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ASU engineering grad plans to use solar energy to better the Philippines, her home country

December 14, 2017

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

While Brigitte Lim was working on her applied project to promote employment in her home country of the Philippines through solar energy, she stumbled upon an opportunity to amplify her project’s reach. Brigitte Lim Brigitte Lim was recognized for her work using solar energy to solve employment challenges in the Philippines with the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network Youth Prize awarded through the Geneva Challenge. Photo by Monique Clement/ASU Download Full Image

Lim heard about the Geneva Challenge: Advancing Development Goals contest while she was taking an international development elective course in spring 2017. Seeing that the competition’s theme was solving challenges of employment, it was an easy choice to apply with the work she had already started.

“I thought I’d enter this competition to get the word out about my idea,” said Lim, a recent graduate of the Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization professional science master’s degree program (PSM SEEC) at Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Little did she know where the opportunity would take her. With the help of a team of international and interdisciplinary graduate students, a passion for solar energy and a desire to make a difference in her community, she would end up catching the attention of a United Nations program.

Journey to a solar future

After completing her bachelor’s degree in management of applied chemistry at the Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines, Lim went to work as a Teach for Philippines fellow, working for two years to help transform education in the country. It was a good way to pursue her passion for teaching, and she made some good connections with others interested in social action in her country.

When it came time to start her master’s degree, Lim was interested in environmental science and solar energy in particular. Not finding any programs close to home that supported her goals, she found her way to ASU through a scholarship called STRIDE offered through the United States Agency for International Development for Filipino students looking for professional science master’s degree programs.

“ASU had the most relevant program for me because it wasn’t just the physics of solar cells,” Lim said. “It was more business and applied photovoltaics, how the technology works, how to market it and commercialize it.”

ASU’s PSM SEEC program considers applications from students with any science, technology, engineering or mathematics background, making this unique ASU degree program a perfect fit for Lim. As part of the program, Lim participated in an energy policy seminar in Washington, D.C., attended international solar energy conferences, interned voluntarily with GRID Alternatives over the summers and installed residential solar photovoltaic systems with GRID Alternatives as part of Solar Spring Break.

“These opportunities made available through the PSM SEEC program let us see solar outside of the classroom, and I feel like that is very beneficial because you’re learning by actual interaction with industry,” Lim said.

This experience helped her see how the solar industry could be beneficial to communities in the Philippines, and she got to work on her applied project.

Putting her ideas out there

The Geneva Challenge is actually a group competition for graduate students. So, Lim reached out to some former colleagues from her days working with Teach for Philippines: Anna Gabrielle Alejo, a graduate student studying developmental psychology at the Columbia University Teacher’s College; Jerome Bactol, a candidate for a master’s degree in community development at the University of the Philippines and project development officer of the Philippines’ Department of Social Welfare and Development; and Jose Eos Trinidad, a recent graduate who studied social sciences at the University of Chicago and is now working as a researcher of the Ateneo de Manila University’s Institute for the Science and Art of Learning and Teaching.

Combined with her knowledge of opportunities throughout the value chain of the solar industry, these colleagues helped to expand upon additional social theories and local government program opportunities related to employment and underserved communities.

Together over Skype from Tempe, New York City, Chicago and Manila, they worked hard over the summer to build upon Lim’s base project for the competition’s requirements.

They created Solar N3E: Solar Network for Energy, Education and Employment — a social enterprise that integrates research, training and networking to expand employment opportunities in the Philippines through the solar industry.

The project’s goal is to minimize in-work poverty, urban unemployment and the number of youths who are not in education, employment or training. With the help of government programs in education, Solar N3E will help marginalized community members get the training they need to  find employment in the nation’s growing solar energy industry.

A roller coaster of a final semester

In August, they received an “email of disappointment” saying they didn’t make it to the semifinal round, Lim said. Happy they had tried, Lim got back to work on her PSM SEEC applied project and job searching as her graduation date neared.

Brigitte Lim shows off her mortarboard with a solar-themed design in front of Wells Fargo Arena at the Fulton Schools Convocation ceremony.

Brigitte Lim shows off her decorated mortarboard with a solar and Philippines flag theme at the Fall 2017 Fulton Schools Convocation ceremony. Photographer: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU

Then in November, Lim and her teammates learned they had won the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Youth Prize.

The Geneva Challenge partnered with the U.N. SDSN Youth Prize to award a special prize to three additional Geneva Challenge teams for the first time in 2017.

The Solar N3E project joined two other international teams’ projects to solve employment challenges in Africa that were recognized as part of the new prize.

These projects will be showcased on the Youth Solutions Report platform, which puts youth-led solutions projects in front of a network of institutional partners, experts, private companies and media outlets to gain potential supporters, investors and donors.  

A future of possibilities

After graduating, Lim will return home and get to work on filling out the details of Solar N3E for the Youth Solutions Report platform, and begin working as a business developer at Japan Solar in Manila, Philippines.

After her Geneva Challenge run stopped short, she was fully invested in beginning her work in industry, but she can now also further her work to implement Solar N3E.

“I think working with Japan Solar is not bad for trying to implement my idea because having this job helps me interact with competitors and the customers the solar industry serves,” Lim said. “I can immerse myself in the local industry, which makes the plan more feasible.”

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU research offers hydropower dam energy solution without sacrificing Mekong food supply

December 7, 2017

The Mekong River is an economic engine for fishermen and a food source for millions of people worldwide. Nearly 100 hydropower dams are planned for construction along tributaries off the river’s 2,700-mile stretch, which flows through Burma, China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.

But while the dams are expected to provide clean energy to the region, if not managed properly, they also have the potential to offset natural river patterns, which would damage food production, supply and business. Tonle Sap Fishing Village A boat in Cambodia's Tonle Sap Fishing Village. Photo by John Sabo/Arizona State University. Download Full Image

Arizona State University Professor John Sabo and collaborators have proposed a solution in the Dec. 8 issue of Science magazine that allows dam operators to generate power in ways that also protect — and possibly improve — food supplies and businesses throughout the Mekong river basin. 

