Highlight all of ASU's renewable energy research.

Engineering project shows promise for advances in lighting technology

November 25, 2013

Nathan Bakken describes the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (NSF I-Corps) as “scientist and engineer meet the unforgiving marketplace.”
The public/private program seeks to foster the entrepreneurial spirit among college students, aiding them in efforts to take ideas with potential for economic impact from the research lab to development of new technologies, products and processes.
Bakken, a chemical engineering doctoral student at Arizona State University, is the designated “entrepreneurial lead” for a project that was awarded a $50,000 NSF I-Corps grant earlier this year.
NSF I-Corps saw promise in the work of a team of about a dozen ASU engineering doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers to make a significant advance in organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology.
The team has been exploring ways to enhance the blue light emissions in OLED devices under the direction of Jian Li, an associate professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
“Red and green light emissions are important, but stable and efficient blue emissions are the Holy Grail” for OLED technology, Bakken says.
The blue in the light spectrum is a “high-energy emission,” he explains. Improving the technology used to make blue light would result in brighter and more reliable text and image displays for mobile devices – particularly cell phones, tablet computers and laptop computers – and more vivid colors and images on OLED televisions.
From a third to as much as two-thirds of the battery power used in mobile devices goes to illuminating display screens on electronic devices. “So if you can make substantial improvements to display efficiency, we can start thinking about devices for which battery life extends for days instead of only hours,” Bakken says.
His team’s goal is to make a device that emits blue light “three or four times more efficiently than the technology now on the market.”
The team is getting experienced guidance from associate professor Li, whose OLED and solid-sate lighting research has earned support from the NSF, the Department of Energy and industry partners. It also is receiving the benefit of valuable mentorship from Ken Polasko, vice president of business development for AZ Technology Enterprises, ASU’s technology transfer and intellectual property management organization.
Polasko “has contributed business acumen and real-world business start-up experience to a group that would otherwise be more academically oriented than entrepreneurial,” Bakken says.
Ronald Pirich, who worked in research and development for more than three decades with the major aerospace and defense technology corporation Northup Grumman, has also mentored the team, providing research and business experience, as well as access to his substantial network of industry contacts.
Bakken, who works in research and development at Intel Corp., says team members hope to win additional grant funding in the next year to keep fueling their entrepreneurial spirit. He foresees the project “definitely creating new career opportunities” for the students who are advancing the OLED technology.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Department of Energy hosts algae workshop at ASU

November 21, 2013

U.S. Department of Energy representatives gathered at Arizona State University Nov. 19-20 to discuss affordable, scalable and sustainable algae-based fuels with stakeholders in the field.

The Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office Algae Program hosted the Algal Biofuels Strategy Workshop to highlight the progress made across the industry in the five years since DOE organized the National Algal Biofuel Technology Roadmap. DOE Conference attendees on the AzCATI site at ASU. Download Full Image

ASU staff and faculty from the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI), the AzCATI-led Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3) and the College of Technology and Innovation attended the workshop, along with representatives from laboratories, industries and research institutions around the nation.

“We’re excited to meet at Arizona State University to offer this complimentary workshop, which aims to propel the algae-based biofuel industry forward,” said Christy Sterner, project officer for the Department of Energy Biomass program.

The department selected ASU as its site for this first of a series of workshops in order to allow the participants to get hands-on experience at the AzCATI facility, the largest open-air algae testbed of any public research institution in the world. 

AzCATI is also the leader of ATP3, a network of private industries, educational institutions and national laboratories, which is funded by a competitive financial assistance award from the Bioenergy Technologies Office within DOE.

“ATP3 welcomed this opportunity to display our capabilities and talents to the workshop attendees and the U.S. Department of Energy,” said Gary Dirks, director of ATP3.

The Department of Energy offers these complimentary workshops for university, national laboratory, industry, advocacy and government stakeholders to consider:

• the current barriers to algal biofuel commercialization, particularly in the near term

• the barriers that should be research priorities, possibly contributing to large strides in progress toward near-term goals

• the appropriate metrics for success

• the state of technology and progress made in achieving success metrics

Information about upcoming workshops is available on the Department of Energy website: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/bioenergy. To learn more about ATP3, visit atp3.org.

