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ASU In the News

Quest for clean energy comes with complexities


There are a lot of “ifs” revolving around endeavors to realize the potential benefits of developing new sources of “clean” energy.

Efforts to reduce dependence on conventional energy sources such as fossil fuels and coal is spurred by the desire to alleviate the harmful  environmental impacts of carbon dioxide emissions that result from the production and use of these sources.

Researchers are working on using sunlight as a catalyst for a process to produce clean hydrogen fuels, or  looking at converting biomass (plant materials) as a clean fuel for power plants.

Other efforts include developing new kinds of batteries to enable automobiles to be fueled solely by electricity instead of a hybrid gasoline-electric power system.

But there remain technological advances to be made before the environmental benefits of such clean energy sources can significantly outweigh the costs of producing and using the alternative fuel sources.

Arizona State University civil and environmental engineer Mikhail Chester weighs in along with other noted experts on alternative-energy issues in a recent article in a prominent international science magazine.

Chester is an assistant professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

His research involves determining the overall “lifecycle” costs involved in the uses of various kinds of fuels, as well as the costs of technologies needed to produce and distribute those fuels.

What power sources will ultimately offer the best environmentally beneficial options remains a complex question, Chester says.

Article Source: Cosmos magazine
Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-965-8122

Biofuels: the next frontier at ASU, WSU


November 14, 2012

Editor's Note: Arizona State football will take on Washington State University, at 1 p.m., Nov. 17 in Tempe. Learn more about ASU's collaborations with Pac-12 schools.

With concerns about global warming increasing by the day, exploration into alternative energy sources is on the rise. The pursuit of biofuels has become increasingly popular, as is evidenced by research being conducted at universities around the nation, including Pac-12 sister schools Arizona State and Washington State. Download Full Image

As two of the nation’s leading research universities, it is to be expected that some areas of study should overlap. In October, ASU announced their plans to embark on a five-year renewable energy project, funded partly by a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, aimed at identifying geographically sustainable “hot-spots” throughout the country that are best-suited for expansion of perennial bioenergy crops.

In like fashion, WSU’s Center for Precision and Automated Agricultural Systems also announced earlier this year that they will be teaming up with the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa for a four-year, $6 million project to help Hawaii increase its energy security by modifying existing sugarcane harvesting techniques in order to better convert tropical grass crops into biofuel.

Biofuels are one of the oldest energy resources available in the world. Countries like Brazil have been gleaning ethanol from sugarcane for decades and biodiesel, made from palm oil, is commonly utilized in Europe.

Because biofuels are made from plants, they are considered “carbon neutral”; that is, the amount of carbon dioxide they release when burnt is equal to the amount they absorb during the growing process. They are also cheaper than fossil fuels and are a completely renewable resource.

ASU’s research team is focusing on the use of perennial feedstocks, such as switchgrass, as opposed to the use of crops like corn, which carry side effects including food security concerns. Utilizing perennial crops is likely to result in a decreased reliance on the use of food crops for energy production, a decreased reliance on fossil fuels, and the chance to combat greenhouse gas-induced climate change.

Researchers will be testing crops in abandoned and degraded farmland over the contiguous U.S. to determine where is best to sustainably grow perennial crops for ethanol production.

WSU’s research with UH Mānoa will look at improving tropical crop harvesting systems in order to optimize the sustainability of the process. To do this, researchers will evaluate several conditions, such as operating speeds compared to growth stages and the effects of varying terrain. Their goal is to find a sustainable and cost-effective process for harvesting biofuel crops and to develop the most efficient equipment for the job.

Both ASU and WSU have extensive experience in biofuels research. In July 2010, ASU was awarded a $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of a program focused on algae-based biofuels and in 2011, WSU was awarded a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a joint project with the University of Washington to research the potential for using residual wood after logging and forest thinning for aviation fuel.

Emma Greguska, emma.greguska@asu.edu
ASU media relations

Lisa Robbins

editor/publisher, Media Relations and Strategic Communications

480-965-9370

ASU team finishes among leaders in Chem-E-Car championship


November 6, 2012

A team of Arizona State University engineering students finished in eighth place among 35 teams that competed recently in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ Chem-E-Car national championship.