“We have figured out the relationship between river flows and fish catch, and we have developed an algorithm for dam operators to use that will increase fish harvests and still generate power,” Sabo said. “Dams are going to be built no matter how much fuss we make; our research shows how we can be more strategic about the buildout and operations of these dams in the Mekong.”

The proposed solution, the first of its kind for this problem, can be applied to other large river systems around the world facing similar tradeoffs.

The Mekong river floods annually, and it is known that those floods are important for fisheries, Sabo said. New in this research is the recognition that seasonal droughts are equally important. Long droughts combined with short floods may create the ideal conditions for terrestrial nutrients to be entrained into the freshwater system.

With that in mind, the algorithm presented by Sabo et al. in Science recommends long low-flow periods punctuated by pulses of flooding, which will allow dam operators to co-manage their power generation priorities, while protecting livelihoods for fisheries downstream.

Sabo worked with other ASU researchers on the project, as well as researchers from the University of Washington, University of Maryland, Conservation International, the University of South Florida, the Mekong River Commission and Aalto University.

“We have taken this conversation around fisheries and dams in the Mekong from a yes-or-no conversation, from a good idea-bad idea conversation, and we have come up with an alternative, a mathematical formula that has the possibility to achieve dam operator goals and protect fisheries,” said Gordon Holtgrieve, an assistant professor at the University of Washington.

With recent funding from the National Science Foundation, Sabo, Holtgrieve and a team of researchers will expand the project to better understand how dam operators can balance power generation needs with other factors, including rice production, food nutritional quality and ecological goals. 

Leslie Minton

Media Relations Manager, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


USPCAS-E scholars in it to win at Arizona Student Energy Conference

November 16, 2017

Scholars from the U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Energy, better known as USPCAS-E, who attend the University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar and Arizona State University will be bringing home an award that will make their friends, family and country proud.

They competed with a range of graduate and postdoctoral level candidates from Arizona’s top universities in an annual two-day symposium focusing on renewable energy, technology and policy at the Sixth Annual Student Conference on Renewable Energy Science, Technology and Policy. USPCAS-E Poster Award Winners Scholars from the US-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Energy, University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar pose in front of their poster titled, “Hybrid Energy Testbeds for Remote Communities of Pakistan.” Winners listed: Khuram Shahzad (left), Muhammad Shoaib Khalid (fourth from the left), Kiran Israr (seventh from the left), Ahmad Amin and Adnan Zahid (right). Download Full Image

Muhammad Shoaib Khalid, Khuram Shahzad, Kiran Israr, Adnan Zahid and Ahmad Amin were honored with the Distinguished Poster Award. Their poster was titled, “Hybrid Energy Testbeds for Remote Communities of Pakistan” and focused on the integration of different types of generation systems, like using solar, micro-hydro and biomass systems.

USPCAS-E is a major energy research project funded by USAID in Pakistan dealing with applied and joint research. This project poster, like USPCAS-E’s goals, is focused on improving conditions for the scholars’ home country which suffers from extreme rolling blackouts in urban as well as in rural areas.

Shahzad stated that, “According to [a] World Bank report, 44 percent of [Pakistan’s] rural population is not connected to grid and deprived of electricity.” Exploring hybrid energy solutions could relieve the strain felt in rural Pakistan.

Khalid, principal investigator of the joint project emphasized the tapping of renewable energy resources for electrification of rural communities of Pakistan and the importance of their work at ASU’s Photovoltaic Reliability Lab under the supervision of Govindasamy Tamizhmani, a faculty member who studies energy efficient technologies in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. 

He explained that the joint project team, “aim[ed] to provide a foundation for [a] nationwide roll-out of microgrids with multiple generation[al] options including solar PV, solar/biomass, biomass, micro-hydro and genset.”

This is the fourth cohort of scholars participating in this USAID-funded exchange program. ASU is looking forward to hosting future award-winning scholars with the intent of furthering research into renewables while fortifying Pakistan’s energy future.

Erika Gronek

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

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How will the Navajo walk away from coal?

October 19, 2017

ASU receives grant from Department of Commerce to study the question, work on economically and culturally smart solutions

Last week the federal government awarded nearly $420,000 to the Navajo and Hopi tribes to prepare for the closure of a coal-fired power plant and mine.

The Navajo Generating Station in Page, Arizona, and the Kayenta Mine that supplies it with coal will shut down in 2019 unless a new owner for the power plant is found.

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced financial support Wednesday for Navajo and Hopi communities dealing with the declining use of coal. About $250,000 goes to Arizona State University for projects related to the power plant and mine closures.

Martin Pasqualetti, a professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at ASU, is working on possible solutions.

“Nothing happens if the Navajo don’t want it to happen,” said Pasqualetti, an expert on renewable energy, energy policy and human factors in science and technology. “That’s the first step.”

The Navajo will lose an estimated 800 jobs: 500 at the power plant and 300 to 350 at the mine. They’re looking at how to replace the jobs and the revenues that the power plant and mine provided.

The university will work on what the implications are of closing that plant, and what the opportunities might be for doing something new. How do you come up with new jobs? What are economic development options?

“$200,000 doesn’t get you very far, but we’ll do something,” Pasqualetti said.

Pasqualetti wrote a paper last year about the cultural challenges of implementing renewable energy on the reservation.

The plant is adjacent to the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation. They will be among tribal members who have the final say in what comes after the plant shutters.

“That is another aspect: getting the chapter interested in working with us,” he said. “It’s always a bit complicated; it doesn’t matter what entity you’re dealing with — there are always complications you don’t anticipate, and the Navajo nation is no exception. Even if we work with LeChee, there may have to be other characteristics we have to deal with.”