ASU engineer to lead project aimed at making solar cells more durable

November 5, 2013

A national project to improve the reliability of the photovoltaic cells used in solar energy systems will be led by an Arizona State University electrical engineer.

Through its SunShot Initiative, the U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a grant of $1.8 million over three years to a research team headed by Dragica Vasileska, a professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Dragica Vasileka DOE project Download Full Image

The project is one of several research efforts supported by the SunShot Initiative to develop ways to produce stronger components that provide more dependable performance from solar energy technology.

Vasileska’s team will focus on comprehensively addressing the problem of metastabilities in cadmium telluride solar cells, via “first-principle calculations, solution of a diffusion-reaction set of equations and experimental verification,” she says.

The project involves the development of one-dimensional and two-dimensional unified solvers for solution of the diffusion-reaction equations that mitigate migration of point defects and grain boundaries in the materials of which solar cells are used.

Heat, cold, moisture, humidity and other environmental and atmospheric conditions cause cell materials to degrade and system performance to decline, Vasileka explains.

The chemical reactions involved in the workings of solar cells and the wear and tear on cells caused by environmental conditions combine to cause defects in the active device region.

Vasileska’s team must learn more about the mechanisms that drive defect formation in the materials so that methods can be designed to prevent formation of defects harmful to solar cell performance.

The researchers will focus on cadmium sulfite and cadmium telluride materials, which have been shown to be particularly effective for fabrication of thin-film solar cells.

Vasileska’s co-leader on the project is engineer Igor Sankin, manager of the device physics group for Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of thin-film solar cells.

They will collaborate with Christian Ringhofer, a professor in the School of Mathematics and Statistical Sciences in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; James Sites, a professor of physics at Colorado State University; and Su-Huai Wei, a physicist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The endeavor will be an affiliate project of the Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technology (QESST) Engineering Research Center at ASU. The center, supported by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, focuses on solving challenges to producing electricity from solar power in more technologically efficient and economically viable ways.

To learn more, click here.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU-led national project aims at solar cell advances

November 5, 2013

A national project promising a significant advance in the technology for converting sunlight into electricity will be led by a team of Arizona State University engineers.

With support of a $3.5 million, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, the team will develop new ultra-thin silicon solar cells designed to increase the amount of electricity that can be produced through direct conversion of sunlight. Solar Power Lab and QESST Download Full Image

It’s one of an array of projects funded recently by $60 million in SunShot Initiative grants intended to help make solar energy economically competitive with other energy sources, advance the integration of solar energy into the nation’s energy grids and support a growing U.S. solar workforce.

The ASU team and its partners will achieve higher efficiency by developing a new silicon solar cell architecture. The cells will incorporate new design approaches that partner crystalline silicon with carrier-selective contacts. This will enable the novel cell design to circumvent the limitations of current silicon solar cells and allow low-cost silicon to achieve its full potential.

The project plans include making the advanced solar cell technology available to energy-related industries in the United States.

"Our work will be a part of helping the U.S. maintain its lead in advanced clean-energy technologies," says Stuart Bowden, the ASU team leader. "A wave of advances is expected in photovoltaic solar cell technologies that should propel solar-energy industry growth within the next several years, and our efforts stand to make a big contribution to move that forward."

Bowden, an associate research professor, will work with professor Stephen Goodnick, professor Christiana Honsberg and assistant professors Mariana Bertoni and Zachary Holman. All are on the faculty of the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

They will collaborate with researchers at the project’s partner institutions: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the California Institute of Technology, the University of New South Wales in Australia and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland.

The ASU-led endeavor will be an affiliate project of the Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technology (QESST) Engineering Research Center at ASU. The center, supported by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, focuses on solving challenges to harnessing solar power in more technologically effective and economically viable ways.