The competition requires students to design and build a small vehicle powered by a chemical source. ASU Chem-E-Car team 2012 Download Full Image

The ASU team produced a vehicle – named Hydrospark – powered by a hydrogen fuel-cell, with an electronic system to control speed, and using a chemical-reaction process to stop the car.

The team took a first-place award with its vehicle at a Chem-E-Car regional event last spring in Reno, Nev.

At the national competition, students are given a certain distance that the car must travel while carrying a specified amount of weight.

Cornell University’s team took first place in this year’s national championship event in Pittsburgh.

ASU Chem-E-Car team members are  chemical engineer majors Devon Bridgeman, Andrew Chesley, Jacob Sciacca, Mike Morales, Nick Dunteman, Tyler Sherman and Chelsea Francis, along with mechanical engineering students, Dinesh Kale, Anna Debrilovic, Tianyu Dua and computer systems engineering major Matthew Mellott.

The team’s faculty adviser is César Torres, an assistant professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Written by Rosie Gochnour and Joe Kullman

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-965-8122

ASU to lead renewable energy training, education in the Pacific Islands


October 24, 2012

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded $1 million over the next two years to Arizona State University’s College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) to provide education for solar photovoltaic (PV) energy equipment and technology to up to 12 Pacific Island nations. In collaboration with higher education institutions and other organizations, the program aims to train local capacities to support off-grid solar PV equipment installation, operation and maintenance.

This regional program is part of the five-year Vocational Training and Education for Clean Energy (VOCTEC) program, a CTI-led global initiative sponsored by USAID. VOCTEC’s mission is to develop and implement clean energy training and education to the local communities. VOCTEC also addresses the need for developing a sustainable pipeline of solar PV technicians and building human capacity within the island region though its ‘train the trainer’ approach, giving operators and technicians the support system and resources to continue to educate and manage future operators and technicians. Download Full Image

“We have carefully customized the pedagogy for renewable energy in Fiji to focus on training challenges within the region which not only include educational challenges but cultural and social obstacles as well,” said Mitzi Montoya, principal investigator for the project and dean of CTI. “Building human capacity is critical to filling the energy needs of the islands now as well as sustaining the program past its duration.”

All of the Pacific Island Nations face a number of barriers to clean energy development. Of the twelve countries in the Pacific Islands region, five are classified by the United Nations as ‘least developed’ countries, and all have limited financial resources. Development of human capacity for grid-connected and off-grid solar PV must also overcome the economies of scale that the islands face as they struggle to support multiple specialized training programs. In order to provide this institutional support, the VOCTEC team identified Fiji as the centralized training hub for the USAID project. 

“This project emphasizes the United States’ increased engagement and strategic support to the advancement of clean energy in the Pacific Islands,” said Gloria D. Steele, USAID mission director for the Philippines and the Pacific Islands. “We are building local capacities to develop and sustain renewable energy infrastructure in this important region.”

Prior to receiving the grant, representatives from VOCTEC travelled to the Pacific Islands region in order to meet with renewable energy stakeholders to assess conditions and needs for renewable energy. In addition to Fiji the team visited Tonga and Vanuatu. Tonga serves as an exemplar to other nations at it has already developed the Tonga Energy Roadmap (TERM), which demonstrates a strong renewable energy commitment from the government. Only 30 percent of Vanuatu’s population has access to electricity, and while they are working to develop their own energy roadmap, they need regulatory infrastructure to provide standardized training programs.

“Global agencies continue to invest in solar PVs in the Pacific Islands region to support renewable energy and displace fossil-fuel based generation,” said Govisndasamy Tamizhmani (Mani), associate research professor at CTI and principal investigator. “The most fundamental need in that area is creation of a program that trains the trainers that can continue to turn out technicians to support systems in the field and further train operators in the application of those systems.”

