Highlight all of ASU's renewable energy research.

ASU, SRP partner to research renewable energy, conservation

September 25, 2013

Salt River Project (SRP) and the Conservation and Renewable Energy Collaboratory (CREC) at ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) have partnered for a second year to award a $170,000 grant to fund research initiatives in renewable energy and conservation.

This year the SRP-CREC research program selected four projects for funding. Projects include: reliability and performance testing of batteries in hot and dry climates; solar hot water system testing and evaluation; use of algae for bioremediation of water; and evaluation of solar photovoltaic performance and degradation. Download Full Image

“CTI faculty and students collaboratively work with our industry partners like SRP to define important, use-inspired research problems,” said Mitzi Montoya, vice provost and dean of the college. “Industry partners like SRP are the foundation of the college and provide an important component of our project-based learning and applied research model.”

In addition to its sponsorship of the CREC research program, SRP has been a long-standing supporter and sponsor of the iProjects program at the college. The program pairs students with mentors and companies to find solutions to real-world challenges. This year, two student teams will work on projects that will benefit SRP and the electric utility industry.

One team will develop an electrical model that will allow the utility industry to better plan for and forecast the impact of distributed generation and energy storage methods on high penetration utility systems. A second team will work to develop a portable battery impedance tester for battery technicians to monitor battery state of health on solar installations and substations.

“During our partnership with CTI, we have engaged in innovative research with talented faculty and students on important issues affecting SRP and our customers,” said John Sullivan, SRP’s associate general manager and chief resources executive. “We are pleased with the collaborative relationship that SRP is developing with CTI and we look forward to continuing to develop this important partnership in the coming year.” 

Use of algae for bioremediation of water:

Researcher: Milt Sommerfeld

Maintenance and regulation of water quality is an essential tenet of environmental sustainability. This project investigates the feasibility of utilizing algae to capture contaminants from water and wastewater. The project will also evaluate whether the resultant algae can be converted into a usable biomass product such as fuel, feed or fertilizer. The research will be conducted at the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation, ASU’s state-of-the-art algae test center. 

Solar hot water system testing and evaluation:

Researchers: Brad Rogers and John Rajadas

Over the past three years, SRP and ASU have co-developed a testing facility at the Polytechnic campus to study the performance of solar thermal hot water systems in a desert climate. The primary goals of the research are to determine how much energy can be saved using these systems and to assess the challenges that might be encountered in operating and maintaining the systems over time. This year, researchers will continue to evaluate the performance of commercially available solar hot water systems over a full annual solar cycle.

Evaluation of long-term solar system performance:

Researcher: Govindasamy Tamizhmani

As the number of solar photovoltaic system installations continues to rise, the measurement and prediction of their performance, reliability and availability is becoming more critically important to installers, integrators, investors and owners. Researchers at ASU’s Photovoltaic Reliability Laboratory are developing a model to predict the performance of photovoltaic systems over their life span. The researchers are using data collected from actual photovoltaic system installations to build their model. With a better understanding of how the performance of the systems changes over time, investors and owners will be able to more effectively plan for maintenance and more accurately assess the overall economics of these systems.

Reliability and performance evaluation of batteries in a desert climate:

Researchers: Arunachalanadar Madakannan, Nathan Johnson, Scott Pollat

Batteries represent a promising technology for the storage of energy generated by intermittent resources, such as wind farms and solar plants. To maximize the performance and life span of a battery, it is important to be able to assess its state-of-charge and state-of-health. At elevated temperatures like those in desert climates, states of extremely high or low state-of-charge can lead to irreversible damage in the battery. The focus of this research is to correlate performance measurements typically collected to evaluate battery life to state-of-charge and state-of-health values, so that a more complete picture of a battery’s overall status at a given time can be assessed. Researchers are also working to develop a field tester that measures state-of-charge and state-of-health values, which will allow operators to more effectively manage battery systems.

Algae researchers partner to develop bioactive molecules

September 18, 2013

Researchers at the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI) and the ASU-led Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3) have made a one-year agreement with Health Enhancement Products, Inc. (HEPI), which investigates and licenses algae-derived, high-value bioactive molecules that benefit human and animal health.