We spoke with Pasqualetti about the issues facing the area after the plant closes, the opportunities available, and how a giant art and energy project might take advantage of the area’s tourism draw.

Question: When the plant closes, what will the Navajo Nation have to work with?

Answer: You have a 2,000-acre site, you’ve got 800 miles of transmission lines that all emanate from there, you’ve got a water supply, and you’ve got workers, infrastructure, roads — everything is there. You don’t have to deal with any of that. To put in something else, you don’t have to find a new site, a new transmission corridor — it’s a very, very valuable site if you want to generate electricity, and that’s what they want to do.

Another aspect of this is renewable energy. Is that the best option? There’s been discussion of converting it to a gas plant. That doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, for a lot of reasons. It’s expensive to convert it. The closest nearby gas line is a line that goes across the Little Colorado at Cameron. I would imagine that’s about 80 miles in a straight line to the power plant. I can’t imagine that makes any economic sense.

Q: How could the issue of implementing renewable energy from a cultural standpoint be addressed?

A: There’s a group called the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI). It’s been in existence about 10 years. Every two years they have a competition to design the most beautiful renewable energy (facilities) you can design for a particular area. They did one in Dubai in the desert. They did one in New York, in Fresh Kills on Staten Island. They did one in Copenhagen and they did one in Santa Monica last year. ... The plant is closing, and 2020 is the next competition. If we can marry those two, the idea being that we can design a tourist attraction with renewables and make something strikingly beautiful. If you look up up LAGI ... not only is each one visually attractive, but they generate electricity. Some of them desalt water.

Getting back to your question, what about renewable energy on Navajo? You could put renewable energy there, but does it produce a lot of jobs? No. Jobs during construction, yes, but jobs during operation, no. ... You can operate that with a dozen to two people. Not much goes wrong. If you can combine these big arrays of photovoltaics with an enhancement there that is visually attractive and alluring and it’s the result of an international design competition ... that’s a possibility. There’s a lot of moving parts. You’ve got to get the Navajo to say yes. ... If you’ve got 3.5 million people going to Lake Powell, a million go to the dam, they go to Horseshoe Bend, they float down and fish, they go to Antelope Canyon — every time I’ve been up there it’s bus after bus after bus. Then you put this beautiful installation next to it that happens to be renewable and fit it in with the landscape and tell the Navajo story ... The Tate Museum in London is a great example. It’s a world-class museum in an old power plant.

Q: How will Page be helped to transition?

A: I read an article in the local Page paper about a month ago and they said they’ll be fine without the power plant ... you still have millions of people going there. It’s astounding the number of tour buses you see up there. ... It’s still the shortest way from Zion and Bryce to the Grand Canyon, so along the way they stop and see the dam, Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.

Top photo: Colorado River with the Page, Arizona, city area on the right and Navajo generating station in the background. Photo by Adbar/Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


Emeritus professor’s return boosts ASU’s solar-energy engineering education endeavors

October 3, 2017

When Emeritus Professor Ron Roedel retired in 2011 after 30 years of teaching and research in electrical engineering, there was one thing his longtime colleague and friend Michael Kozicki thought was inevitable.

“I knew it wasn’t going to last,” he said. Ron Roedel stands near the “Power Pergola” in the back yard of his home in a historic neighborhood in Phoenix. The photovoltaic system atop a trellis structure supplies all of the electricity for his house. In recent years he has become more active in public advocacy to promote the development of solar power infrastructure as a renewable energy resource. Photo by Pete Zrioka/ASU Download Full Image

The promising work being done in Roedel’s area of expertise — solar energy engineering — in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering “was just too strong of a lure for him,” Kozicki said.

Roedel’s focus had been on semiconductor technology when he earned his doctoral degree in electrical engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles in the mid-1970s and then started work at the internationally prominent Bell Telephone Labs in New Jersey.

Roedel says he gained some “really high-quality research experience” there, but after five years in the eastern part of the country he missed the West. And he was restless to pursue what he felt was his true calling: teaching.

He joined Arizona State University’s faculty in 1981 and began conducting research in a new area that the engineering college leaders asked him to tackle — experimenting with various materials for solar cells to see if those materials could make cells more efficient in converting sunlight into electricity.

His students’ research in solar cells made from gallium arsenide and other so-called III-V semiconductor materials was promising, but it was obvious that there were going to be big obstacles to commercialization of these devices.

But Roedel’s work soon earned support through the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Presidential Young Investigator Award and he attracted more financial backing from industry.

“He came up with some really interesting new structures for solar cells,” recalled Kozicki, who joined ASU’s electrical engineering faculty in 1985 and met Roedel on the first day of work.

Teaming up on energy education outreach efforts

For various reasons, funding for solar energy research dropped in the mid-1980s and into the ‘90s, so Roedel shifted to more general research on semiconductor materials and devices.

He also became more heavily involved in research in engineering education, and was one of the co-principal investigators in the NSF-sponsored Engineering Education Coalition awarded to ASU in 1995.

When support for the solar energy enterprises picked up again, Kozicki said, “Ron came back strong” in his efforts to help move the solar field forward.

“When he takes on a challenge, it’s more than an interest. He throws his entire weight into it,” he said. “Ron gets completely immersed in both his research and teaching.”

Roedel’s post-retirement re-immersion into academia was not quite so intense at first, but his colleagues steadily drew him back into a several educational endeavors. At first, he answered a call to mentor students on their senior-year engineering capstone design projects.

He was later recruited by leaders of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise Development office and the Global Institute of Sustainability to aid some of their international outreach efforts.

In 2013, he teamed with Martin (“Mike”) Pasqualetti, a professor in ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, to help faculty at An-Najah University in Nablus, Palestine make progress toward further development and commercialization of solar energy infrastructure in the region.