The $1M USAID associate grant enables VOCTEC to deliver trainer, technician and operator trainings in the Pacific Islands region over the next two years. VOCTEC will pursue additional associate grants to expand delivery of sustainable renewable energy training programs across developing nations.

Contributor: Sydney Donaldson, College of Technology and Innovation

New program 'ASU Discovers' airs Oct. 22 on Eight, Arizona PBS


October 17, 2012

Go inside the laboratory and out into the community with Arizona State University’s top researchers, as they find novel solutions to a variety of challenges. "ASU Discovers: New Perspectives on Research" airs Monday, Oct. 22, at 9 p.m., on Eight, Arizona PBS.

Here’s a look at ASU research projects featured in the upcoming show: Download Full Image

NASA bone loss study – Are your bones getting stronger or weaker? Right now, it’s hard to know. Scientists at ASU and NASA are taking on this medical challenge by developing and applying a technique that originated in the Earth sciences. In a new study, this technique was more sensitive in detecting bone loss than the X-ray method used today, with less risk to patients. Eventually, it may find use in clinical settings, and could pave the way for additional innovative biosignatures to detect disease.

QESST – Solar energy has the capacity to meet the total demand for energy worldwide. This segment profiles the QESST (Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies) Engineering Research Center and how it’s working to advance photovoltaic science and helping to develop cutting-edge technology in this quickly growing field.

Diabetes of Democracy – Arizona’s Latino community is especially at risk for Type 2 diabetes. This segment looks at a unique, interdisciplinary pilot study at ASU that combined theater arts, cooking demonstrations and hands-on learning to transform the ways in which people think about food.

"ASU Discovers: New Perspectives on Research" is made possible by ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. OKED advances research, innovation and entrepreneurship at ASU, promoting economic development in Arizona and beyond.

High hopes for students who launch balloon project


October 17, 2012

What began in the fall of 2011 as a class project has grown into something much bigger than expected. A group of Arizona State University students launched an experiment that could have far-reaching impacts on renewable energy and a reduction on the reliance of fossil fuels.

The group of seniors, led by Patrick McGarey and Amy Kaczmarowski, planned, designed, and recently launched a wind velocity experiment called the High Altitude Turbine Survey (HATS). HATS Download Full Image

McGarey, the project lead, graduated from ASU this spring with a degree in Earth & Space Exploration (Systems Design) and decided to stay on to see the project through. McGarey has been with the project since its inception last fall, when he and his team first crafted the project proposal in Professor Srikanth Saripalli’s School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) senior design class (SES 410/411).

With an initial plan in mind, the team began working through different ideas. Many different concepts were expressed and “… a lot of wacky ideas,” McGarey quipped.

HATS is studying high altitude wind energy generation by measuring changing performance characteristics of two micro-turbine airfoils (propellers) aboard a NASA high altitude balloon.  The balloon is similar to the one carrying Felix Baumgartner, the Red Bull Stratos iconic skydiver, to the edge of space. The study is looking at the feasibility of generating wind energy at high altitudes using specialized turbine airfoils, which would ideally be mounted on a tethered aerostat (stationary airborne platform).

The students’ project looks at wind power generated from turbine airfoils (propellers) at high altitudes. Seven miles into the air, the wind in the jet stream has been measured at more than 100 miles per hour. Harnessing this wind would provide a much more reliable source of wind energy than ground-based or off-shore wind farms currently offer.

Traditional ground-based wind energy has been less reliable due to high variability in wind and weather conditions on the surface. HATS may begin to open the door, making high altitude wind a more reliable renewable energy source.

The students aimed to create an apparatus for testing high altitude micro-turbine airfoils (propellers), to learn how propeller performance characteristics such as thrust and strain varied as the balloon went from sea level to over 24 miles in altitude.  Additionally, the students installed sensors to measure varying atmospheric / environmental conditions throughout the flight.

According to McGarey, the system has, “ …sensors including optical encoders, strain gauges, thermocouples, pressure gauges, and a digital weather station, [that]will provide environmental data throughout ascent and descent in order to create a velocity and thrust generation profile corresponding to altitude, pressure, and wind speed.”