QESST is a big part of the “critical mass” of engineers and scientists in energy-related fields that has formed at ASU over the past decade, Bowden says. This depth of expertise has equipped the university to take the lead in efforts such as those being supported by the national SunShot Initiative, he says.

To learn more, click here.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


From wastewater to fuel: Ariz. students unite for algae research

November 1, 2013

Students and researchers from the three major public universities across Arizona have joined forces to maximize the use of one of Arizona’s natural resources: algae.

The collaboration is an Arizona Board of Regents funded project to use wastewater to grow algae to create food, feed and fuel products. Student technicians work together at AzCATI on the ASU Polytechnic Campus Download Full Image

“The three Arizona universities bring exceptional talent to the field of algae,” said Milton Sommerfeld, co-director of the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI) at Arizona State University, the leading institution of the collaboration. “Our goal is to help place Arizona at the forefront of this developing technology and provide the education and training necessary to support this effort.” 

The three partner universities – Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and University of Arizona – will gather from 8:30 a.m. to noon, Nov. 2, in room 101 of the Engineering Building 69 on NAU's campus in Flagstaff, to show the public the fruits of their labor.

Sudents from each of the universities will present their work, which ranges from using algae to feed fish to studying the DNA of algae. During this event, participants are invited not only to learn about the students' work, but to join a seminar about maximizing Arizona’s resources.

This is the first of a series of quarterly meetings during which students from each of the universities will present their projects at each of the partner university campuses. Throughout this ABOR-funded project, faculty, research scientists and students at the graduate and undergraduate level will work together to achieve three goals:

1. Advance algal applications in Arizona as a viable integrated algacultural industry capable of producing valuable products and wastewater remediation.

2. Educate and develop a workforce to support a growing algaculture industry.

3. Strengthen the collaborative focus on high-tech algaculture between teams from ASU, UA and NAU.

Interested participants who cannot attend are welcome to tune into the event online, at http://www.cefns.nau.edu/~teb/rtx/PlayLive/RTX_PlayLive_Beta.html.

ASU collaboration creates breakthroughs for solar cell efficiency

October 25, 2013

Did you know that crystals form the basis for the penetrating icy blue glare of car headlights and could be fundamental to the future in solar energy technology?

Crystals are at the heart of diodes. Not the kind you might find in quartz, formed naturally, but manufactured to form alloys, such as indium gallium nitride or InGaN. This alloy forms the light emitting region of LEDs, for illumination in the visible range, and of laser diodes (LDs), in the blue-UV range.  The atomic arrangement at a relaxed InGaN/GaN interface Download Full Image

Research into making better crystals with high crystalline quality, light emission efficiency and luminosity is also at the heart of studies being done at Arizona State University by research scientist Alec Fischer and doctoral candidate Yong Wei in professor Fernando Ponce’s group in the Department of Physics.

In an article recently published in the journal Applied Physics Letters, the ASU group, in collaboration with a scientific team led by professor Alan Doolittle at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has just revealed the fundamental aspect of a new approach to growing InGaN crystals for diodes, which promises to move photovoltaic solar cell technology toward record-breaking efficiencies.

Solar energy crystallizes

The InGaN crystals are grown as layers in a sandwich-like arrangement on sapphire substrates. Typically, researchers have found that the atomic separation of the layers varies; a condition that can lead to high levels of strain, breakdowns in growth and fluctuations in the alloy’s chemical composition.

“Being able to ease the strain and increase the uniformity in the composition of InGaN is very desirable,” says Ponce, “but difficult to achieve. Growth of these layers is similar to trying to smoothly fit together two honeycombs with different cell sizes, where size difference disrupts a periodic arrangement of the cells.”

As outlined in their publication, the authors developed an approach where pulses of molecules were introduced to achieve the desired alloy composition. The method, developed by Doolittle, is called metal-modulated epitaxy. “This technique allows an atomic, layer-by-layer growth of the material,” says Ponce. 

