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ASU In the News

Microbial realm holds key to more sustainable society


What Bruce Rittmann and his research colleagues are doing with microorganisms promises to help the world solve many of its energy and environmental challenges.

Rittmann is a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. He also directs the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute at ASU.

The center’s team is working at the forefront of engineering and science endeavors to “manage  microbial communities” in ways that could provide more sustainable processes to produce energy from renewable sources, clean up pollution and keep water supplies uncontaminated.

In an interview in a leading national magazine Rittmann reports on progress in his field –  for instance, development of a “photosynthetic factory” that uses photosynthesis to make bacteria into fuel molecules, resulting in what could become a viable nonpolluting alternative to burning fossil fuels.

He also talks about the big steps it will take to achieve true global sustainability, such as dealing with the buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide and the impact of the depletion of phosphorous on agriculture.

Plus, he comments on the advantages of graduate students over technology when it comes to getting good help in the lab.

Rittman was also interviewed recently about renewable resources issues by National Public Radio science correspondent Joe Palca for a podcast sponsored by the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative.

 

Article Source: The Atlantic
Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-965-8122

ASU named Solar Partner of the Year


October 25, 2011

Arizona State University last week received the Solar Partner of the Year award from the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA). ASU was one of four applicants nominated for the award, which was created by SEPA to recognize the value that a solar partner can bring a utility in the development and/or implementation of a solar project.

Jean Humphries, a director within Capital Programs Management at ASU, accepted the award Oct. 18 in Dallas, Texas. Arizona Public Service (APS) nominated ASU for the award. An an aerial image of solar panels atop the Stadium Parking Structure. Download Full Image

“Receiving the SEPA award would not have been possible without the support of APS through their Renewable Energy Incentive Program.” Humphries says. “We are grateful to have partnered with APS for the past seven years to help us achieve more than 10 megawatts in our solar program, as we continue to move toward our 20-megawatt goal by 2014.”

The awards ceremony was held in conjunction with Solar Power International 2011, which was presented jointly by SEPA and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Wendy Craft

Marketing and communications manager, Business and Finance Communications Group

480-965-6695

New cell design promises more efficient conversion of solar energy


October 6, 2011

Generating electricity from sunlight offers a clean, safe, renewable option for producing power. The problem with expanding its use has always been the high cost.

One major key to solving the problem is coming up with photovoltaic cell technology that is more efficient at converting solar light into electrical energy. The fewer cells it takes to generate substantial amounts of energy, the less expensive it will be to harness solar power for providing electricity. solar cell research Download Full Image

A promising new approach to achieving the goal is being developed by Arizona State University engineers Cun-Zheng Ning and Derek Caselli. Ning is a professor in the School of Electrical, Computing and Energy Engineering, one of the ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Caselli is pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical engineering.

They’ve designed photovoltaic cell architecture that uses particular materials in specific arrangements to enable cells to more efficiently capture sunlight for conversion into electricity.

Details of the project, which is supported by the U.S. Army Research Office, are presented in a recent article  by Ning and Caselli posted on the website of the International Society for Optics and Electronics – called SPIE – that works to advance light-based technologies.

They describe a design that places different solar-cell materials side by side beneath other materials that act as a “dispersive concentrator.”

This arrangement enables sunlight to be separated into different colors before it is absorbed by the material within the cells. The absorption cells are arranged in a way that ensures each color is matched to the material best able to absorb it.

Caselli explains: “Sunlight can be separated into different components of the light spectrum and distributed among the materials within the cells, so that each photon is absorbed by the one best suited to convert it to electricity."

The key innovation is making the absorbing materials in all the cells in a one-step fabrication process on a single substrate – or platform.  This would eventually provide high-efficiency, low-cost solar power, Ning says.

Ning and Caselli also are developing technology for a new fabrication process for the new type of solar cell.  It could be less expensive than many current cell-fabrication processes, they say, and produce new cells that will be as efficient at converting sunlight into electrical energy as the highest-performing cells now on the market.

“Our simulation results show efficiencies roughly similar to those obtained by the highest-performing cells, but there are a number of ideal conditions that we assume in our simulations for the sake of simplicity,” Caselli says.

"We suggest there are a number of ways the cell design could be optimized to make them as efficient as the highest-performing cells at a lower cost,” he says.
 