The basis for the project began when Kaczmarowski, systems engineering lead, came across an article regarding high altitude energy systems, which inspired her to form the initial concept for the balloon-borne payload that would become HATS. The article illustrated the potential for high altitude wind power to realistically serve as a source for clean energy in the near future.

Beginning in spring of 2012 the team of students, with their faculty lead, professor Srikanth Saripalli, began to design and decide what was practical. They looked at what would work, using off-the-shelf items to develop the project. The team was grateful to receive funding from Saripalli’s ASTRIL field robotics laboratory and ASU/NASA Space Grant.

Later in May, testing began. Shay Cheeseman, another team member majoring in Earth & Space Exploration, programmed the software for the apparatus and refined the machine. The team worked within NASA guidelines and made sure everything met the requirements set forth from the High Altitude Student Platform (HASP), a program offered by Louisiana State University (LSU), NASA Balloon Program Office (BPO), and the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) that allows 12 student teams from around the country to fly scientific payloads into the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

Over the summer, McGarey traveled to CSBF in Palestine, Texas, and spent a week preparing the payload and getting ready to launch with fellow SESE student Alex Kafka. On September 1, from a different CSBF location in Fort Summer, New Mexico, McGarey attended the HASP balloon launch with the HATS payload attached.

The balloon, filled with over 11 million cubic feet of helium, was monitored as the half ton HASP payload traveled above 25,000 feet in altitude. The payload stayed airborne for over nine hours, traveling more than 500 miles across New Mexico and Arizona, even flying over ASU, before landing just west of Phoenix.

While the collected data will not be fully analyzed until later this year, McGarey and his team are calling the HATS mission a success.

“Anytime you create something that’s never been created before, you’re lucky enough to get functionality out of it,” McGarey explained.

That is precisely what happened. The payload did everything that it was designed to do, and there were no mechanical failures.

McGarey knows this is a field that very few have explored, with the exception of several exciting startup companies, who are currently developing working prototypes to harness airborne wind energy. Geothermal and solar energy are very popular, but harnessing high altitude wind is a field that has yet to be fully tapped.

Written by Heath Harris

Nikki Cassis

marketing and communications director, School of Earth and Space Exploration

ASU researchers to explore large-scale deployment of biomass energy crops


October 1, 2012

Arizona State University (ASU) researchers will embark on a novel renewable energy project with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through its Water Sustainability and Climate program (WSC).

NSF is providing $1.5 million to ASU to identify suitable locations across the United States where perennial biomass energy crops (e.g., miscanthus and switchgrass) could be grown sustainably. The five-year interdisciplinary project will integrate physical, agricultural and economic elements, embedded within a high-performance computing (HPC) framework, to identify geographically sustainable “hot-spots,” areas best-suited for expansion of perennial bioenergy crops. Miscanthus Download Full Image

“This effort brings together researchers from diverse backgrounds to explore critically important questions related to domestic energy security and large-scale climate change,” said Matei Georgescu, assistant professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. Georgescu is the principal investigator of the project.

The use of corn for ethanol production carries side effects, including food security concerns owing to its use as a staple food crop. Use of perennial feedstocks, such as miscanthus or switchgrass, offers a promising opportunity to decrease reliance on the use of food crops for energy production. Their sustainable expansion and utility for renewable energy purposes could significantly offset use of fossil fuels and combat greenhouse gas-induced climate change.

To avoid competition with food crops, the WSC-ASU project team will determine whether large-scale deployment of perennial bioenergy crops is sustainable by focusing their efforts on abandoned and degraded farmland over the contiguous U.S.

“From water, climate and long-term sustainability points of view we need to improve our understanding of impacts from the deeper rooting system of perennials, including effects on the soil water column,” said Georgescu. “For example, is the soil water column replenished on an annual basis or is the drawdown going to adversely affect the crop’s growth during subsequent growing seasons, reducing crop yield and energy production in the long run?”