Analysis of the atomic arrangement and the luminosity at the nanoscale level was performed by Fischer, the lead author of the study, and Wei. Their results showed that the films grown with the epitaxy technique had almost ideal characteristics and revealed that the unexpected results came from the strain relaxation at the first atomic layer of crystal growth.
“Doolittle’s group was able to assemble a final crystal that is more uniform and whose lattice structures match up … resulting in a film that resembles a perfect crystal,” says Ponce. “The luminosity was also like that of a perfect crystal. Something that no one in our field thought was possible.”

The perfect solar cell?

The ASU and Georgia Tech team’s elimination of these two seemingly insurmountable defects (non-uniform composition and mismatched lattice alignment) ultimately means that LEDs and solar photovoltaic products can now be developed that have much higher, efficient performance.

“While we are still a ways off from record-setting solar cells, this breakthrough could have immediate and lasting impact on light emitting devices and could potentially make the second most abundant semiconductor family, III-Nitrides, a real player in the solar cell field,” says Doolittle. Doolittle’s team at Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering also included Michael Moseley and Brendan Gunning. A patent is pending for the new technology.

The collaboration was made possible by ASU’s Engineering Research Center for Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies funded by the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy. The center, which brought the two research groups together, is directed by ASU professor Christiana Honsberg of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Designed to increase photovoltaic electricity and help create devices that are scalable to commercial production, the center has built partnerships with leading solar energy companies and fueled collaborations between many of the notable universities in the U.S., Asia, Europe and Australia. The center also serves as a platform for educational opportunities for students, including new college courses, partnerships with local elementary schools and public engagement events to raise awareness of the exciting challenges of harnessing the sun to power our world.

The Department of Physics is an academic unit in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Margaret Coulombe

Director, Executive Communications, Office of the University Provost


ASU In the News

Art form, nanotechnology combine to advance batteries

A combination of nanotechnology and the traditional art of paper folding, known as origami, could be a key to a significant step toward improved battery technologies.

Arizona State University engineers have constructed a lithium-ion battery using paper coated with carbon nanotubes that provide electrical conductivity.

Using an origami-folding pattern similar to how maps are folded, they folded the paper into a stack of 25 layers, producing a compact, flexible battery that provides significant energy density – or the amount of energy stored in a given system or space per unit of volume of mass.

Their research paper in the journal Nano Letters has drawn attention from websites that focus on news of technological breakthroughs.

The researchers have also developed a new process to incorporate a polymer binder onto the carbon nanotube-coated paper. The polymer binder improves adhesion of the structure’s active materials.

The achievements open up possibilities of using the origami technique to create new forms of paper-based energy storage devices, including batteries, light-emitting diodes, circuits and transistors, says Candace Chan, who led the research team.

Chan is an assistant professor of materials science and engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Energy and Transport, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Fellow ASU engineering faculty members, associate professor Hanqing Jiang and assistant professor Hongyu Yu, have played leading roles in the work.

Read more about the team's efforts at  Nanowork.com, Phys.org and in Nature magazine online.

Read more about the work in Chan’s lab.

Article Source: ExtremeTech.com
Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU In the News

ASU sustainability program uses Valley cities as living lab

Sethuraman "Panch" Panchanathan explores sustainability research in his latest column in "The Arizona Republic." Panchanathan is the senior vice president for ASU's Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development.

Panchanathan discusses the growth of our planet's population and the associated challenges, such as the urban heat-island effect and how this increases our use of electricity and water, which depletes important resources. He provides examples of research efforts at ASU that are focused on conceptualizing and creating solutions to these kinds of problems, including the Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research program and the Sustainable Cities Network as part of the Global Institute of Sustainability, as well as entrepreneurial efforts and startups, such as SafeSIPP.

"To conceptualize and create solutions to these kinds of problems, we need input from multiple disciplines – the physical and social sciences, engineering, business, law and humanities,” said Panchanathan. "All of these perspectives are important to create sustainable solutions – ones that preserve natural resources while strengthening communities and promoting economic prosperity."

To learn more about exciting discoveries and inventions at ASU, follow Panchanathan's column, which appears on a monthly basis in the Opinions section.

Article Source: The Arizona Republic

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.”