He says the geometry of the cells could be altered to maximize their light-absorption capability, and different semiconductor materials could be used that would enhance cells’ ability to conduct electricity.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-965-8122

ASU In the News

Taking on critical solar energy challenges


Arizona State University’s role in accelerating advances in solar energy technology is expanding.

The university was recently named the lead institution for a new national research center supported by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy that will work to harness solar power in more economically viable and sustainable ways.

The Engineering Research Center for Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies – or QESTT – is directed by Christiana Honsberg, a professor in the School of Computing, Electrical and Energy Engineering, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Along with other ASU engineers and research partners at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the California Institute of Technology and the University of Delaware, Honsberg will pursue breakthroughs in using quantum mechanics to increase the energy-conversion efficiency of photovoltaic solar cells.

More than 40 companies in the energy industry have also signed on as partners in the effort to bring new photovoltaic technologies to the marketplace.

The center will also help train the next generation of energy engineers and entrepreneurs.

Read more

Article Source: KAET-Channel 8 Horizon program
Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-965-8122

Sun Devils soak up solar power


September 6, 2011

Arizona State University exceeds 10 megawatts (MW) of solar-energy capacity, making it the only higher education institution in the United States to have a solar capacity of this size. According to Ameresco Southwest, Inc. – formerly APS Energy Services, Inc. – 10 MW is enough energy to power 2,500 Arizona homes. 

“Surpassing 10 megawatts of solar energy capacity is a tremendous accomplishment for ASU and our partners,” said ASU President Michael Crow. “Over the years we have made several major commitments to sustainability, such as establishing the first school devoted to sustainability, raising awareness of how to live sustainable lives and finding ways to harness natural resources, like our abundance of sunshine. By doing these things, we are making a brighter future for ourselves and the place in which we live.” The sun rises over the Verde Dickey Dome solar installation. Download Full Image

Ten MW represents roughly 20 percent of ASU’s peak load, and reduces its carbon footprint between 5 to 10 percent. Pushing ASU past the 10 MW mark is its latest 700-panel, 168-kilowatt (kW), ground-mount photovoltaic installation on its Tempe campus. Solar installations currently are operating at two of ASU’s four campuses, Tempe and West.

“Ten megawatts is a pinnacle for ASU and represents years of dedication to working toward our campus sustainability goals,” said David Brixen, ASU’s associate vice president of Facilities Development and Management. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest solar installation at a single university in the United States.”

ASU’s solar installations that are mounted on the top floors of parking structures and buildings not only provide shade from the fierce Arizona sun, but they also provide ASU with potential energy cost-savings opportunities in the future.

“Harnessing the sun’s power across ASU campuses allows us to benefit from our natural resources and expand our clean-energy capabilities, while also providing future opportunities to reduce our energy costs; monies that can be invested in other sustainability related projects,” said Morgan Olsen, executive vice president, treasurer, and CFO at ASU.

ASU began taking advantage of its geographic location to utilize solar energy in October 2004, with a 34-kW installation at the Tyler Street parking structure on its Tempe campus. Over the years, several business partners have played a role in helping ASU achieve 10 MW of solar-generating capacity, including:

  • Ameresco Southwest, Inc. (formerly APS Energy Services, Inc.)
  • Blue Renewable Energy
  • CarbonFree Technology
  • Independent Energy Group of Arizona, LLC
  • Lafferty Electric Technologies, LLC
  • NRG Energy, Inc.
  • Solar Power Partners, LLC
  • Strategic Solar Energy, LLC
  • Sun Devil Solar, LLC

ASU’s solar installations are facilitated, in part, by the APS Renewable Energy Incentive Program. This program offers financial incentives to customers who add renewable energy systems to their homes or business.

About Arizona State University:

Arizona State University is the largest public research university in the United States under a single administration, with total student enrollment of more than 72,000 in metropolitan Phoenix, the nation’s sixth-largest city. ASU is creating a new model for American higher education, an unprecedented combination of academic excellence, entrepreneurial energy and broad access. This New American University is a single, unified institution comprising four differentiated campuses positively impacting the economic, social, cultural and environmental health of the communities it serves. Its research is inspired by real world application, blurring the boundaries that traditionally separate academic disciplines. ASU champions intellectual and cultural diversity, and welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 100 nations across the globe.

