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Sustainability News

Monsoon rains found to be beneficial to underground aquifers

View Source | August 2, 2018

A storm cloud drops torrential rain over a desert mountainUsing a combination of field instrumentation, unmanned aerial vehicles and a hydrologic model, a team of researchers from Arizona State University and the Jornada Long-Term Ecological Research Program of the National Science Foundation has been studying the fate of monsoon rainfall and its impact on groundwater recharge in the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico.

Their findings, recently published in the journal Water Resources Research, explain how a surprising amount of rainfall, nearly 25 percent, from monsoon storms is absorbed into small stream beds and percolates into the groundwater system. The researchers identified factors affecting the percolation process through the use of a numerical model that reproduced the long-term observations obtained at a highly instrumented research site.

“The results of this study show that monsoon storms serve an important role in recharging groundwater aquifers near the point of runoff generation,” said ASU hydrologist Enrique Vivoni of the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. “This is an essential process that banks renewable surface water for future use as a groundwater resource in the arid Southwest and throughout the world.”

ASU research demonstrates silicon-based tandem photovoltaic modules can compete in solar market

View Source | August 2, 2018

ASU Assistant Research Professor Zhengshan Yu holds up solar cellNew solar energy research from Arizona State University demonstrates that silicon-based tandem photovoltaic modules, which convert sunlight to electricity with higher efficiency than present modules, will become increasingly attractive in the U.S.

A paper that explores the costs vs. enhanced efficiency of this new solar technology appears in Nature Energy this week. The paper is authored by ASU Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Assistant Research Professor Zhengshan J. Yu, graduate student Joe V. Carpenter and Assistant Professor Zachary Holman.

The Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative was launched in 2011 with a goal of making solar cost-competitive with conventional energy sources by 2020. The program attained its goal of $0.06 per kilowatt-hour three years early, and a new target of $0.03 per kilowatt-hour by 2030 has been set. Increasing the efficiency of photovoltaic modules is one route to reducing the cost of the solar electricity to this new target. If reached, the goal is expected to triple the amount of solar installed in the U.S. in 2030 compared to the business-as-usual scenario.

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ASU sustainability scientist co-authors report about decarbonizing energy system

View Source | July 26, 2018

bright light bulbsScience magazine recently published an article co-authored by Klaus Lackner, Director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University. The article, “Net-zero emissions energy systems,” examines the possibilities and challenges facing the decarbonization of energy use — as in, developing an energy system that does not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Decarbonizing energy use would ease the dangerous effects of climate change. Eliminating emissions from some services, such as local travel, heating and cooling, would be relatively simple, but emissions from some essential services would be difficult to curtail.

In the report, Lackner and the authors discuss the complexities facing the decarbonization of certain energy sectors, such as air travel, cement production and the provision of a reliable electricity grid. They outline research and development areas that are crucial to achieve this goal of net-zero emissions in energy systems.

Read the full article in Science magazine.

Psyche mission aims to help scientists understand Earth’s core

July 17, 2018

Artist's rendition of Psyche asteroid with spacecraft in backgroundThree times farther from the sun than Earth, a massive asteroid made of metal floats in space between Mars and Jupiter. Its name is Psyche, and it could be the core of an early planet that survived violent collisions when the solar system was forming. Psyche was the sixteenth asteroid ever discovered, in 1852, but only recently has a spacecraft mission been initiated by Arizona State University and NASA to study this asteroid in more depth.

Unlike most other known asteroids, which are primarily rocky, Psyche appears to be made almost entirely of nickel-iron metal — much like Earth’s own core. According to ASU’s Psyche website, “The asteroid Psyche may be able to tell us how Earth’s core and the cores of the other terrestrial (rocky) planets came to be.” Scientists can’t investigate Earth’s core directly, so studying an asteroid with a similar makeup may be the next best thing.

ASU leads the Psyche mission, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is responsible for its management, operations and spacecraft navigation. The spacecraft is slated to launch in 2022, and then it will spend nearly four years cruising through space, using the gravitational field of Mars to increase in speed, until it reaches Psyche in 2026. Upon arrival, the spacecraft will orbit Psyche for 21 months, mapping and studying the asteroid’s properties.

