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ASU students developing off-grid tech to help small farms build resilience to climate change

March 18, 2019

With a growing global population, farmers are working hard to feed the world. Throw climate change into the mix and maintaining a thriving, high-yield farm becomes even harder.

Facing these challenges, it’s important for farmers to monitor soil for conditions such as temperature and moisture level in order to keep crops healthy. Agricultural sensors make it easy for farmers to take these measurements, but the sensors are usually attainable only for industrial farms that can afford the technology and can access electricity and a network connection. Rural small farms don’t always have these luxuries, said Bruce Baikie, a senior sustainability fellow in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University.

But the world can’t afford for small farms to fail. Family-run farms produce more than 80 percent of the world’s food, according to a 2014 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization. These farmers need a low-infrastructure, affordable way to keep up with changing conditions in their soils.

That’s where SolarSENSE, an ASU student capstone project sponsored by Baikie, comes in. SolarSENSE makes use of technology from SolarSPELL, Solar-Powered Educational Learning Libraries developed by Senior Sustainability Scientist Laura Hosman, to allow off-grid rural farms access to soil data from sensors without the need for electricity or costly internet connections.

The project, which started in September 2018 and currently involves five computer science seniors, is in its beginning stages. In early March, four of the students along with Baikie and HosmanHosman is also an associate professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Polytechnic School, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. traveled to Hawaii to test their innovative system on a remote farm — MA'O Organic Farms on the western side of Oahu (a connection arranged by Amanda Ellis, executive director of Hawaii and Asia Pacific in the ASU Wrigley Institute). Throughout their three-day proof-of-concept trip, the team also worked with the farmers to find out how SolarSENSE can take the data and present it in a way that is most useful.

In Hawaii, the team found that the technology worked, but they learned a lot about the product’s in-the-field application by interacting with the farmers.

“When we got into the field, we had to throw out the window a lot of preconceived notions we had and listen to the farmers,” Baikie said. “It helped point us in a new direction.”

Flame Porter, farm apprentice at MA'O Organic Farms, had positive feedback for SolarSENSE: "If we didn't care about our soil, we wouldn't be at this capacity. To be able to put (a sensor) in the soil and get results within that same day — it's revolutionary. It's going to help a lot of people.”

Ultimately, the goal of SolarSENSE is to not only improve accessibility to agricultural sensors for smaller farms, but also to connect the farmers to an agricultural library of recommended actions they could take based on the readings. The SolarSENSE digital agricultural library has both actional videos for farmers and a wealth of plant, soil and climate change information. The library is also accessed directly off the SolarSPELL unit — no internet connection required.

Kevin Hale, an ASU senior in software engineering who is part of the capstone team, said that they want the farmers to be able to “learn and share that knowledge with their community, so everyone can benefit.”

On a personal level, working with SolarSENSE has gone far beyond technology for Hale, who said that he learned a lot about sustainability and community through the Hawaiian farmers. One concept in particular that stuck with him was ahupua'a, the ancient Hawaiian system of land division to form self-sustaining ecosystems.

“The idea was that everyone helped each other get the resources that they need and that everyone supported each other locally,” Hale said. “I really enjoyed my time on the farm and seeing how the farmers too incorporated this mentality into their work. (I learned) that I need to not only worry about myself, but also look for ways that I can help sustain others in my community. Having these experiences … made me realize that I can have more impact on the world than I previously thought.”

The other ASU students involved in SolarSENSE for the fall 2018 and spring 2019 semesters are Tresor Cyubahiro, Wesley Davis, James Ortner and Scott Watkins. While in Hawaii, the team met with University of Hawaii President David Lassner to identify opportunities for collaboration between the two universities, and Hosman presented early findings about SolarSENSE testing at MA'O Organic Farms at a Sustainability Leaders Series event jointly sponsored by the ASU Wrigley Institute and the East-West Center.

Julie Ann Wrigley noted: “This is exactly the kind of practical impact I am proud our ASU Wrigley Institute sustainability scientists are able to make in the field. I am thrilled to see the wonderful work of SolarSPELL expanding and the meaningful connections with local indigenous Hawaiian enterprise MA’O as a follow on from our ASU Wrigley Institute board meeting held in Hawaii last November.”