Written by:
Wendy Craft, (480) 965-6695, wendy.craft@asu.edu

Media contact:
Skip Derra, (480) 965-4823, skip.derra@asu.edu

Wendy Craft

Marketing and communications manager, Business and Finance Communications Group

480-965-6695

ASU In the News

NRG Solar partners with ASU to create pioneering solar installation


Visitors to Arizona State University's Tempe campus soon will be shaded when parking in a lot adjacent to Sun Devil Stadium by an innovative, patent-pending solar structure design that generates 2.1 megawatts (MW) of electricity.

NRG Energy has partnered with Arizona State University to provide an innovative 2.1 megawatt solar structure in a parking lot adjacent to Sun Devil Stadium. Download Full Image

Read the related ASU News story: Innovative solar structure shades Sun Devils

Article Source: Wall Street Journal
Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist, ASU Library

ASU In the News

In search of solar power's secrets


<p>A critical step required to more effectively harness sunlight to produce electrical power lies in understanding how the process happens at the molecular level.</p><p>That’s the focus of research by Mark van Schilfgaarde, a professor of materials science and engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.</p><p>If we had the precise molecular “recipe” for how the most basic building blocks of matter act in converting and generating energy, then manufacturers would have a blueprint for a significant advance in producing more efficient solar cells.<br /><br /><br /><br /></p>

Article Source: CleanEnergyAuthority.com
Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-965-8122

ASU signs agreement with USAID for clean energy training, education


May 13, 2011

United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded a $10-million cooperative agreement (CA) to Arizona State University to lead a consortium of higher education institutions and service providers that offer clean energy training and education to develop and implement programs worldwide.

The agreement provides $3 million to build and develop the program and up to $7 million for country specific projects to be formed under the Vocational Training & Education for Clean Energy (VOCTEC) umbrella. Download Full Image

This multi-institutional, global effort led by the College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) on ASU’s Polytechnic campus is consistent with one of the college’s strategic initiatives in alternative energy education.

“This second USAID award will expand our capability as an educational institution to affect change that will aid in improved economies and standards of living for many overseas as well as in the U.S.,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “The award furthers the College of Technology and Innovation’s vision of becoming internationally recognized as a leader in alternative energy education.”

“The project will help to create curricula around the operation and maintenance of decentralized clean energy technologies,” said Mitzi Montoya, vice provost and dean of the College of Technology and Innovation. ASU’s role is focused on delivering training in the areas of solar and micro-grid technologies in conjunction with consortium partners Appalachian State University and Green Empowerment, who are responsible for training in wind energy and micro-hydro, respectively. 

The ASU CTI-led team will be headed by Govindasamy Tamizhmani, a research professor in the College of Technology and Innovation. Tamizhmani has more than 25 years of photovoltaic experience and will lead an ASU team of faculty from education, engineering, geography and psychology.

“I will interface with curriculum developers ensuring curriculum continuity and development throughout the process to deliver high quality results,” Tamizhmani said.

“The agreement also presents a great opportunity for ASU from a strategic global perspective, helping to develop networks in targeted countries in the developing world, including relationships with private and governmental sectors making clean energy investments in those countries,” said R.F. “Rick” Shangraw, ASU’s senior vice president for Knowledge Enterprise Development. 

“As ASU’s faculty members are working through this project, it presents an opportunity for the university to leverage USAID’s resources to maximize the global engagement outcomes,” said Shangraw. “We believe the effort has the potential to benefit thousands of people in several countries and also extend the impact of ASU on an international scale.”

Director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications

480-965-4823

ASU engineers poised for progress in solar power quest


May 6, 2011

Fulfilling the promise of solar energy as a robust large-scale alternative power source requires overcoming a variety of challenges.

Beyond the technological aspects, there are economic, regulatory, manufacturing, public policy and public utility issues to deal with. Download Full Image

In its research and education endeavors, Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering are delving into each facet of the quest to bring solar power to the forefront of the nation’s energy arsenal.

On the technical side, ASU’s engineers are working on advances in solar power generation at every level from the atomic scale to the industrial scale – from the use of nanoparticles to the design and operation of large power plants.

They’re also educating ASU students to become the future entrepreneurs and business leaders prepared to successfully commercialize new energy technologies, and the policy experts who can pave the way for effective implementation of alternative energy systems.

They’re partnering with industry and business interests to develop the solar energy workforce and laying groundwork for the infrastructure necessary to deliver solar power to the public.

Fundamental photovoltaics

Efficiency is the big technical challenge in solar research. It’s all about developing technologies to get the most energy out of sunlight.

The other big overall challenge is economics – getting the costs of producing and distributing power generated from sunlight down to a feasible level of affordability for widespread use.