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Government policy, public perception and real-world economic consequence

View Source | July 12, 2018

Power plant on the Navajo NationEarth is experiencing a Great Transition as its peoples slowly shift from fossil fuels to wind, plants, natural processes and our sun.

It’s not the first time people have changed where they get their energy sources, but as energy historian Chris Jones

said, what makes the Great Transition different is that this time we need to get rid of something, instead of just adding something. Climate change is the binding constraint.

Arizona State University is part of a new coalition of 13 leading research universities committed to tackling climate change. The group — called the University Climate Change Coalition — includes universities from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Read the full story on ASU Now to learn how ASU energy scholars are confronting the difficult challenges of transforming the climate narrative and enacting change through policy.

Solar technology seeking a balance

View Source | July 11, 2018

Solar panels line the top of a building on ASU campus in TempeArizona. Where you don’t have to shovel sunshine, as the old tourism ads chortled. At Arizona State University, students and alumni are Sun Devils. The sun is in the university logo. Solar panels cover almost every structure.

It’s natural then that solar panels take the biggest slice of ASU’s energy research pie. Financial estimates for the next decade point to more than $1 trillion invested in renewable energy globally.

Read the full story on ASU Now to learn more about the evolution of solar energy technology happening at ASU, where researchers are look to find affordable, reliable solutions.

ASU on the forefront of a Great Transition

View Source | July 9, 2018

Aerial view of a city skyline with a river at sunsetThere is a Great Transition underway, a colossal shift from fossil fuels to wind, plants, natural processes and our sun. It’s born from technological innovation and necessity. If humanity continues to dispel the dark entirely with carbon fuels, we will eventually wipe ourselves out.

Renewable energy sources are no longer the sole province of Northern California hippies and hard-core Alaskan survivalists.

Are we skipping blithely toward a clean-air future, with solar panels on every roof and an electric car in every garage? Not at all. Experts agree your energy future will involve a mix of sources. It will also involve solving a massive problem that is composed of thousands of problems itself.

Read the full story on ASU Now to learn what Arizona State University researchers are doing to develop scalable, renewable energy solutions for the "wicked problem" of fossil fuel consumption.

ASU LightWorks talks carbon at EarthX

View Source | May 29, 2018

asu-lightworks-talks-carbon-earthxSince 1970, Earth Day has provided a platform to raise awareness about environmental sustainability, has acted as an opportunity for educational experiences, and has promoted a call to action to protect the planet. Today, Earth Day is a worldwide campaign supported by millions of people in 192 countries working together to fight for a clean environment.

On Earth Day 2018, staff from Arizona State University’s LightWorks attended EarthX and presented the latest research and technologies that address today’s climate change issues. EarthX is the world’s largest Earth Day expo, where people gather to share ideas and solutions from all over the world.

LightWorks, in association with ASU’s Center for Negative Carbon Emissions, participated in the Clean Capitalism Challenge Panel hosted by EarthX. Scholars discussed with organizations from across the country an outline of an efficient, pro-business, pro-growth clean tax code that can tilt the playing field in the direction of cleaner, more efficient solutions to transform capitalism into clean capitalism. Watch the highlights on the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability's YouTube channel.

Change needed in the electric utility industry to curb emissions

May 23, 2018

Three smoke stacks at a power plant with billowing smoke in northern ArizonaGreenhouse gas emissions are a growing problem, but Arizona State University sustainability scientist Elisabeth Graffy believes that the electric utility industry can be a force for change. Graffy recently co-wrote an article, “Corporate Finance and Sustainability: The Case of the Electric Utility Industry,” about this topic in the Journal of Applied Corporate Finance.

The electric utility sector “accounts for about half of all climate emissions and is the foundation of all sustainable energy futures that generally get discussed,” said Graffy, who leads several initiatives at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, including the LightWorks program’s Energy and Society group. In the article, Graffy and three analysts discuss how the industry can transform to meet sustainability goals — no small feat.