Video produced by ASU computer science senior Scott Watkins

Top photo: (From left) ASU computer science seniors James Ortner, Scott Watkins, Tresor Cyubahiro and Kevin Hale; and Bruce Baikie, senior sustainability fellow and adjunct faculty in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. Photo courtesy of Bruce Baikie

Kayla Frost

Associate Editor , Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability

480-965-0539

Six-author team awarded ASU Morrison Prize for analysis of climate change’s impact on a critical conservation tool


February 13, 2019

Land conservation may seem like a simple enough formula: Set aside land, then protect it.

But climate change is complicating land conservation practices because of how it alters land over time. Among other things, climate change is raising new questions about perpetual conservation easements — a critical land preservation tool relied upon by government agencies and nonprofit land trusts. A six-author team that conducted an unprecedented analysis of the structuring of conservation easements in the face of rapid climate change has been awarded the 2019 Morrison Prize, an honor established in 2015 and administered through the program on Law and Sustainability at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. Download Full Image

The ASU Morrison Prize contest awards a $10,000 prize annually to the authors of the most impactful sustainability-related legal academic article published in North America during the previous year. The prize is named after its benefactor, Richard N. Morrison, who is also a co-founder of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU.

“We were delighted and honored to learn that our interdisciplinary research was awarded this year’s Morrison Prize,” said co-author Jessica Owley, director of the environmental law program at University at Buffalo – State University of New York. “Our project brings together several fields to not just examine the problems that plague sustainability but also to propose concrete ways to improve the world around us through better approaches to land conservation.”

Jessica Owley

The article, titled “Climate change challenges for land conservation: Rethinking conservation easements, strategies, and tools,” was co-written by:

• Federico Cheever, a professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law who died during the final stages of the project, and to whom the article is dedicated.

• Adena R. Rissman, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology.

• M. Rebecca Shaw, chief scientist for the World Wide Fund for Nature.

• Barton H. Thompson Jr., a professor of natural resources law at Stanford Law School.

• W. William Weeks, director of the Conservation Law Clinic at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law.

Frederico Cheever

Federico Cheever

Under a conservation easement, a landowner voluntarily enters into an agreement with a land trust or government agency to limit use of the land in order to further conservation efforts. The restrictions in the easement typically prohibit real estate development and subdivisions, which reduces the land’s value, and the landowner usually gets significant tax benefits in return.

But climate change presents a number of challenges to the use of conservation easements, which tend to focus on the present-day status of land and to inadequately account for potentially dramatic changes in land over time. For example, throughout the world, coastal land — some protected by conservation easements — is being swallowed by rising sea levels. Current habitats on some conserved land may not be able to continue supporting native species. Droughts, floods and wildfires may become more frequent and extreme. Invasive species could spread. And agricultural land may not hold long-term viability.

Adena R. Morrison

Adena R. Rissman

The prize’s winning authors analyzed more than 360 conservation easements and interviewed more than 70 land conservation professionals, finding that over-reliance on perpetual versions of these easements could ultimately limit the effectiveness of long-term conservation efforts. Their article urges conservation organizations to take climate change into consideration when structuring conservation easements, identifying the risks it poses to their goals and properties, and prioritizing accordingly. It further advises conservation groups to build partnerships, choose more-effective tools, write flexible and sustainable conservation easements, and conduct long-term stewardship of their land.

In connection with their project, the authors held sessions with conservation funders, met with government officials, presented their work at annual meetings of land trust officials, and were contacted by practitioners, researchers and activists seeking collaboration to expand conservation efforts.

“I think the innovations of our research came from our diverse strengths in law, ecology and social science, and our commitment to conservation in practice,” Rissman said.

M. Rebecca Shaw

About the Morrison Prize

Professor Troy Rule is the faculty director of the Law and Sustainability program at ASU Law. He says this year’s prize-winning paper exemplifies the type of valuable work that the program and prize seek to encourage in law schools across the United States.  “As in past years, this year’s winning paper was one that meaningfully advanced our understanding of how to better structure laws and policies to support and drive sustainability.”

Each year, law professors from throughout the world who have recently published articles in North American legal academic journals are eligible to enter the Morrison Prize contest. All entries undergo independent review and scoring by a diverse group of full-time law professors who teach in environmental sustainability-related areas at various North American law schools. The scores from these judges are aggregated to determine the prize winner.