In 2016, he and Pasqualetti worked together again, this time in Kosovo, to develop plans for an academic program in renewable energy and sustainability engineering at the University of Prishtina.  As part of that project, they met with the Kosovo Energy Company to discuss strategies for the country to transition from lignite-fueled power plants to renewable power sources.

Taking on new leadership role

Earlier, back in 2010, Fulton Schools Professor Patrick Phelan had enlisted Roedel as a co-principal investigator, along with Professor Harvey Bryan, professor in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts' Design School, on a proposal to the NSF to establish a Professional Science Master’s program in Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization. The proposal was awarded in 2011, just as Roedel was signing his retirement documents.

Once the program was set in motion, admitting the first cohort of students later that same year, Phelan asked Roedel to teach some of its courses. But the terms of the retirement precluded Roedel from teaching at ASU for three years. But in 2014, Phelan and Bryan reached out a second time, and Roedel accepted.

He began by team-teaching a course in solar energy commercialization with Fulton Schools Professor of Practice Steve Trimble in the 2014 spring semester, then took over the Photovoltaic System Engineering course the following fall semester. He continues to teach those courses and has since also been advising many of the program’s students on their required Applied Projects.

Late this summer when Bryan decided to focus on other opportunities and stepped down as the program’s director, Roedel became concerned.

“I came back from retirement to help this program prosper, and it wasn’t clear who would step up to be the next director. The most qualified candidates already had too many commitments,” he said.

So he volunteered for the job. The previous directors and current program manager responded enthusiastically.

“His knowledge of the field of solar energy, and the vast number of connections he has throughout this industry, make him invaluable to moving this program on to the next level,” said Phelan, the program’s first director.

Professor David Allee, a fellow Fulton Schools electrical engineer, isn’t surprised Roedel stepped up to take on the role.

“He exemplifies the kind of truly gifted teacher for whom being an educator isn’t just a job but a passion,” Allee said.

man teaching class

There were “so many interesting things happening at ASU” in the solar energy field that Ron Roedel couldn’t resist accepting offers to get involved after his retirement. He’s been teaching classes the past few years in the Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization graduate program and recently took on the job as its director. Photo by Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU

Plans for strengthening master’s degree program

“From my perspective, Ron’s retirement wasn’t what was best for ASU students,” Pasqualetti said. “Fortunately, he has stayed involved, coming back into the fold when asked, teaching classes for the little compensation that is offered to adjuncts, all for the joy of it, for the importance of it, and to share all the knowledge that he has so carefully accumulated over the years.”

A high percentage of students in of the Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization program are already landing high-level jobs, while others are starting their own businesses, teaching at the college level or getting accepted into doctoral programs in energy fields.

But Roedel isn’t looking merely to stay the course while he’s director. He says he’s committed to strengthening the program.

That will likely entail “redefining and repurposing” existing courses and developing new courses so that students graduate “armed with a comprehensive understanding of all the major aspects of the solar energy industry,” and “ready to be productive in the workforce from day one, and to meet biggest business, technology and policy challenges” in the field, he said.

He intends to build more extensive ties with local and national solar business leaders, primarily by expanding the program’s industrial advisory board with members from all the various stakeholders in the future of solar energy enterprises, including renewable energy advocacy groups and lawyers specializing in utility and regulation issues.

He also wants students to help enable the program to serve as a local resource, such as aiding the city of Tempe’s mission to forcefully move forward toward its goal of using to renewable energy for 100 percent of its energy needs. 

Speaking out on behalf of solar energy movement

With all of the goals on his agenda, Roedel still plans to keep up with the myriad interests he has been involved in for years before and since his now-interrupted retirement.

He is continually at work restoring and updating his house — originally built in 1929 — in a historic neighborhood near downtown Phoenix.

One of the projects was the design and construction of a photovoltaic system atop a backyard trellis structure he has christened the “Power Pergola.” The PV system generates enough solar electricity to provide for all of the home’s annual electrical load.

“The Power Pergola is also a data-generating platform for the photovoltaics classes. We can bring real Phoenix-area power and energy data into the classroom and then, for example, examine the exact impact of proposed utility rate changes on the value proposition of rooftop solar,” Roedel explains.

He finds time to ride his motorcycle, read poetry, get in workouts at the gym, host the occasional party, and hike in the wide, open spaces beyond the Phoenix area’s urban confines.

His attraction to the outdoors is reflected in his memberships in the Wilderness Society, the Arizona Trail Association, the Grand Canyon Trust and the Southern Utah Wilderness Association.

Roedel has also been a member of the Sierra Club for decades, initially for its hiking and wilderness experience activities. But in the last 10 or so years, he’s gotten more involved in the organization’s advocacy on environmental issues.

He has given public talks for the Sierra Club about solar energy, including on topics related to public policy issues and the potential impacts of actions by the Arizona Corporation Commission — the state’s public utilities regulatory body — that could promote or hinder the progress of solar energy ventures.

He has spoken before the commissioners, state legislators, city council members and other public administrators in efforts to advance the cause of renewable energy resources.

Pasqualetti said Roedel has already contributed substantially to the cause through his long career in teaching and research, “but he feels it is his duty as a citizen” to take a stand in the public arena.

“His activism shows the strong commitment he has to what he values,” Allee said.

Magnetism among his personality traits

Away from such serious pursuits, Roedel’s friends and colleagues see him as someone full of humor, energy and curiosity.

“In addition to solar energy and environmental quality,” Pasqualletti said, “he also knows more about beer, baseball, ethnic food and opera than anyone else I have ever met in my 40 years at ASU.”

“He’s a very animated person, and he has a way of getting people interested in his interests and luring them in,” Allee said. “He got me into riding motorcycles, which I’d never been inclined to do.”

Roedel brings the same kind of magnetic personality into the classroom, Kozicki said.

When they taught a course together some years ago, Kozicki recalled, “We would have these ‘I can top that’ competitions to see who could come up with the most obscure facts about the subject we were teaching, or who could stump the most students with a riddle for a homework problem. It was a riot.”