To explore these questions, state-of-the-art models will be utilized to quantify impacts and diagnose feedbacks on hydroclimate, assess effects on crop yield and evaluate economic profitability associated with perennial bioenergy crop growth in identified hot-spot areas.

“This research will explore biofuel development with a sophisticated analysis of its sustainability and impacts on hydroclimate, crop yield and economic valuation,” commented Luc Anselin, Director, Regent’s Professor and Walter Isard Chair in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning.

By focusing on the long-term sustainability potential of perennial biomass energy crops, the NSF funded project will initiate a new avenue of renewable energy research at ASU. 

“Through the transdisciplinary nature of our research, projects like these not only expand our renewable energy research capabilities, but provide new solutions that address global energy challenges,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, senior vice president with the ASU Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. “This project advances our knowledge in the area of biomass research, while creating increased possibilities for greater economic impact.”

The WSC-ASU team will focus their efforts on four coupled elements.

Georgescu, WSC-ASU team PI, will lead all hydro-climatic modeling activities aimed at revealing the most suitable hot-spots of sustainable perennial biomass energy expansion.

Netra Chhetri, co-PI and assistant professor with joint appointments in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, and Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at ASU, will lead all crop modeling activities. Chhetri will quantify perennial biomass energy crop yield from the hot-spots and assess energy offset potential of U.S. consumption.

Michael Hanemann, co-PI and the ASU Julie A. Wrigley Chair in Sustainability and professor in the W.P. Carey School of Business, will oversee all economic modeling activities. Hanemann will evaluate economic potential for the production of perennial bioenergy crops in the U.S., incorporating a significant long-run sustainability constraint for land and water.

Alex Mahalov, co-PI and the Wilhoit Foundation Dean's Distinguished Professor in ASU’s School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, will oversee the integration of all computing activities within ASU’s massively parallel HPC framework. Mahalov will lead the effort to enhance all economic and crop models with an ensemble-based uncertainty quantification strategy implemented in a distributed-memory parallel computing architecture. A simulated stochastic modeling system will be created to demonstrate developments.

All PIs are affiliated with ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability. The School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, and the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes are all research units in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications

480-965-4823

ASU engineer will use Fulbright award to share expertise in renewable energy


October 1, 2012

Arizona State University chemical engineer Jean Andino will share her expertise in renewable energy development with research colleagues and students in Panama with the support of a prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar award.

Fulbright awards, supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, enable U.S. faculty members to teach and conduct research in other countries in efforts to exchange ideas and foster collaborations aimed at finding solutions to common international challenges. Jean Adino Fulbirght award Download Full Image

Recipients of the awards are selected for their professional achievements and leadership in their fields.

Andino is on the faculty of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.  Her teaching and research focuses on atmospheric chemistry, chemical kinetics, and air pollution sensing and control. In the energy area, her work at ASU involves seeking ways to convert carbon dioxide into fuels.

“Being awarded the Fulbright is an exceptionally impressive achievement. We’re proud of all that Jean is accomplishing,” says Kyle Squires, director of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy.

Andino plans to spend a semester at Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá  with the Centro de Investigación e Innovación Eléctrica, Mecánica y de la Industria, as well as with the Facultad de Ingeniería Mecánica,  where she will consult on air quality and energy issues, give seminars and teach a short course.

Her research group at ASU is enhancing the development of a light-activated catalytic process that is showing promise in effectively converting carbon dioxide. “We know how to make it work in the lab,” Andino says. The next step is to further refine the process to enhance the conversion efficiency.  

Panama is making a strong effort to develop sustainable solutions that are affordable, reduce pollution and utilize renewable energy, Andino says, and she’s hoping to develop collaborations with university faculty and other researchers in Panama.

During her career, Andino has received the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, given to young engineers and scientists who are demonstrating potential to be outstanding education and research leaders in their fields.

She’s also won awards from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for technological innovation, as well as several awards from students groups for exceptional teaching and student support.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-965-8122

SRP, ASU launch research grant to support renewable energy


August 16, 2012

Salt River Project (SRP) and the Conservation and Renewable Energy Collaboratory (CREC) at ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) have partnered to award grant funding for research and professional development initiatives in the areas of renewable energy and conservation.