Barton H. Thompson

Barton H. Thompson Jr.

“We are particularly honored to receive ASU’s prize because it recognizes the importance of sustainability in finding a way to make conservation work in the face of climate change,” Thompson said. “Private conservation of our natural world has long been of importance to sustainability, and this paper looks for ways to ensure its effectiveness in the face of climate change and evolving landscapes.”

The authors will accept the 2019 Prize on May 10 at ASU Law’s Beus Center for Law and Society, when they give a presentation at the fifth annual Sustainability Conference of American Legal Educators.

“ASU’s reputation in environmental law and sustainability gives this award additional esteem and illustrates why the Morrison Prize has become the sought-after prize in our field.” Owley said. “This prize is also a testament to the legacy of our dear colleague and co-author, Fred Cheever.”

W. William Weeks

W. William Weeks.

Past winners

In 2018, Minnesota Law School professor Hari M. Osofsky and Jacqueline Peel, associate dean of the University of Melbourne Law School in Australia, won the Morrison Prize for their academic article “Energy Partisanship.” They outlined the critical importance of circumventing fierce political divisions in order to combat climate change, and provided guidance for doing so.

In 2017, Vanderbilt University professors Michael P. Vandenbergh and Jonathan Gilligan’s won the prize for "Beyond Gridlock." The article underscored the difficulties of effecting change through government and highlighted the underutilized potential to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through the private sector.

In 2016, Dave Owen, a professor at University of California, Hastings College of Law, and Colin Aspe, a freshwater conservation adviser at the Nature Conservancy, were the inaugural winners of the Morrison Prize. Their article, “Trading Dams,” described creative new policy approaches for better balancing hydroelectric energy generation and environmental protection on the nation’s river system.

Lauren Dickerson

Marketing and communications coordinator, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law

480-965-7636

Smarter together: ASU Law student helping unite metro Phoenix as region of innovation


February 1, 2019

Imagine a perfect day in metro Phoenix: no traffic congestion and autonomous vehicles glide commuters through the streets, hitting nothing but green lights. The air is clean, there’s a sustainable supply of water, and everybody has access to great health care, nutritious food and the latest technologies. Sun Devil Stadium is packed with a roaring crowd, and the fans move efficiently through short lines at the concession stands and restrooms.

That picture may seem far-fetched in a region where rapid population growth seems to be stressing resources and infrastructure. But it’s all part of the vision of Dominic Papa, a third-year student at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. Smart Cities Smart Cities Download Full Image

Papa is the co-founder and executive director of the Institute for Digital Progress, a nonprofit aiming to improve the Phoenix area by transforming the region into a major hub of smart-city technology. It’s an ambitious project that relies heavily on innovation — and collaboration.

But first and foremost, what exactly is a “smart city”?

“The running joke is, you ask 10 mayors what a smart city is, you’re going to get 12 answers, because no one knows, and they’re going to change their answer after hearing everybody else’s,” Papa said. “But I would say, from a community’s perspective, it is leveraging emerging technology and data to provide more efficient, more effective services and a higher quality of life.”

A key component is what Papa calls “innovation sandboxes,” where research and pilot programs are encouraged. For an example, he points to the testing of autonomous vehicles.

“We saw what Governor Doug Ducey did by opening up Arizona, and our streets, to autonomous vehicles, and the massive economic impact that that brought to our state,” Papa said. “It’s really taking that concept and drilling down to a micro-level. So how can we open our region or ASU, our campuses, to allow for industry, entrepreneurs and even researchers to leverage our infrastructure as a proving ground to build, test and validate emerging technologies?”

Collaboration is one of the key elements, and the institute has been working in partnership with ASU, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, the Maricopa Association of Governments, and cities and towns making up the Greater Phoenix region in order to create a Greater Phoenix Smart Region.

“It’s 22 cities and towns, the county, ASU and industry partners coming together to intentionally accelerate our development into a smart region,” said Papa, explaining that workforce development will be a key element. “A smart region is going to demand a public-sector workforce that is educated to develop, deploy and maintain these technologies within the cities themselves. Together, ASU and IDPInstitute for Digital Progress will train city employees on emerging technologies and digitization strategies. The goal is to create the nation’s leading public-sector workforce of the future, right here in Greater Phoenix.”