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Student Career Fair Veteran Research Spotlight

March 5, 2018

Student Veteran Career FairIn February, the NEPTUNE project – an Office of Naval Research funded project focused on energy research, dynamic learning and engagement with the military service – along with ASU LightWorks® coordinated the first-ever veteran-focused addition to ASU’s spring 2018 University-Wide Career & Internship Fair. This was an opportunity to get an inside look at faculty and NEPTUNE’s student veteran research in the areas of microgrids, cybersecurity, and technology. It provided an opportunity for corporations and NGOs to connect with the veteran population in the ASU community.

“Supporting research that targets key military and national energy challenges is a vital component of ONR’s mission, driving technology advancements...However, creating a culture of energy innovation requires a parallel professional development effort to implement such advancements." - Dr. Richard Carlin, head of ONR’s Sea Warfare and Weapons Department.

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Bringing stable power to the most remote communities

View Source | February 22, 2018

DR. Nathan Johnson in front of Solar PanelsAs many as 1.3 billion people lack access to electrical power, according to Senior Sustainability Scientist Nathan Johnson. That's why the ASU engineer – who directs the Laboratory for Energy And Power Solutions – is advancing technologies for electrical-grid modernization and off-grid electrification.

One of these solutions is the microgrid, which provides independent power generation and storage. Johnson and the LEAPS team are developing microgrids that are more technically and economically viable – easier to design, scale and transport. On top of providing the world's poorest and most remote communities with stable power, this technology can improve scenarios like disaster relief and medical care.

Johnson’s approach to military microgrids won a TechConnect Defense Innovation Award at the Defense Innovation Technology Acceleration Challenges Summit.

Slum residents make themselves count

View Source | February 20, 2018

picture of slumsIf cities in developing nations don’t address their burgeoning slums, poverty will increase, political instability will heighten and human misery will continue.

That's according to Senior Sustainability Scientist José Lobo, one of the authors of a 2018 report presented at the World Urban Forum. The report detailed the efforts of Know Your City, an initiative that organized slum residents in 103 cities to profile, enumerate and map their communities.

“The central premise of community data collection is that the data collected becomes an instrument to foster a dialogue among the many different parties (communities, public agencies, governments, NGOs, international funding agencies) about the design and implementation of effective solutions,” Lobo said.

Food Systems director calls for lifestyle-wide behavior change for a more sustainable future

View Source | February 20, 2018

Chris WharChris Whartonton, director of the Food Systems Transformation Initiative, gives the latest KEDTalk hosted by ASU's Knowledge Enterprise Development. "We live in a world of wild, damaging, unsustainable excess," he says, and the solution requires a rapid, transformational response. By revealing what is hidden in plain sight, Wharton illuminates a path to health, wealth, happiness and sustainability through values-based behavior change.

Sights and Sounds in February 2018

February 13, 2018

ASU Microgrid TourMobile Microgrid Training Platform

Arizona State University workforce development programs for solar PV and microgrid technicians highlighted the Mobile Microgrid Training Platform for hands-on training in deployment, component integration, system operation, troubleshooting and maintenance.

Sustainability Solutions Celebration

The Sustainability Solutions Celebration brought together the business and academic worlds to celebrate young innovators who have reimagined global challenges to make the world a better place.

Building a New Carbon Economy: Strategies for Turning Waste Carbon from Liability to AssetBuilding a New Carbon Economy: Strategies for Turning Waste Carbon from Liability to Asset

This workshop focused on companies who are developing strategies for turning waste carbon into a valuable and sustainable asset throughout their supply chains.

ASU Green Game

A zero waste game, the excitement intensified with an 80 – 78 win for ASU Men’s Basketball over UCLA. #GreenGameASU

Accelerating the transition to a low-carbon future

View Source | February 6, 2018

Image of MountainsASU is part of a new coalition of 13 leading research universities committed to tackling climate change. The group – called the University Climate Change Coalition, or UC3 – includes distinguished universities from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Each university has committed to mobilizing its resources and expertise to help businesses, cities and states achieve their climate goals. Specific UC3 goals include hosting cross-sector forums and producing a climate mitigation and adaptation report.