This year the SRP-CREC grant selected three research projects for funding. The projects cover areas of emphasis that were outlined as priorities in sustainability and renewable energy. Download Full Image

“The research environment at CTI is defined by the real-world challenges our industry partners face,” said Mitzi Montoya, vice provost and dean of CTI. “The SRP-CREC grant program provides a platform for applied research through our faculty and facilities.”

In addition to its partnership with CREC, SRP has engaged with CTI on the college’s iProjects program. iProjects pair senior-level students with industry mentors to find solutions to real-world problems. Last year a student team worked with SRP employees to develop a microgrid system that will make solar and other alternative energy sources more reliable. This year a group of undergraduate students are investigating the potential use of algae to remove carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plant emissions.

“We are excited about this new research agreement with CTI. It builds on our longstanding research partnership with ASU, and will allow us to address important issues affecting SRP and our customers in areas where CTI’s faculty have significant expertise,” said John Sullivan, SRP’s associate general manager and chief resources executive. “This year’s projects involve innovative research in the long-term performance of solar photovoltaic systems, the efficiency of solar hot water heating systems, and the performance of batteries in arid climates.”

Solar hot water system testing and evaluation program at ASU Polytechnic
Researcher: Brad Rogers

The use of solar-assisted hot water systems has the potential to significantly reduce residential use of electricity. However, accurate data on the performance of installed units is elusive, as are data on the reliability and failure rates of the systems. A solar hot water testing facility has been developed by ASU through SRP’s support to address this issue. Two commercial systems installed at ASU’s Polytechnic campus are automatically controlled to simulate water usage of a family of four and measure process variables. The endurance test will characterize and compare the energy of the solar-assisted system to a control system.

Performance degradation and reliability evaluation of SRP’s Solar Photovaltaic Systems
Govindasamy Tamizhmani

Photovoltaic (PV) system installations continue to rise, making measuring and predicting their performance, reliability and availability more important to installers, integrators, investors and owners. Monitoring and analyzing the performance degradation and reliability of existing PV systems is essential to predicting the same for future systems. The ASU Photovoltaic Reliability Laboratory at the Polytechnic campus will evaluate the performance, reliability and availability of several solar PV power systems that SRP owns or maintains.

Reliability and performance evaluation of batteries in hot/dry climate
Arunachala Mada Kannan, Xihong Peng, Scott Pollat

State-of-charge (SoC) and state-of-health (SoH) determination is an increasingly important issue in battery technology in terms of both extending battery life and displaying the usable charge to the user before recharging and replacing. An accurate determination of SoC enables the user to manage the battery to its optimal potential. At elevated temperatures states of extremely high or low SoC can lead to irreversible damage in the battery. The main focus of this research is to develop and optimize methods to determine SoC and SoH for various types of batteries at high temperatures.

Engineering grad's skills help set stage for growth of children's care home


August 8, 2012

A private children’s residential care home in Mesa, Ariz., that has been serving its local community for almost 60 years will be better prepared to expand, thanks in part to the expertise of a recent Arizona State University engineering graduate.

During his final semester of study this past spring to earn a professional science master’s degree in the Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization program, Sage Lopez helped the Sunshine Acres Children’s Home take steps to develop a cost-saving renewable-energy system. Sunshine Acres Solar Project Download Full Image

To meet growing needs, the home plans to expand infrastructure on its 110-acre ranch – from 40 buildings and capacity to serve about 70 children to more than 65 buildings with capacity to house and care for as many as 250 youngsters. But rising electricity costs had been looming as a threat to the viability of such an extensive expansion.

Sunshine Acres Children’s Home is a Christian-based organization supported almost entirely by private donations and resale of donated items.

Sustainable energy source

Last spring, Lopez was working as an intern for TUV Rheinland Photovoltaic Testing Laboratory, a photovoltaic energy technology safety and performance testing lab that operates in partnership with ASU. His manager at TUV, Jonathan Belmont – who is pursuing a master’s degree in alternative energy at ASU – knew about the Sunshine Acres energy-system project. Belmont encouraged Lopez to get involved.