Particularly amusing among Roedel’s talents as a teacher, Kozicki said, is “how he can explain the most complicated things in a way that leaves people laughing their heads off. It’s amazing.”

Roedel “tailors his classes to encourage discussions and asking questions. I really like how he lets us go on talking but reins us in when we get off-topic,” said student Athena Combs-Hurtado, who enrolled in the Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization program because of its mix of engineering, business and public policy studies.

“He really knows a lot about what he is teaching and he’s able to communicate it to all of us on a level that makes it clear and understandable,” she added.

Continuing to contribute to students’ success

Roedel was 31 when he taught his first courses at ASU.

“Students kind of saw me as their smarter older brother,” he recalled. “I would tell them I was only two or three pages ahead of them in the text book.”

As years went by, he said, “They saw me as maybe someone like an experienced uncle. Now, it’s probably more as a wise, old grandfather.”

The return to work “has been a blast,” he added. “I left the university just as solar energy was making great strides toward becoming a major energy source for the future, and there were so many interesting things happening at ASU.”

Foremost among those interesting things was the master’s degree program he now directs.

“Under the leadership of Pat Phelan, Harvey Bryan and Program Manager Karen Dada it is already a very unique and very successful graduate program, and I really want to contribute to its continuing success,” Roedel said. “I think it’s one of the best new things this university is doing.”

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Picture this: Pakistani scholar brings illustrative twist to Thesis

September 19, 2017

If a picture is worth a thousand words then Syeda Qudsia’s master’s thesis must be worth at least 40,000 words. In March, she successfully defended her thesis at the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad, Pakistan on the applications of graphene oxide for solar cells, using cartoons.

Syeda Qudsia attended Arizona State University last year as part of an exchange program with the U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy, better known as USPCAS-E, that seeks to brighten the lives of her fellow compatriots and be part of the solution for Pakistan’s energy crisis by developing skilled energy professionals. The “cartoon Qudsia” illustrates the complexities of chemical bonds with a superhero graphene molecule. The “cartoon Qudsia” illustrates the complexities of chemical bonds with a superhero graphene molecule. Image courtesy of Syeda Qudsia. Download Full Image

“I chose a comic strip format because it is a great medium for storytelling and it makes everything so much more interesting,” Qudsia explained.

Like her cartoon alter-ego featured in her thesis, Qudsia is known for wearing her traditional hijab and veil hijab but also dons her trademark Converse sneakers. The “cartoon Qudsia” illustrates the complexities of chemical bonds with a superhero graphene molecule.

“We modified graphene oxide with a chemical compound, believing that it would change the electrical properties of the material. And it did,” she discovered.

The work she conducted in electrical engineering Assistant Professor Zachary Holman’s lab in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU was on silicon nanoparticles, aimed at improving the efficiency of silicon solar cells. This experience polished her skills and helped her complete her research on graphene oxide’s role in similar solar cell applications back in Pakistan.

Qudsia believed that most science presentations were tedious and dull, and although she felt like she was breaking the rules of traditional science presentations, her thesis was well-received amongst her peers and advisors.

Syeda Qudsia (center) playfully throws the ASU fork in her trademark Converse sneakers. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

“Sometimes people cannot cover the gap-of-knowledge between the audience and the presenter,” she said, but her project certainly bridged that gap and made technical concepts more approachable.

In the spring of 2017 she graduated from NUST in Pakistan with a master’s of science in nanoscience and engineering. Currently, Qudsia is in the process of applying for a doctoral position in solar cell research with the hope of contributing to energy research.

Qudsia was grateful for the USPCAS-E program and the many opportunities availed for her to grow personally and professionally. She credits ASU’s research facilities as an integral part of her success.

USPCAS-E is based at ASU and is a collaboration sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development and Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission in conjunction with two leading Pakistani engineering universities. It aims to train and enable students to be change agents in helping both countries improve their energy systems.

Erika Gronek

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

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ASU professor wins PLuS Alliance prize for SolarSPELL innovation

SolarSPELL creator wins international award for portable digital library.
Laura Hosman's SolarSPELL device brings a suite of learning resources anywhere.
No Wi-Fi or power? No problem with SolarSPELL, designed for learning anywhere.
September 3, 2017

Laura Hosman's solar-powered digital library brings resources, educational opportunities to remote, off-grid communities

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2017, click here.

In a highly connected world where nearly everyone is just a text or tweet away, there still exist many remote, off-grid regions where communities don’t have access to information and resources that open up educational opportunities.

Arizona State University Assistant Professor Laura Hosman is working to change that with SolarSPELL, a portable, solar-powered digital library that comes with its own digital Wi-Fi hotspot, able to function without electricity or existing internet connectivity.

Her innovative device was awarded one of the inaugural PLuS Alliance Prizes this weekend at the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit in London. The $50,000 prizes recognize research and education innovation.

The PLuS Alliance is a unique international collaboration between ASU, King’s College London and UNSW Sydney. Launched in February 2016, the PLuS Alliance enables research-led solutions to global challenges while expanding access to world-class learning.

“I've been working with students in project-based classes to come up with technologies that would be both useful and appropriate,” Hosman said. “It's been a process of continually simplifying technology to make it more relevant for people. Now, we have a library that can fit inside a backpack.”

ASU Assistant Professor Laura Hosman works with a local teacher in Somoa

ASU Assistant Professor Laura Hosman shows a Samoan teacher how to use the SolarSPELL digital library at a training in Samoa, which took place with both Peace Corps volunteers and their local counterpart teachers. Photo by Bruce Baikie

The SolarSPELL library is full of educational resources. The only thing needed to access the information is a laptop, smartphone or iPad.

Hosman was recognized in the Education Innovation category. UNSW Professor Veena Sahajwalla was awarded the Research Innovation award for her work in recycling science to enable global industries to safely utilize toxic and complex wastes as low-cost alternatives to virgin raw materials and fossil fuels.