The three entities aim to work together to commercialize one of HEPI’s unique bioactive molecules. Download Full Image

The scope of the research project includes:

• Development of a technique to rapidly screen organisms for bioactivity

• Development of methods for quantification of bioactive compounds

• Investigation of the mode of synthesis for bioactive compounds

• Mass-culturing of organisms that produce bioactive compounds for bovine and canine trials

“The research we are doing at AzCATI/ATP3 on HEPI’s proprietary molecules accelerates the process of going to market as we are refining our knowledge about the bioactives and optimizing culture growth, allowing for the scale-up to commercial production,” said Dr. Thomas A. Dempster, a research associate professor at AzCATI and the ATP3 test-bed site coordinator.

“In HEPI’s years of research we have identified bioactive molecules with verifiable health benefits for humans and animals that have attracted quite a lot of attention from potential licensors,” said HEPI CEO Andrew Dahl. “Now is the appropriate time to commercialize the research, beginning with the cultures and organisms responsible for creating the bioactive compounds.”

“The collaboration with Dr. Thomas Dempster and Dr. Henri Gerken at AzCATI/ATP3 has yielded a positive outcome from the very start. We were able to immediately kick off a complex and aggressive development program that will get our product validated and market-ready within a reasonable timeframe. The responsiveness and innovative thinking is an added bonus.”

The mass-culture process requires a considerable effort to determine the most cost-efficient and timely production techniques, which in the case of the target organisms, may require multi-stage culturing and extraction.

“We’re able to look at different culturing techniques, procedures and outcomes, assist with cost modeling and suggest appropriate solutions in a timely and efficient manner,” said Dempster. “We look forward to working with HEPI to determine a feasible production process that meets all compliance and financial benchmarks.”

“Let’s remember that a ‘sustainable’ business model really means a profitable business model, because without the prospect of profitability, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to attract capital, attract top talent, meet operating expenses and fuel any meaningful growth,” added Dahl. “Like any other form of agriculture or aquaculture, algae production will inevitably mature into a high-volume, capital-intensive model where process control and efficiency will make the difference between a solid return and a hatful of excuses.”

ASU-led national algae testbed opens enrollment for fall workshop

September 4, 2013

Participants are invited to scale up their knowledge of algae growth and management Nov. 4-8 at the Algae Testbed Public-Private-Partnership (ATP3) fall workshop on Large-Scale Algal Cultivation, Harvesting and Downstream Processing. The weeklong workshop will take place at the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation, the leading ATP3 testbed site at the ASU Polytechnic campus. To sign up for the workshop, visit atp3.org/education.

The workshop will cover the practical applications of growing and managing microalgal cultures at production scale, including: Dr. Sommerfeld inspects red algae with bystander at the Polytechnic campus Download Full Image

• methods for handling cultures
• screening strains for desirable characteristics
• identifying and mitigating
• scaling up cultures for outdoor growth
• harvesting and processing technologies
• analysis of lipids, proteins and carbohydrates 

Related laboratory and field training will include numerous hands-on opportunities for participants to collect and perform routine sample measurements, monitor cultures for contaminants and evaluate the chemical composition of algal biomass.

This workshop is ideal for those interested in obtaining a broad overview of the management of microalgal cultures at scale, and for advanced students and trainees interested in the practical applications of microalgae. Participants are encouraged to ask questions, share information and network. Printed and electronic materials will be included and a certificate of completion will be provided at the conclusion of the workshop. Workshop enrollment is limited to 15 participants and will be filled on a first-come basis. Be sure to sign up at atp3.org/education.

ATP3 serves as a learning environment for the next generation of scientists, engineers and business leaders to help accelerate the research and development of algae-based technologies. The ATP3 open test bed and evaluation facilities are a hub for research and commercialization of algae-based biofuels and other biomass co-products.

ATP3 is a network of 12 agencies, which range from private industries to educational institutions and national labs, funded through a $15 million grant from the US Department of Energy. To learn more, visit atp3.org.