Photovoltaic technologies are currently capable of converting roughly 20 percent to 40 percent of the energy in sunlight into electrical energy. Some experts think it’s possible to eventually increase that to close to 80 percent.

Pursuit of that goal includes rigorous study of fundamental physics. Electrical engineering professor Marco Saraniti works on predicting the performance of various kinds of photovoltaic cells based on understanding the physical properties and behaviors of the materials used to make the cells.

“If you follow what physics can reveal,” he says, “you get the recipes for how to put these materials together to achieve the most efficient operation” of solar power devices.

Materials science and engineering professor Mark van Schilfgaarde is looking at it from the most microscopic viewpoint. He’s studying “the fundamental physics and quantum mechanics that determine the properties of materials.”

His aim is to understand at the molecular level precisely how sunlight is converted in electrical energy. The answer can provide a basic theory of solar power generation, van Schilfgaarde says.

Such core knowledge “can help industry tremendously because it can make solar power experimentation less hit and miss. It tells you what kinds of things will work, how materials will perform and how to fix problems” with solar cells and solar energy systems, he says.

Mixing and matching materials

Saraniti’s and Van Schilfgaarde’s work is helpful to colleagues experimenting with various combinations of materials for constructing more efficient photovoltaic cells. Cells made with silicon, gallium, arsenide, zinc, germanium and magnesium are being tested, along with cells containing aluminum, indium, phosphorous and iron sulfite, cadmium and tellurium.

Materials engineering professor Nathan Newman is teaming with van Schilfgaarde and ASU chemistry professor Peter Buseck to seek ways to produce efficient photovoltaic devices using materials that are abundant in nature. This would enable the devices to be made inexpensively – a critical advance that’s needed to make it economically feasible to ramp up manufacturing of solar power technology for widespread public use.

Electrical engineering professors Yong-Hang Zhang and Cun-Zheng Ning are seeking to discover combinations of materials that will enable cells to better absorb more of the solar light spectrum, so that more energy from sunlight is provided for conversion into electrical power.

Ning is building solar cells arranged in parallel in a lateral direction using semiconductor nanowires. Zhang is stacking different materials one on top of another. They both are looking for ways to achieve power conversion efficiency beyond the current limit of about 40 percent.

Electrical engineering professor Dieter Schroder has led research to improve efficiency in  solar energy conversion by finding ways to eliminate defects and impurities in materials used for solar cells.

Enhancing performance

Other researchers are experimenting with methods other than the use of photovoltaics to capture and convert solar energy. Mechanical engineering professors Patrick Phelan and Ron Adrian, and adjunct faculty member Ravi Prasher, are testing ideas for a solar thermal collector. It would generate power by concentrating sunlight into a liquid containing silver and graphite nanoparticles that can absorb solar energy more efficiently.

In this process the liquid would be heated sufficiently “to create a direct steam-generation solar system,” Phelan explains. With the use of large steam turbines, the technology could be the basis for a new kind of solar power plant.

Phelan is also working with utility companies and entrepreneurs on developing an air-conditioning system utilizing an engine that runs on a combination of heat generated by solar power and natural gas.

In addition to the task of improving the efficiency of systems for concentrating, collecting and converting solar energy, another major hurdle for renewable energy sources is finding ways to store adequate amounts of power for later use.

Progress on the energy-storage front could be aided by materials science and engineering professor Karl Sieradzki and associate professor Cody Friesen, who are collaborating with ASU chemistry professor Dan Buttry on new battery technologies that promise significant advances for electric vehicles.

Electrical engineering professors Andreas Spanias and George Maracas, and associate professor Cihan Tepedelenlioglu, are trying to provide industry and researchers with accurate measurement of the effectiveness and health of photovoltaic systems.

They’re using advanced sensor and signal-processing technology to devise systems to analyze how solar technology performs under a variety of situations, especially changing atmospheric and weather conditions.

Range of expertise

All of this material, electrical and mechanical engineering research is aiding pursuits in ASU’s Solar Power Lab to develop prototypes for the next generations of high-efficiency photovoltaic technologies.

Electrical engineering professors Stephen Goodnick and Christiana Honsberg, with associate research professor Stuart Bowden, are leading the Solar Power Lab’s efforts to design and model photovoltaic systems that can be manufactured using simpler processes and less material – producing sufficient power at a low cost per kilowatt hour of energy production.