“Dr. Hosman and Professor Sahajwalla are contemporaries in research and education innovation,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “They’re truly impacting their fields and bringing about a positive difference with proven global application. The level of competition for the inaugural PLuS Alliance Prize was awe-inspiring, and we’re already looking forward to the nominees for the 2018 Prize.”

The information in SolarSPELL is curated to include as much localized information as possible. This allows the device to teach things like science and mathematics, but also to preserve local indigenous knowledge.

Like a community library, it’s meant to be a hub for people of all ages, aligning with ASU’s mission of expanding access and serving communities.

“This project hits on a lot of ASU's charter aspirations,” said Hosman, who holds a joint appointment in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. “I'm all for engaging globally and providing access to those who don't have it.”

Hosman and ASU engineering students brought SolarSPELL to a handful of Pacific islands this summer, creating content specific to the region in addition to hands-on lesson plans. The trip also provided the ASU students with an eye-opening experience.

“Two of my students who traveled with me had never left Arizona before,” Hosman said. “These opportunities are always transformational for ASU students, and I love that aspect of it.”

Video by John Hebrank and Brandon Main

Judging the shortlisted PLuS Alliance Awards candidates from across the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia were six industry leaders including former LinkedIn Vice President Ellen Levy, now managing director of Silicon Valley Connect.

“Innovation in research and education is vital to advancing society in a positive direction, whether by addressing some of the biggest challenges our world faces today, or creating new impactful opportunities,” said Levy, who also will be co-chairing the ASU Innovative Network Council with Crow.

The panel included the three presidents of the PLuS Alliance universities, NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer Mary O’Kane and former Vice President of GE Medical Europe Timothy Irish.

Two additional awards recognized global excellence. Narayana Murthy, an Indian IT industrialist and co-founder of Infosys, received the PLuS Alliance Prize for Global Leadership, and CRISPR researcher Francisco Mojica won the PLuS Alliance Prize for Global Innovation.

Top photo: Assistant Professor Laura Hosman has traveled with ASU students to a number of Pacific Islands (including Vanuatu, pictured), where they worked with Peace Corps volunteers on training and implementation of the SolarSPELL digital library. Photo by Bruce Baikie

Connor Pelton

Communications Writer , ASU Now

ASU scholar collaborates on solar research, benefits Arizona and Pakistan

The U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy is making gains in research

August 28, 2017

It can be tricky balancing affordable electricity bills for customers and profits for utility companies, but the happy medium might lie in solar energy storage.

Abdul Kashif Janjua, a fall 2016 exchange scholar from the U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy at Arizona State University, analyzed data and patterns to find an equilibrium for both sides of the equation. Above: Abdul Kashif Janjua, exchange scholar from the U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy, known as USPCAS-E, with his certificate of completion from the Power System’s Lab in fall 2016. Photo courtesy of Abdul Kashif Janjua. Above: Abdul Kashif Janjua, exchange scholar from the U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy, known as USPCAS-E, with his certificate of completion from the Power System’s Lab in fall 2016. Photo courtesy of Abdul Kashif Janjua Download Full Image

Kashif collaborated on a research paper titled, “Customer Benefit Optimization for Residential PV with Energy Storage System” under the tutelage of George Karady, a professor of electrical engineering at ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Fellow.

Different combinations of solar panels and different sized batteries were tested in concert to find the right combination. The research accounted for variables like load, temperature and battery discharge rates to derive the best result for both customers and utilities.

The paper was presented at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Power Engineering Society’s general meeting in Chicago in July. Presenting the paper at the Power Engineering Society was significant because the organization acts as one of the largest forums for sharing the latest in technological developments in the electric power industry, for developing standards that guide the development and construction of equipment and systems, and for public and industry education.

Dr. George Karady representing the U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Energy and ASU, surveys posters at the IEEE PES 2017 General Meeting . Photo credit: IEEE PES

Kashif compared the climates of Arizona and Pakistan saying that, “they are quite similar so photovoltaic systems are feasible in both areas.”

The research can be used to optimize variables like the size of the photovoltaic system and various charging strategies, “[with] the only difference being the tariffs which can be programmed into the developed algorithm,” Kashif explained. This leaves a door open for computers to eventually determine the right balance, possibly even using artificial intelligence in the future.

Over the next five years, Arizona is expected to install 3,380 megawatts worth of solar electric capacity, ranking it fourth in that time period in the United States. Meanwhile, Pakistan has been suffering from rolling blackouts from six to 16 hours a day. Both areas have much to teach each other about renewable energy.

The collaboration process with Pavan Etha and Anil Chelladurai, electrical engineering graduate students at ASU, as well as the mentorship he received from his time at ASU has been an invaluable asset to his education. Of Karady he stated that, “he was [the] most supportive, helpful and encouraging professor.”

He went on to say that Karady’s “knowledge and experience with electrical systems can be rarely found even in the best universities of the world and he was not reluctant to share each of his experiences related to our field."

This type of collaboration between the United States and Pakistan is a hallmark of USPCAS-E because it allows for progress in energy research for the countries’ mutual benefit.

Kashif’s time at ASU rolls into the eventual completion of his master’s degree at Pakistan’s National University of Sciences and Technology in the field of energy systems engineering. Plans are in the works for him to pursue a doctorate and then potentially apply his research in the commercial sector. In the meantime, he is in the process of publishing another research paper along similar lines in Pakistan.

The USPCAS-E project has now reached a point in its evolution where the return from this type of investment in education is now resulting in exciting research findings. Outcomes from USPCAS-E’s scholars are timely as they fall at the heels of Pakistan celebrating its 70th anniversary of independence and its continued collaboration and development with the United States.