Working with Milt Laflen, a member of a volunteer committee charged with ensuring the home’s future energy needs can be met, Lopez assisted in devising a solar-energy master plan designed to help control energy costs as Sunshine Acres grows.

He installed monitoring systems to provide real-time performance information for the power system.
He also worked with the facility’s power provider, the Salt River Project utility company, and with city of Mesa officials, to help clear the regulatory path for future installation of a “solar loop” that will efficiently distribute power throughout the site.

His work is helping Sunshine Acres get closer to its goals of having a “net-zero” energy system within 10 years. That means supplying all of the facility’s energy needs using only the electricity generated by its solar-power system.

Fulfilling endeavor

Among members of the home’s energy-system committee are Charles Backus, an ASU professor emeritus of engineering and provost emeritus of ASU’s Polytechnic Campus, and David Scheatzle, an ASU professor emeritus of architecture.

Backus says Lopez has made a valuable contribution to the electrical aspects of the energy-system design.  Scheatzle explains that Lopez’s work “was meaningful in helping to clarify the layout and specifications of the current power infrastructure, and he proposed alternatives for developing a unique electrical distribution master plan that will incorporate extensive ground-mounted solar arrays.”

The project has been especially fulfilling “because of the respect everyone involved has for Sunshine Acres and the great work done there,” Lopez says.

“There’s been a lot of goodwill coming together to make progress. Sunshine Acres is becoming its own electricity-distribution center, all for the purpose of helping children,” he says.

An Arizona Department of Commerce grant provided for technology to produce 8.2 kilowatts of solar power for Sunshine Acres’ offices and eight solar water heaters. TUV Rheinland donated solar modules and Salt River Project donated a 10-kilowatt system through its Earthwise Project to provide power for a dining hall.

A 300-kilowatt system was installed through a lease agreement with the Green Choice Solar company, and photovoltaic panels providing 167-kilowatts have been donated by Solon, a solar technology manufacturing company.

Sunshine Acres plans to use its expanding green-energy system as an educational tool to teach children about energy engineering and technology, says executive director Sean Sloan.

Opportunity for more students

Lopez says the wide-ranging skill set he honed in his degree program armed him with the combination of managerial, financial, technical and entrepreneurial know-how necessary to take on the Sunshine Acres job.

His education has prepared him to work not only with fellow engineers but with business managers; professionals in building, construction and design industries; policymakers; and utility regulators and social workers, among others, he says.

“There are opportunities for other ASU engineering students to get involved in the project,” Lopez says. “They can get experience applying their technical skills or just doing community service work. Either way, they can have a lasting positive impact on Sunshine Acres.”

Lopez is now using his education in an engineering job he landed in San Diego with Envision Solar. He’s designing next-generation technology – products called the Solar Tree Array and the Solar Tree Socket – for charging electric vehicles and electrical network metering.

Interest in solar studies increasing

The Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization program, which offers a professional science master’s degree, is administered through the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

It kicked off in the 2011 spring semester with the aid of a National Science Foundation grant. Five of the six students initially enrolled in the program have since earned degrees. Six more are graduating this summer. Eleven new students will begin studies in the 2012 fall semester, bringing current enrollment to 17.

This program enables students with undergraduate training in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math – to expand their education across areas as such as energy engineering, project management, energy policy, utility regulation, professional ethics, and related fields.

The curriculum is guided by an industrial advisory board that helps to ensure courses provide knowledge and skills relevant to the solar-energy industry. Students benefit from an industry advisor in addition to a faculty advisor to guide their work on course projects in which they apply what they’re learning.

In partnership with ASU’s Consortium for Science and Policy Outcomes, students also participate in a week-long energy policy seminar held in Washington, D.C., to gain insight into energy policy making at national and international levels.

Learn more about the program.

Written by Joe Kullman and Rosie Gochnour

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-965-8122

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