“One of ASU’s strength is the range of expertise we have in energy-related engineering, particularly in photovoltaics and areas that can contribute to solar technology advances,” Goodnick says. “We have a team of some of the best solar energy researchers in the country.”

That expertise has helped ASU earn support for its energy research from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation and Science Foundation Arizona, the Electric Power Research Institute and the Western Electricity Coordinating Council.

It has also attracted industry support and research partnerships with businesses such as Boeing’s Spectrolab, General Electric, Viasol, Suntech, Samsung, Ganotec, Concentrix and Emcore, as well as the Salt River Project, Arizona Public Service and Tucson Electric Power utility companies, among others.

Developing the ‘smart grid’

ASU is also a partner in a multi-university project supported by the National Science Foundation that is exploring ways of reliably and economically integrating alternative energy sources – such  as wind and solar – into the nation’s existing regional power grids.

Researchers are helping design a “smart grid” to provide a network for managing and delivering power generated from renewable energy sources, says electrical engineering professor Gerald Heydt, who leads ASU’s team for the project.

Engineering professor Vijay Vittal and associate professor Raja Ayyanar are involved with Heydt in developing AzSMART, an analysis system being designed to evaluate the impacts of introducing significant solar power generation in Arizona.

Working with the University of Arizona, and industry and government partners, ASU researchers are examining the electric grid technologies that would be required to develop a solar-power infrastructure in the state.

The effort includes evaluating the economic, financial and environmental impacts of solar power generation and distribution on consumers, utilities and other users, assessing suitable locations for large solar-power plants – and the technical requirements of linking the plants to existing energy grids – and consideration of policies to address energy-system security.

Vittal, Ayyanar and Heydt are working with Arizona Public Service company, General Electric, the Department of Energy, ViaSol energy company and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to study the impact of solar photovoltaics on power distribution systems, and developing new control and protection methods to ensure reliability and power quality of such systems.

Improving critical components

In a related effort, Ayyanar is working on advances in power electronic inverters, a key component of photovoltaic systems.

He explains: “The capability of the inverter is critical whether it is a small roof-top residential system or a multi-megawatt utility scale solar power plant.  The reliability and performance in terms of energy generated and power quality are critically affected by the inverter performance.  We are researching new power electronic topologies and control methods to enhance the performance of solar inverters, developing models and aiding the development of new quality standards for inverters.”

The strength of ASU’s work in this area is one of the major reasons that Power One, a large inverter manufacturer, has opened facilities in Arizona, Ayyanar says. 

Electrical engineering professor George Karady is helping lead research on microgrids, which involve re-engineering infrastructure so that it can effectively distribute power from renewable energy sources to cities, towns and neighborhoods.

He’s exploring not only the technical solutions to developing efficient microgrid systems, but ways to make them economically feasible and ensure their reliability and security.

Steven Trimble, an engineering professor of practice, has decades of industry experience in energy system design and technical management of the development of large-scale solar systems. His current research involves development of a combined solar energy generation and energy storage system that could help make smart grids and microgrids more economical to operate.

Preparing future solar leaders

Nearly all knowledge gleaned from discoveries in ASU’s solar power engineering research finds its way to students as new information is incorporated into course subjects, and numerous students are getting valuable hands-on experience by assisting research teams led by engineering faculty members.

In the spring 2011 semester a small group of students was the first to begin studies in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering’s new master’s degree program focusing on solar energy.

The Professional Science Masters in Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization encompasses studies in the technological, economic, business and public policy aspects of the solar power field.

It offers much more than classroom instruction, says professor Phelan, who developed and directs the program. Students will be working on projects with companies in the energy and power industry, and visiting the nation’s capitol to get a firsthand look at governmental processes involved in development and deployment of new technologies and energy systems.

The degree program “will establish strong ties to industry, and stress entrepreneurship,” Phelan says. “When they graduate, students will be well connected in the field and prepared to make a contribution.”

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-965-8122

ASU In the News

Small particles may produce big solar-power harvest


<p>Could nanotechnology provide a key to more effectively harnessing the power of the sun? &nbsp;</p><p>Arizona State University engineers are conducting promising experiments in using graphite nanoparticles mixed with a mineral oil to produce a more efficient transfer of solar heat into electrical energy.</p><p>Details are given in an interview on a solar power industry news website with Patrick Phelan, a professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and engineering doctoral student Rob Taylor.</p>

Article Source: CSP Today
Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-965-8122

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