Erika Gronek

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

ASU team shines new light on photosynthesis

August 25, 2017

A team of scientists from ASU’s School of Molecular Sciences and Pennsylvania State University has taken us a step closer to unlocking the secrets of photosynthesis, and possibly to cleaner fuels.

Their discovery was recently published online in Science and describes the structure of a reaction center (from a heliobacterium) which preserves the characteristics of the ancestral one, and so provides new insight into the evolution of photosynthesis. THis study will be in print on September 15. Scientists from ASU’s School of Molecular Sciences Raimund Fromme, Christopher Gisriel and Kevin E. Redding ASU team (from left to right) Raimund Fromme, Christopher Gisriel and Kevin Redding, researchers in the School of Molecular Sciences. Download Full Image

Photosynthesis is the most important biological process driving the biosphere. It harnesses the energy of sunlight, and provides us with our main sources of food and fuel. The study of photosynthesis has allowed scientists not only to understand the intricacies of how organisms use light to drive their metabolism, but has also paved the way for technological advances into sustainable energy sources.

“The photosynthetic process first came into being roughly 3 billion years ago, before Earth's atmosphere contained oxygen,” said Kevin Redding, a professor in the School of Molecular Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, whose group is leading the research at ASU. “Photosynthesis works by using specialized membrane proteins, called photosynthetic reaction centers, which collect the energy from light and use it to pump electrons across a biological membrane from one cellular electron carrier to another, resulting in conversion of electromagnetic (i.e. light) energy into chemical energy, which the organism can use.”

A great deal of research has determined that these reaction centers appeared just once on the planet, and have since diversified to perform different sorts of chemistry.

Despite the diversification, the reaction centers retain the same overall architecture, reflecting their common origin. During the last 3 billion years these proteins have been elaborated and changed and it has been difficult to reconstruct what happened over this enormous period of time. However, we do know that one of them developed the ability to oxidize water, releasing oxygen. This changed the world irrevocably, and allowed for life as we know it today.

The team believes that the first reaction center (RC) was simpler than the versions that exist today. In terms of the protein structure, it was a homodimer — that is, two copies of the same polypeptide came together to form a symmetric structure. The reaction centers whose structures we know are all heterodimers in which this inherent symmetry has been broken, although at their heart they still retain the vestiges of the original symmetric architecture.

The heliobacterium of the article in Science is a member of the most primitive of the photosynthetic bacteria, bacteria that do not make oxygen — in fact, they are intolerant of oxygen, like the first organisms. They also cannot fix carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and must use organic carbon sources. Important for this study, their RC is a homodimer.

Thus, this is the first homodimeric RC structure and it sheds light in several ways on what the ancestral RC may have looked like. In several ways the overall architecture of the protein is very similar to the photosystems of plants and cyanobacteria and the RC of the purple sulfur bacteria. However, built upon that common architecture are some crucial chemical differences that result in chemistry different from that of the known RCs, including their ability to use both water-soluble and lipid-soluble carriers, a capability previously thought to be restricted to one or another type of RC.

This work is the result of a collaboration between Kevin Redding, Raimund Fromme, associate research professor in the School of Molecular Sciences and a researcher in the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Applied Structural Biology, and John Golbeck from Pennsylvania State University. Raimund Fromme as protein crystallographer is the corresponding author of the present study.

Structure of the Heliobacterium modesticaldum photosynthetic reaction center-photosystem

Structure of the Heliobacterium modesticaldum photosynthetic reaction center-photosystem. Image credit: Christopher Gisriel

Redding and Golbeck had decided 8 years ago to join forces to tackle the heliobacterial RC. They combined their individual Department of Energy grants into a joint grant, which has since been renewed twice: the third iteration started a year ago. Fromme started on his initiative, the crystallography of the RC with Iosifina Sarrou, a postdoctoral fellow in the Redding group who had optimized its purification.Fromme officially joined the grant as Co-PI four years ago.

Fromme and Sarrou produced the first diffracting crystals to ~ 6 Å resolution.

The work truly took off when Christopher Gisriel, a doctoral student in the Redding group, started working with Fromme to crystallize the RC.

“I credit Chris and Raimund with doing what was necessary to get this structure,” said Redding, who is also the director of ASU’s Center for Bioenergy and Photosynthesis.

“Raimund Fromme's expertise in the crystallization of membrane proteins and the solution of their structure was crucial. Chris did the very hard work of improving the purification, optimizing the crystallization conditions, and taking his crystals to the beamlines numerous times. And because the protein is inherently oxygen-sensitive, he had to do all the purification and crystallization in a glovebox!”

“This is the moment a crystallographer is waiting for,” said Fromme, explaining the years it can take to grow the perfect protein crystal suitable for X-ray studies.  

Redding continued, “They were able to get the diffraction quality from a resolution of ~10 Å to 2-2.5 Å in a few years of very hard work … and then came the Herculean task of solving the structure.  Chris started with a very stripped down model of what the RC might look like, based on expected similarities with the cyanobacterial Photosystem I, and then worked constantly on it for months. He had to teach himself new software and work long nights to get there. Once he had something that was looking real, Raimund was able to take that and push it to the next level. And working together they have produced a truly beautiful structure at very high resolution.”

“Chris is a veteran of the U.S. Army, having served in Afghanistan,” Redding said. “He came to ASU as a biochemistry major and started working in my lab as an undergraduate researcher. Having never seriously considered the possibility of a career in research before, he was unsure at first how far he wanted to go down this path. However, he soon developed a taste for it, and then pushed me to allow him to take on the RC crystallography project as a Master’s student. I cautioned him against it, knowing how hard it would be and the low chances of success, but he persisted, and I eventually relented. He later decided to pursue a doctorate. He will defend his dissertation later this semester and I could not be prouder of him.”

“This reaction center is only found in organisms that can live in oxygen-free environments, like that of early Earth,” Gisriel said. "This work has opened the door for scientists all over the world to compare the primitive reaction center's characteristics with those of more advanced reaction centers that reside in oxygen-tolerant organisms. As a result, we are gaining a more clear and informed picture of how nature optimized light-driven energy collection.”