ASU at the center of it all

ASU will serve as the heartbeat of the smart-region project, playing a critical role not only in educating the future workforce, but as a research hub as well. And helping to lead those efforts is Di Bowman, a professor at ASU Law and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, who also serves as the co-director for ASU’s Center for Smart Cities and Regions.

“ASU already has the concept of a smart campus and has been working across the different facets of the campuses to create the smart-campus environment,” Bowman said.

For example, Sun Devil Stadium is not only hosting football games, but also doubling as a research laboratory.

“One thing they’re doing there, which may seem to be more about entertainment than technology testing, is using facial-recognition software within the suites area,” Bowman said. “Guests have their faces scanned and are then matched with their celebrity doppelganger, which isn’t always the same one. So while it may seem kind of whimsical and fun — which it is — the fact that Arizona is a border state and we have an international airport suggests that this technology, once proven to be effective, could be deployed in the state by agencies to enhance public safety, which is really exciting. If, by initially deploying and testing the technology in our stadium, we can prove it is efficient and effective, we can begin to then imagine how ASU could potentially partner with entities such as Phoenix Sky Harbor to test the technology from a security perspective.”

And that’s not all that’s being tested at Sun Devil Stadium.

“You know when you go to a stadium and they hand out prizes for the section that cheers the loudest? That’s all fake right now,” said Papa, explaining that ASU partnered with Intel to develop a groundbreaking noise-detection system. “Sun Devil Stadium is the first stadium to actually use real-time noise captured through sensors to choose the correct section that was actually the loudest.”

Papa said through a phone app, ASU can then alert the fans in that section that they’ve won a prize and can pick up a free T-shirt or soft drink at a certain location within the stadium. The app could even direct spectators to the shortest concession stand lines.

Bowman said campus testing could also help the region manage its most precious resources, including water.

“We know from our discussion with political leaders across the state that water is, and will remain, a challenging issue to manage — especially given the rate at which the region is growing,” she said. “Knowing where water is being used, where it is being lost, and the volumes associated with each, allows decision makers to make better investments in and around water usage. ASU buildings and, in particular, the dorm buildings, could be utilized for pilot programs around water metering. Nobody knows how much water is really being lost in the system, so finding out more about water loss and usage could help us be smarter consumers of water and better utilize that as a resource. There is also a great fiscal reason for doing so, too.”

Papa said the university’s evidence-based research role in the smart-region project aligns with ASU President Michael Crow’s focus on community impact and scalability.

“ASU has the unique advantage of having campuses, with students, scattered throughout the region that act as cities in and of themselves,” he said. “If we can rapidly test innovative new technologies on these campuses, continuously measure their impact, and ultimately validate them, we can then implement these solutions into the 22 cities and towns through the smart-region initiative. Furthermore, because all cities face similar challenges, we can then export these solutions to cities and regions around the world. The smart-region framework allows us to solve urban challenges at scale and accelerate technology commercialization, ultimately creating jobs and economic growth.”

And that, Bowman says, is what a university is all about.

“It’s about doing research, it’s about deploying technologies, it’s about bringing in students across all areas of study and giving them opportunities to develop solutions and experiment with them, whether that’s in a laboratory scenario or on campus,” she said. “And we also have the capacity — which cities and towns don’t necessarily have — to examine different technologies, analyze data and work out whether what is being proposed really is the best technology for meeting the challenges within our communities, including whether or not it is acceptable to the public, or whether we need to redesign and develop more. That’s exciting.”

Political factors

The push to develop and implement smart-city technology has something that so many other issues are lacking: bipartisan political support.

“That’s why we’ve been able to gain so much momentum in this area, and especially in this region,” Papa said. “Because for the left, the Democrats, this has a huge social aspect, specifically around quality-of-life and digital equity aspects. And for the right, the more conservative and Republican side, it’s about leveraging technologies to create efficiencies in government, thereby using less taxpayer dollars to deliver higher-quality services. Smart cities really hit on everyone’s ideals.”

But rapid advancements in technology can be frightening, stoking fears about privacy and safety. Eliminating red tape to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship must be balanced with just the right amount of regulatory precautions.

