photovoltaic modules, which convert sunlight to electricity with higher efficiency than present modules, will become increasingly attractive in the U.S.

A paper that explores the costs vs. enhanced efficiency of this new solar technology appears in Nature Energy this week. The paper is authored by ASU Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Assistant Research Professor Zhengshan J. Yu, graduate student Joe V. Carpenter and Assistant Professor Zachary Holman. ASU Professor Zhengshan Yu addresses how current solar tell technologies are reaching the limits of efficiency. ASU Assistant Research Professor Zhengshan Yu addresses how current solar cell technologies are reaching the limits of efficiency. Photo courtesy of ASU Holman Lab Download Full Image

The Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative was launched in 2011 with a goal of making solar cost-competitive with conventional energy sources by 2020. The program attained its goal of $0.06 per kilowatt-hour three years early, and a new target of $0.03 per kilowatt-hour by 2030 has been set. Increasing the efficiency of photovoltaic modules is one route to reducing the cost of the solar electricity to this new target. If reached, the goal is expected to triple the amount of solar installed in the U.S. in 2030 compared to the business-as-usual scenario. 

But according to Holman, “the dominant existing technology — silicon — is more than 90 percent of the way to its theoretical efficiency limit,” precipitating a need to explore new technologies. More efficient technologies will undoubtedly be more expensive, however, which prompted the paper co-authors to ask, “Does a doubling of module efficiency warrant a doubling of cost?”

Tandem modules stack two, complementary photovoltaic materials — for instance, a perovskite solar cell atop a silicon solar cell — to best use the full spectrum of colors emitted by the sun and exceed the efficiency of either constituent solar cell on its own. The study was designed to determine how much more expensive high-efficiency tandem photovoltaic modules can be and still compete in the evolving solar marketplace. 

ASU Assistant Research Professor Zachary Holman reflects on the efficiency of new solar technologies vs. the costs.

ASU Assistant Professor Zachary Holman reflects on the efficiency of new solar technologies vs. the costs. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Results indicate that in the expected 2020 U.S. residential solar market, 32-percent-efficient anticipated tandem modules can cost more than three times that of projected 22-percent-efficient silicon modules and still produce electricity at the same cost. This premium, however, is a best-case scenario that assumes the energy yield, degradation rate, service life and financing terms of tandem modules are similar to those of silicon modules alone. The study also acknowledges that cost premium values will vary according to region. 

“Our previous study defines the technological landscape of tandems; this study paints the economic landscape for these future solar technologies that are only now being created in labs,” Yu said. “It tells researchers how much money they’re allowed to spend in realizing the efficiency enhancements expected from tandems.”

Holman’s research group is a leader in silicon-based tandem photovoltaic technologies, having held the efficiency world record in collaboration with Stanford University for a perovskite/silicon tandem solar cell until last month. As the team strives to reclaim the record while sticking to inexpensive materials and simple processes, it now knows that its innovations will likely find their way to a U.S. rooftop.

Terry Grant

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications

480-727-4058

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