The team included Christopher Gisriel, Kevin E. Redding and Raimund Fromme of ASU; Iosifina Sarrou (formerly of ASU, now at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science, DESY); Bryan Ferlez and John H. Golbeck of Pennsylvania State University. This work was funded by the Division of Chemical Sciences, Geosciences, and Biosciences, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, of the U.S. Department of Energy through Grant (DE-SC0010575 to KR, RF, and JHG) and supported by X-ray crystallographic equipment and infrastructure provided by the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery at ASU. 

Jenny Green

Clinical associate professor, School of Molecular Sciences


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ASU’s photovoltaics program earns 6 Energy Department SunShot Awards

July 17, 2017

Awards, which total $4.3 million, ranking the university first among recipients in the Photovoltaics Research category

Arizona State University has earned six prestigious U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Awards, totaling $4.3 million, ranking it first among recipients in the Photovoltaics Research category for 2017.  

This year’s awards, which come with grants totaling $20.5 million overall for 28 projects, supports the development of new commercial photovoltaics technologies that improve product performance, reliability and manufacturability. In this round, ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering placed ahead of other leading solar research centers — the University of Central Florida ($3.18 million), Stanford ($1.59 million) and Colorado State ($1.28 million) each earned two awards. Last year, ASU photovoltaics researchers also received the majority of SunShot PV awards, taking six of 19 and $3.75 million in funding.

SunShot was launched in 2011 with a goal of making solar cost-competitive with conventional energy sources by 2020; the program is now at 90 percent of its goal of $0.06 per kilowatt-hour and recently expanded its target to $0.03 per kilowatt-hour by 2030.

ASU’s Quantum Energy and Sustainable Technologies (QESST) NSF-DOE research center and testbed in Tempe has established ASU’s engineering program as a powerhouse in photovoltaics, playing a key role in SunShot objectives. QESST is the largest university solar research facility in the United States, drawing researchers from around the world in the mission to advance photovoltaic technologies. QESST will continue to play a major role in the photovoltaics industry as SunShot moves to double the amount of national electricity demand provided by solar.

“ASU receiving six DOE SunShot Initiative grants — many more than any academic institution on the awardee list — is a testimony to our faculty’s excellence in building innovative solutions that help power the future in a reliable and cost-effective way,” said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research and innovation officer at ASU.

“For the second year in a row, our faculty won more SunShot awards than any other institution in the country, reaffirming our leadership in the research, development and advancement of photovoltaic science and technology,” said Kyle Squires, dean of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “Photovoltaics are a key component of tomorrow’s energy solutions, and this recognition from the Department of Energy highlights not only our faculty’s research excellence and the inherent value of their ideas, but also the breadth and depth of research in the Fulton Schools of Engineering.”

This year’s award recipients include:

Mariana Bertoni, assistant professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, was granted two awards. 

Award 1: Spalling, or the process of exfoliating a wafer from a silicon block, has shown promise as an efficient, waste-reducing production method for wafers. Bertoni’s first study is exploring a new spalling technique that relies on sound waves and low temperatures, to mitigate contamination of the wafers, while achieving industry relevant thickness and surface planarity.

“During our previous DOE award we have shown that the technique works; now we need to fine-tune the parameters to evaluate the potential for upscaling,” Bertoni said. “This could be a disruptive technology with applications well beyond silicon.”

Award 2: Bertoni’s second project will be studying the correlation between electrical properties, structure and composition at the nanoscale in thin film modules of cadmium telluride and copper indium gallium selenide. The team will be designing a multimodal hard X-ray microscopy approach to probe non-destructively different regions of modules under operating conditions. Detailed characterization could lead the way to improved module efficiency, lower degradation rates and longer warranties. Additionally, Bertoni is serving as co-principal investigator on Assistant Professor Owen Hildreth’s award (see below), and is co-PI on a fourth award, working in conjunction with Assistant Professor David Fenning of the University of California San Diego to develop a way to detect water present in photovoltaic modules. Using this methodology, the pair hopes to model performance degradation from water exposure.

“Understanding the origin of performance loses and how variations in illumination or temperature affect thin film modules will help us engineer high efficiency, long lasting devices,” Bertoni said.

Stuart Bowden, associate research professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, is designing a novel photovoltaic cell architecture known as M-CELL. This structure is a single silicon wafer, which allows integration and interconnection of multiple cells in series to enable higher voltage and lower current than existing modules.

Owen Hildreth, assistant professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, is researching ways to drastically reduce solar cell cost through the reduction of silver consumption. His project is investigating the how material and growth properties of reactive metal inks impact the reliability of solar cells metallized using these new inks. Hildreth’s work has potential for use both traditional silicon wafer technologies and next-generation heterojunction architectures, which currently employ costly metallization techniques due to temperature sensitivity.

“The solar cell industry currently spends more than $14 billion per year screen printing silver electrodes on the top of solar cells; this project aims to reduce those costs by a factor of 10 and reduce solar cell wafer production costs by 27 percent — making solar energy even more affordable to consumers,” said Hildreth.

Govindasamy Tamizhmani, associate research professor at the Polytechnic School, is investigating new methods for rapid and accurate characterization of photovoltaic modules in operation. Current methods are time-consuming and costly and lack the ability to account for differences between lab and field conditions — a vital component to understand the physical causes of performance variation in the field.

“Obtaining string and module I-V curves simultaneously is of great importance to plant owners and service providers to identify the underperforming modules and to determine the degradation rates and module mismatch losses,” Tamizhamani said.

Meng Tao, professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, is working on a two-layer aluminum electrode to replace its silver counterpart currently used in silicon photovoltaic cells. This could reduce processing expenses and improve device lifetime and reliability while maintaining high efficiency.

Terry Grant

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications