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ASU partners to bring algae technology into next generation

February 4, 2014

A newly announced partnership between Arizona State University, Heliae and SCHOTT North America is a big step forward on the path to accelerate algae technology.

The collaboration will bring Heliae’s algae production technology to ASU’s algae testbed facility. Through the partnership, SCHOTT financed a Helix photobioreactor built by Heliae and installed at ASU’s Department of Energy-funded algae testbed facility on the Polytechnic campus. Over the next several years, algae researchers at ASU will leverage the Helix photobioreactor to propel the understanding of algae production technology, including an investigation into the effect of glass tubing innovations on the yields and economics of algae production. The reactor will also deliver the production of high-quality algae cultures, which will support broader ASU algae operations. Technicians work together on the ASU Polytechnic campus Download Full Image

The DOE-sponsored testbed at ASU is part of the Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3) – a network of algae industry leaders, national labs and research facilities. Led by ASU, ATP3 enables both researchers and third party companies to succeed in their algal endeavors by providing a national network of testbed systems and other services, such as research and education.

Heliae, a technology-driven algae production company, designed, built and installed the Helix inoculum reactor late in 2013. Over the course of the multi-year research plan, ASU will manage Helix operations and research, while Heliae and SCHOTT will support the project in an advisory capacity.

As a key facet of the program, SCHOTT will continually supply novel glass tubing configurations to be placed within the Helix platform for validation and performance analysis. SCHOTT’s new CONTURAX oval glass tubing will likely replace current tubing later in 2014. Its oval shape offers a larger surface area for better light utilization and penetration, which should increase the productivity of the reactor, reducing operating costs. In addition to testing various types of glass configurations, ASU will analyze the growth of various algae strains, production regimes and light conditions, while offering a powerful tool to enhance ongoing operations at ATP3.

“Heliae is constantly innovating for new algae strains, new products and a pipeline of international production sites around the world,” said Dan Simon, Heliae’s president and CEO. “To develop world-class technology, it’s essential to partner and collaborate with the best innovators in the industry, and the interactions between Heliae’s and SCHOTT’s research and development teams over the years have helped both companies develop world-class technology that will truly enable this industry.”

“Schott and Heliae have been working together on technology development for years, as Heliae’s technical leadership in the algae industry is unmatched,” said Nikolaos Katsikis, director of business development at SCHOTT Tubing. “Pairing our history in glass innovation with their demonstrated algae expertise will continue to produce commercial technology for the growing algae industry. This partnership and public research is a great step in bringing efficiency and cost reduction to producers of high-quality algae around the world.”

“By linking academic and commercial interests, we aim to accelerate the pace of innovation in algae research and development,” said Gary Dirks, director of ATP3 and the ASU Global Institute of Sustainability. “Pairing the skills of ASU algae researchers and technicians with technology from industrial partners like Heliae and SCHOTT brings ATP3 closer to its mission of propelling algae technology into a commercial realm.”

ASU In the News

Quest to boost solar-cell performance

Arizona State University engineers are leading a national project that promises to propel the growth of the solar-energy industry.

With support from the U.S. Department of Energy, ASU researchers will join engineers and scientists at several other prominent universities to significantly increase the efficiency of the technology for converting sunlight into electricity.

ASU associate research professor Stuart Bowden recently discussed how the research team plans to realize that goal while at the same time making solar-energy systems more economically competitive with conventional energy sources.

He was interviewed about the project on the KAET-Channel 8 “Horizons” public affairs program.

Bowden’s interview begins after a discussion with ASU physics professor Lawrence Krauss, at about the 16:45-minute point of the video.

Read more about the research project Bowden is leading.

Article Source: KAET-PBS Channel 8 "Horizon"
Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Engineering project shows promise for advances in lighting technology

November 25, 2013

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

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Department of Energy hosts algae workshop at ASU

November 21, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• the appropriate metrics for success

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

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

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

November 5, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To learn more, click here.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU-led national project aims at solar cell advances

November 5, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To learn more, click here.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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

November 1, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASU collaboration creates breakthroughs for solar cell efficiency

October 25, 2013

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

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

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

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

Solar energy crystallizes

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

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

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

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

The perfect solar cell?

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

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

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

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

Margaret Coulombe

Director, Executive Communications, Office of the University Provost


ASU In the News

Art form, nanotechnology combine to advance batteries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more about the work in Chan’s lab.

Article Source: ExtremeTech.com
Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU In the News

ASU sustainability program uses Valley cities as living lab

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

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

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

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

Article Source: The Arizona Republic