The formation of UC3 was announced at the Second Nature 2018 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit.

Sci-fi can offer a window to our food future

View Source | February 1, 2018

The Minnesota DietThere are plenty of sci-fi stories set in post-apocalyptic scenarios where urban ruins crumble amid mass environmental destruction, and the remaining human communities struggle to find food, water and shelter. Charlie Jane Anders’ short sci-fi story “The Minnesota Diet” is different, and the Food Systems Transformation Initiative (FSTI) director Chris Wharton explains why in a special Future Tense article for Slate.

Anders’ story begins in fictional New Lincoln, a technologically advanced, future urban city seemingly well-insulated from agricultural vulnerabilities—until it isn’t.

Wharton says “The Minnesota Diet” offers opportunities for backcasting and reflection on our current behaviors when it comes to our food system. Anders’ story lends insight into more than just the technological efficiencies required for food production and delivery systems — it invites us to think critically about the choices we make right now with the resources we have today.

Retailers rise with the tide of responsible products

View Source | February 1, 2018

Shopping Cart in Grocery Store Aisle$200 billion worth of consumer products are now managed using tools created by The Sustainability Consortium – an organization run by ASU and the University of Arkansas – according to the consortium's 2017 impact report.

TSC helps companies define, develop and deliver more sustainable products by providing them with science-based tools. Its members – which exceed 100 and include brands like Walmart, Amazon and Walgreens – have access to research insights in almost 130 product categories. To date, 85 percent of consumer goods are covered.

“We are now seeing the tide changing in the number of companies committing to creating sustainable products for a more sustainable planet,” said TSC Chief Executive Euan Murray.

Perspective on the New Carbon Economy

January 31, 2018

The economic and industrial developments that were fueled by the industrial revolution have made nations more productive than ever before and brought in significant social and lifestyle changes. However, they have also added approximately 2 trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide to the earth’s atmosphere. Even though the presence of CO2 to such an extent in the atmosphere is a pressing environmental challenge, it provides an enormous market opportunity to transform waste carbon dioxide in the air into valuable products and services in a New Carbon Economy.

The New Carbon Economy, where carbon pollution is turned into materials and fuels that drive our daily lives, is the need of the hour in progressing towards a sustainable future that creates a strong, healthy and resilient environment for communities around the globe.

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Survival strategies for the 21st century city

View Source | January 29, 2018

ShadeWhen Senior Sustainability Scientist Shade Shutters approached communities and economic developers in Arizona with tools to create green economies, they initially dismissed him. The mindset was, "put food on the table first, then you can think about the long term," and they wanted to prioritize jobs.

Shutters was eventually able to garner interest by rebranding 'green decision tools' as 'innovation and creative economy tools,' insight he shared at a Jan. 23 Future Tense event co-hosted by ASU and COMEXI – Mexico’s influential foreign affairs think tank.

Titled “Will our Cities Survive the 21st Century?," the event convened reporters, experts and resilience officers from around the world. Participants agreed that the successful future of cities relies on involving all communities when communicating threats, setting priorities and making decisions about mitigation and adaptation.

Professor says crisis should serve as 'wakeup call'

View Source | January 29, 2018

DroughtAs Cape Town, South Africa nears “Day Zero” when authorities turn off the taps — expected in the first half of April 2018 — Senior Sustainability Scientist Dave White expresses the pressing need to adapt urban water systems to stresses like climate change.

White, who directs ASU's Decision Center for a Desert City, says that the causes of Cape Town's water crisis are familiar to water managers in water-scarce cities around the world – like Phoenix. These include limited supplies, dramatic population growth, aging and inefficient infrastructure, persistent drought, inadequate reservoir storage and climate change impacts.

Luckily, White provides a number of ways to improve water resilience. Among them are greater public engagement in water management planning and decision making, public and private investment in technology and infrastructure, rainwater harvesting, enhanced recycling and reuse of wastewater, cross-sector conservation and demand management, and development of new renewable supplies where feasible.