ASU In the News

US 'falling out of love' with coal says ASU professor

In an AZCentral opinion piece, Mike Pasqualetti says Arizona can be a forerunner in the solar industry, but first, the state must decide on its coal-powered future.

Pasqualetti – a senior sustainability scientist in the Global Institute of Sustainability, a professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and a graduate faculty member in the School of Letters and Sciences – reflects on the current debate surrounding the Navajo Generating Station in Page, Ariz. and how the coal plant symbolizes a nation moving forward with cleaner energy. Both California and Nevada are selling their shares of Navajo Generating Station energy and transitioning towards sustainable sources.

"Coal is also losing momentum nationally," writes Pasqualetti. "It dropped from 50 percent in 2005 to 35 percent in 2012, driven by cheap natural gas. Fifty-two gigawatts (about 16 percent of the existing coal fleet) has been announced for retirement by 2025."

Some are still very determined to rely on coal and if Arizona is to make its decision, we must measure all outcomes on a level playing field.

“One thing is certain, however: If we are to continue using coal here, we will have to overcome two challenges," adds Pasqualetti. "The first challenge is to reduce air emissions. The second challenge is the competition from three alternatives: efficiency, renewables and natural gas."

Both renewables and natural gas have their upsides, so will Arizona make the leap?

Pasqualetti outlines some major arguments against clean energy, like job loss and increased energy costs.

“We have options,” he writes. “Arizona is uncommonly blessed with alternatives we can use to help wean ourselves from coal. These alternatives will include energy-efficiency without question, and even wind to some degree. Mostly, they include solar energy that will be the keystone in the bridge to the future.”

Article Source: AZ Central

Nepali ambassador visits ASU to discuss environmental collaborations

April 10, 2013

Shankar P. Sharma, Nepal’s Ambassador to the United States, visited Arizona State University – including the College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) – on April 8 to learn about ASU’s programs on clean energy, food security and the environment, and to discuss possible collaboration between the college and Nepal in these sectors.

Sharma toured CTI’s energy-related laboratories, including the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI), the Photovoltaic Reliability Lab and the Fuel Cell Lab, and met with faculty, administrators and staff to understand the work CTI does in these fields. The visit laid the foundation for ASU officials and Ambassador Sharma to discuss and explore opportunities to collaborate with Nepali officials on training and research related to renewable energy, food security and climate change mitigation in Nepal.  Download Full Image

“My visit to ASU and the insight provided by its researchers and academics has further helped me to grasp the cutting-edge research ASU is doing in renewable energy, food security and climate change,” said Sharma. “I am looking forward to potential opportunities for partnership between ASU and the Nepali governmental and other agencies in Nepal interested in pursuing our clean energy and food security missions.”

A potential partnership between ASU and Nepal could emulate the recent partnership between the ASU-led Vocational Training and Education for Clean Energy (VOCTEC) and the vocational institutions in the Pacific Islands. With assistance from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), VOCTEC recently developed and implemented a clean energy training program for the local communities in the Pacific Islands. The training addressed the need for creating a sustainable pipeline of solar photovoltaic (PV) technicians and building human capacity within the Pacific region through its ‘train the trainer’ approach, giving operators and technicians the support system and resources to continue to educate and manage future operators and technicians. The VOCTEC program continues to implement its two-year long training program in the Pacific.

“Our faculty excels in clean energy research,” said Mitzi Montoya, vice provost and dean at CTI. “Partnering with a country like Nepal that has the same mission to create a more sustainable environment, especially as it relates to renewable energy and food security, supports our mission to have a real-world impact locally and globally.”

James O’Brien, ASU’s vice president and chief of staff at the office of the president, said the meeting with Sharma also opens the door for potential collaboration in support of Nepal’s higher education programs.

“ASU strives to increase access to its educational resources,” said O’Brien. “Building partnerships with international government agencies and educational institutions gives us an opportunity to leverage our research and resources as well as cultivate future opportunities with new partners around the world.”

During his visit, Sharma met with faculty and senior administrators from CTI, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development, Global Engagement and the ASU President’s Office. He also interacted with some ASU faculty and students working in different research projects in Nepal.

“ASU is pleased to host this visit by Ambassador Sharma,” said Stephen Feinson, assistant vice president of global engagement at ASU. “ASU is already involved in several projects in Nepal, and we look forward to exploring new areas of collaboration between the university and Nepali government and private-sector agencies and nonprofits.”

ASU In the News

Professor has plans to help solar-power use blossom

Joseph Hui's mission is to help solar power go mobile. He’s developed a retractable "solar flower” that could power an electric vehicle or be easily transported for generating power almost anywhere. It’s one of several ideas – either in design or prototype stages – he has for advances in portable energy technology.

Hui is a professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy engineering, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University.

He has also established a company – based at ASU SkySong/The ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center – to work on plans for production of portable solar-power devices and has set up a foundation to help make the technology affordable and available to people around the world.

His ventures recently attracted attention from a writer for a business news publication.

Article Source: Phoenix Business Journal
Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Student team debuts solar invention at Ariz. state capitol

April 2, 2013

Three ASU Preparatory Academy sophomores participating in ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) "Make Your Ideas Happen Workshop" visited Arizona’s state capitol on March 27 to debut their contribution to solar innovation.

The event celebrated the breakthroughs of Scottsdale-based research and development company Monarch Power and featured recognition by Governor Jan Brewer of solar innovation and growing manufacturing jobs in Arizona. Download Full Image

Led by "Make Your Ideas Happen Workshop" instructor Richard Filley and Monarch Power CEO Joe Hui, the team introduced the concept of using power generated by Monarch Power’s Lotus solar energy collector to create an alternative energy source for vending machines. In partnership with the China Mist Tea Company, the team plans on finalizing their idea over the course of the semester and use any proceeds from the project to benefit the MPower Foundation  and the new Startup Lab student club at ASU Preparatory Academy. Filley says the team will be touring China Mist Tea facilities in the near future as they continue seeking advice from company executives.

“This project is a great example of ASU partnering with the ASU Preparatory Academy and local small businesses to the benefit of all,” Filley said. “Along with the collaboration of Monarch Power and China Mist Teas, the team will have a number of resources at their disposal as the project comes to fruition.”

The students chose to call the project the Lotus Flower Power project, paying homage to their all-female group and a play on Monarch’s Lotus technology that resembles a flower when in use.

The team is comprised of Ciara Earl, Kassie Garcia and Amanda Vaillancourt, with WiSE advisor Robyn McKay and CTI student Nicole Deopere as mentors.

“These young women are very excited about this project and are very bright,” Filley said. “CTI’s mission is to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in students who are eager to think of ideas and make them happen. This workshop empowers young students to do just that.”

The Make Workshop was launched in 2013 with the Lotus Flower Power team being the inaugural group to go through the program.

High school students from across the valley can participate in CTI’s "Make Your Ideas Happen Workshops," taking place in eight-week periods in the fall and spring semesters on the ASU Polytechnic campus. The workshop allows for high school students interacting with ASU MAKE class students to make a new product or create a solution to a problem in a structured and mentored environment. CTI faculty and staff serve as resources for students as they develop their ideas and take them to market.

Filley also announced recently that Ciara Earl, Kassie Garcia and Amanda Vaillancourt were each named Make ambassadors, earning each of them a $500 scholarship to attend the upcoming Startup Academy, a prestigious week-long summer camp offered as a part of the CTI Summer Experience. Each student will represent the Make classes and program at events and encourage other high school students to enroll in the High School Make Workshop next Fall.

For information about the high school "Make Your Ideas Happen Workshop," go to www.technology.asu.edu/makehsworkshop. Information about the CTI Summer Experience can be found at https://technology.asu.edu/ctisummer.

written by Sydney B. Donaldson, CTI

ASU In the News

ASU experts say solar installations could dwindle in upcoming year

In a KTAR.com article, Vivian Padilla from Cronkite News Source reports that residential solar installations could decrease in the upcoming future due to increased prices and fewer incentives.