“I’m a person who continually stares at, and evaluates, the effectiveness of regulations in light of new and emerging technologies,” Bowman said. “My focus has, and continues to be, working out how the public sector can allow useful technologies into the market in the quickest and most efficient ways without endangering public health and safety. It’s about finding effective regulatory tools and strategies that have the necessary checks and balances that can then be streamlined in such a way that they’re not unduly burdensome.”

Papa said that’s why it’s exciting to have ASU Law play a role in the project. Especially with the law school now located in downtown Phoenix, in close proximity to the Arizona Capitol and Phoenix City Hall.

“This initiative is something that no one has tried at this scale probably ever before,” he said. “We’re talking about the fourth-largest county in the country, the fastest-growing in population, 22 separate jurisdictions, all fairly large, actually saying, ‘We’re going to work together to do this.’ It’s true that seemingly insurmountable challenges require unprecedented collaboration and no one has tried it at this scale before. There’s a new metropolitan revolution occurring in the Greater Phoenix region, and it’s being built around innovation and driven by collaboration. And while there will obviously be challenges, the potential benefits of it are incredible.”

Lauren Dickerson

Marketing and communications coordinator, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law

480-965-7636

Two ASU professors selected as American Association of Geographers Fellows


January 31, 2019

In preparation for its annual meeting, the American Association of Geographers has named its 2019 Fellows. Included in this year’s honors are two from Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning: Anthony Brazel and Martin Pasqualetti.

In 2018, the American Association of Geographers created the Fellows to recognize geographers who have made significant contributions to advancing the field of geography. Beyond the recognition, those selected as Fellows serve the AAG in creating and contributing to key initiatives, advising on strategic directions and mentoring early and mid-career faculty. Anthony Brazel (left) and Martin Pasqualetti of Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning have been selected to serve as American Association of Geographers Fellows, a testament to their contributions to the field of geography. Download Full Image

Being named an AAG Fellow adds another accolade to a long career of impactful work in the realm of urban climatology for Brazel. A professor emeritus in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, Brazel was selected as an AAG Fellow due to his impressive scholarly record. He has also dedicated his time in service to both research scientists and the public as the state climatologist of Arizona and director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Southwest Center for Environmental Research and Policy.

Among his list of accolades are the Arizona-Nevada Academy of Science’s Outstanding Service Award, the Helmut E. Landsberg Award from the American Meteorological Society, the Association of American Geographers Climate Specialty Group’s Lifetime Achievement Award and being named a Fellow of the American Association of the Advancement of Science.

A dedicated researcher and educator, Brazel shared his passion for climatology with undergraduate and graduate students, as well as the 20 doctoral students he mentored.

During his career, Brazel authored more than 150 research articles and reports, including publishing twice in Nature and three times in Science. 

“These and other influential works represent major advances in understanding urban climate in desert environments,” said the AAG in their announcement of the Brazel’s selection.  

Joining Brazel in the 2019 Fellows is Pasqualetti, a professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. Pasqualetti, an acclaimed energy geographer, has produced groundbreaking research in the field, especially the geographies of nuclear power and renewable energy landscapes including geothermal, wind and solar power.

Pasqualetti has a long history of public service, including serving as chair of Arizona’s Solar Energy Advisory Council, co-authoring the Energy Emergency Response Plan and Master Energy Plan for the Arizona Governor’s Office of Energy Policy, and serving on both the advisory board of the European Conference of the Landscape Research Group and the Coalition for Action of the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Pasqualetti has also provided his knowledge and talents in contributing and serving as co-editor for several books, including "The Ashgate Companion to Energy Geography," "Wind Power in View" and "The Evolving Landscape: Homer Aschmann’s Geography." These books and his more than 100 research articles and reports have led to invitations to address international conferences and to advise public agencies including the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Department of Energy and the United Kingdom’s Central Electricity Generating Board.

Arizona State University and the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning are well represented within the AAG Fellows. Brazel and Pasqualetti join Patricia Gober, a research professor and former director of the school, who was selected to the inaugural class of AAG Fellows in 2018.

Brazel and Pasqualetti will be honored as members of the 2019 class of Fellows during the AAG’s annual meeting in April.

Manager, Marketing and Communication, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning

480-965-1348

 
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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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