In 2012, Arizona was the second-largest state with the most residential and commercial solar growth, right behind California, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Stephen Goodnick, professor of electrical engineering at ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and a sustainability scientist at ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability, says consumers benefitted from an overly supplied market, but the falling out of Suntech Power, a Chinese firm, shows the increased competition among solar suppliers.

"I wasn't surprised in general that a number of companies were having financial difficulties because of so many competitors in the same market," Goodnick says in the article. "There are several Chinese companies that are in a similar situation to Suntech."

Harvey Bryan, a sustainability scientist at ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability, says more supplies are good for consumers, but "neutral for installers and probably a bad year for producers of panels."

If people are expecting to add solar panels to their home or business, timing is crucial.

Article Source: KTAR

Bacterial boost for clean energy

March 26, 2013

Bacteria are often associated with their disease-causing capacity or alternatively, with their role as normal residents of the human body, where they perform duties essential to health.

Joseph Miceli, a researcher at ASU’s Biodesign Institute, studies specialized microorganisms known as anode respiring bacteria (ARB). Rather than investigating their role in health and disease however, his research explores the ability of these microbes to clean up waste and produce useful energy in the form of electricity or hydrogen. Download Full Image

Miceli studies under Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown and Cesar Torres, who head the microbial electrochemical cell team in Biodesign’s Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology. The center is devoted to putting microbes to work to address societal challenges, including environmental decontamination (particularly water sources) and production of clean energy from waste.

“One of the ways we currently treat wastewater from such sources as food processing is to use aerobic organisms,” Miceli says, referring to bacteria requiring oxygen for survival. “So we have to pump oxygen into the system in order to help feed the bacteria, which break down the chemical contaminants. This adds a very large cost.” Indeed, previous studies suggest the extra energy that must be supplied to aerobic organisms accounts for around 50 percent of the energy price tag for such wastewater treatment.

By contrast, the anode respiring bacteria Miceli focuses on are anaerobic organisms, which thrive in oxygen-free environments. Their successful application for wastewater treatment would therefore drive down the cost substantially, but that is only half the story. Anode respiring bacteria can perform another impressive feat, producing harvestable energy in the course of their respiration activities.

Some of Krajmalnik-Brown andTorres’ group’s* findings recently appeared in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

At the Swette Center, researchers like Miceli work on various aspects of microbial electrochemical cell (MXC) technology. Here, anode respiring bacteria are able to transfer electrons to the negative terminal or anode of a kind of biological battery. The electrons are then free to flow to the cathode or positive side of the battery, generating useable current in the process.

(This type of MXC is known as a microbial fuel cell (MFC). A modified form of the design – known as a microbial electrolysis cell (MEC) – allows the production of hydrogen at the cathode side of the reaction.)

MXC technology, while still at an experimental stage, holds the promise of  biodegrading various organic waste streams – from pig manure to food processing waste – while extracting clean energy in the process, a win-win situation.  Use of the device in its MEC configuration on the other hand, would perform electrolysis to form hydrogen as its output, rather than electricity. This could help to reduce society’s reliance on natural gas and other fossil fuels currently used for hydrogen manufacture.

Miceli stresses the intensely interdisciplinary nature of such research, which combines engineering and device design with microbiology, molecular biology and chemistry. This integrated approach is essential for understanding how microbial ecosystems work, so that they may be applied to improve public health and sustainability.

Microbial electrochemical cells are composed of two compartments. In the devices Miceli uses for benchtop study, these usually consist of mason-jar sized chambers, which comprise the two terminals of the battery. Anode respiring bacteria are grown in the negative or anode chamber and permitted to feed on organic substances.

Having consumed an organic substrate for food, the bacteria need to give up excess electrons as part of their metabolic pathway. In their naturally occurring state, many such bacteria use iron in the environment for this task, but in the MXC, the electrode in the anode chamber acts as the electron acceptor. The anode respiring bacteria will firmly attach themselves to this electrode, forming a living matrix of protein and sugar. The sticky accumulation is known as a biofilm.

Miceli has been particularly interested in the diversity of anode respiring bacteria and how well different bacterial strains perform two essential activities: a) consuming a substrate that may be composed of many different organic ingredients and b) transferring electrons to the anode efficiently in order to produce high current densities. (Current density is simply a measure of electrical current per unit area.) For example, Geobacter, the most commonly studied anode respiring bacteria, is very good at producing high current densities but for the most part only likes one compound – acetate, which is a fatty acid.

To obtain a wide range of diverse microorganisms capable of acting as anode respiring bacteria, Miceli asked fellow researchers returning home during a break in the academic term to collect samples from marshes, lake sediments, saline microbial mats, and anaerobic soils.

The group took 13 samples from around the world, grew them in the anode chamber of an MXC and set a particular voltage at the electrode with a potentiostat. This device produces an electrochemical force on the working electrode and determines which kinds of reactions can take place.

“Previous work in our lab established the concept that if you poise the electrode at a particular energy level, you can encourage the growth of bacteria that are going to be better at producing high current densities. We established that this is a good means for enriching these organisms and getting them to come out of whatever the biological sample is – wastewater or sediment for example – and attach to the electrode.”

Following several stages of enrichment, the group was able to show high current densities for seven out of the 13 samples tested. Notably, the well-known Geobacter only dominated two of the sample communities while other successful samples contained different anode respiring bacteria – some known, others novel, and evidently thriving under diverse environmental conditions.

Future efforts will help characterize the individual bacterial types found in the sample communities and examine their suitability for electricity production, wastewater treatment, bioremediation, and hydrogen production.

This work was funded by the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, which is directed by ASU Regent’s Professor Bruce Rittmann.

*Joseph Miceli’s paper in Environmental Science & Technology was written with colleagues Prathap Parameswaran, Dae-Wook Kang, Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown and Cesar I. Torres.

Richard Harth

Science writer, Biodesign Institute at ASU


ASU kicks off solar training program in Fiji with collaborators in Pacific Islands

March 1, 2013

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in partnership with the College of Technology and Innovation at Arizona State University, is implementing the Vocational Training and Education for Clean Energy (VOCTEC) Program to help improve the sustainability of renewable energy investments and infrastructure in the Pacific region by increasing local awareness, knowledge and capacity in clean energy.

On Feb. 12 U.S. Ambassador Frankie A. Reed; Rajesh Chandra, the University of the South Pacific (USP) vice chancellor and president; and Fiji’s Permanent Secretary for Works, Transport and Public Utilities Francis Kean led the inaugural event at the USP for a training program supported by the U.S. government that will promote clean energy in the Pacific Islands. Download Full Image

“We are pleased to support this important program which will harness U.S. expertise to help Pacific Island nations sustain solar energy investments and make them accessible and useful to communities in the region,” said Ambassador Reed in her opening remarks.

VOCTEC, in partnership with USP, is implementing a two-year solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity-building program customized for the Pacific Islands to support the sustainability of off-grid solar energy installations and help in the reduction of carbon emissions. Solar PV panels are widespread throughout the Pacific region and are the most appropriate technology to replace dependence on imported petroleum products.

Fifteen participants, including two women, from Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, completed the two-week training for instructors. The training focused on the design, installation, operation and maintenance of stand-alone solar PV power systems. Reed, Chandra and Kean visited the VOCTEC training hub at USP and talked with participants before the start of the inaugural event.

Aside from setting up its training hub at USP, VOCTEC also will establish training programs across the Pacific region. The program will hold train-the-technicians events in collaboration with universities and technical and vocational education institutions throughout the region.

ASU’s engineering faculty members, headed by solar PV industry leader G. Tamizhmani, an expert in the field, developed the training materials and syllabus. The VOCTEC program has partnered with USP to develop a training center and to deliver these courses for educators throughout the region.

“ASU is pleased to support the advancement of clean energy in the Pacific Islands,” said Anshuman Razdan, professor and associate dean at ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation. “With the support of USAID and USP, we can help build local capacity that will strengthen the sustainability of renewable energy investments in the Pacific Islands.”