Deep Decarbonization News

BP oil SpillEconomists Price BP Oil Spill Damage to Natural Resources at $17.2 Billion

Study published in Science improves valuation techniques that drive policy decisions

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was the largest maritime oil spill in U.S. history. Almost seven years to the day after the start of the environmental disaster, researchers have published a price tag of the damage done to natural resources: $17.2 billion.

The paper, in the April 21, 2017 issue of Science, puts a monetary value on injuries to natural assets that don’t have a market price, caused by the April 20, 2010 accident on the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform. Before the blowout on the well was capped in August of that year, it released 134 million gallons of oil into the ocean, polluting the water, soiling beaches and marshes, and killing marine life.

CarsonEnvironmental economist Richard Carson of the University of California San Diego was one of the principal investigators on the valuation study.

“This is the biggest research project ever done in environmental economics and defines the state-of-the-art for valuating ecosystem services,” said Carson, a professor and former chair of the Department of Economics in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences. Carson is an affiliate of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative.

The study was undertaken on behalf of state and federal trustees of the Gulf’s natural resources and conducted under the guidance of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It was initiated in May 2010 and ran concurrently with assessments by natural scientists. Estimates from the valuation study, Carson said, were available in advance of the settlement reached out of court in 2016.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Getting to a Zero Carbon Future

Meng Lab

Avoiding the worst consequences of climate change by reducing global carbon emissions to as close to zero as possible is one of humanity’s most pressing challenges. The University of California San Diego has launched the Deep Decarbonization Initiative to do just that. And they plan to do so in the real world — where costs matter.

Meng LabThe initiative is a collaborative effort of UC San Diego faculty from across campus working at the intersection of science, technology and policy. It embeds the study of modern societies — economics, politics and social organization — within expert technical research on energy systems. The goal is to understand not just how energy systems function, but also how policy and social movements can transform energy and protect the planet.

UC San Diego researchers are working to radically re-invent the electric power grid, one of the central challenges to decarbonization. They’re exploring alternative fuels and battery storage for the entire transportation system. And they’re addressing the ever-increasing demand of providing clean energy for the entire planet, helping to grow access to fuel while drastically cutting pollution.

“UC San Diego is stepping up to help guide the difficult process of decarbonizing world energy and transportation systems in a way that is inclusive and comprehensive, and also feasible,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “This is exactly the kind of pressing, boundary-breaking work that defines UC San Diego.”

Deep Decarbonization Research & Education

Through the Deep Decarbonization Initiative, UC San Diego will leverage its tremendous research strengths across campus to serve as an academic hub, connecting students and faculty who are working on issues relevant for decarbonization from different perspectives.

Leading the initiative are George R. Tynan of the Jacobs School of Engineering and David G. Victor of the School of Global Policy and Strategy. Tynan, an associate dean and professor of mechanical engineering, is the head of the PISCES Research Program focusing on nuclear fusion as an energy source. Victor is a political science and policy expert, and co-directs the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation that studies how international laws actually work in the real world.

Transportation“I could see us building a new kind of model that allows us to understand not just how technically you decarbonize, but also the social and political constraints and opportunities,” Victor said. “UC San Diego also has a phenomenal micro-grid that is a demonstration case for some of the world’s most interesting and advanced energy systems, and a test bed orchestrated by Byron Washom, Bill Torre and others who have deep expertise in the energy system.”

The aim is to help real societies link the best science and technology with politically realistic strategies that put new energy systems—electricity, wind, plant-based, nuclear, to name only a few—into place on the scale required to make a difference in global carbon emissions. At the same time, this needs to be done while meeting the increasing energy needs of the world.

“How do we drive the costs of low-carbon or zero-carbon energy technologies down to the point where they become competitive with, or perhaps even cheaper than, the fossil fuels? That is one of the challenges in front of the engineers,” Tynan said. “The questions for policy folks are ‘What are those costs?’ and ‘Where are the policy knobs that can be turned to try to enhance or speed that transition?’”

What's at work at UC San Diego

As part of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative, faculty members from across the UC San Diego campus will bring their expertise to help governments and experts around the world meet that daunting challenge.

For example, nanoengineer Ying Shirley Meng of the Jacobs School and Oleg Shpyrko of the Department of Physics work together through the Sustainable Power and Energy Center to solve key technical challenges in generating and storing energy. Their energy-storage research has implications for many areas including electric vehicles, wind turbines and wearable power devices.

Mayfield LabAt the Center for Energy Research, currently led by Jacobs School professors Farhat Beg, Carlos Coimbra and Jan Kleissl, teams of researchers are advancing fusion energy, solar-energy forecasting and advanced energy storage. They are also developing fuel cells, which are devices that produce energy through chemical reactions that don’t result in as much pollution as burning coal or gasoline.

Stephen Mayfield of the Division of Biological Sciences leads Food & Fuel for the 21st Century, a research unit on campus developing innovative and sustainable solutions for renewable-energy production using green plants and algae. Mayfield, a world-renowned researcher in biofuel production, is also director of the California Center for Algae Biotechnology.

Verification will also play a key role in emerging global carbon-emission reduction efforts. For decades, researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography have been leaders in measuring concentrations of CO2, trace gases and aerosols that contribute to global warming, led by atmospheric scientists Ralph Keeling, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Kim Prather and Ray Weiss. Keeling is director of the Scripps CO2 Program, home of the famous Keeling Curve that continues to track carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. He and Weiss lead an effort to look at how data already being collected about greenhouse gases can be used to verify international commitments that countries are making to cut those emissions.

“One goal is for everyone to learn about how other researchers in other disciplines think about what’s going on in the world,” Victor said. “From here, we can start to see interdisciplinary collaborations emerge.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Research to Help Mitigate Future Shocks to State’s Water, Food and Energy Supplies

Photo by Lance Cheung/USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.The California drought may be unofficially over, but that doesn’t mean it won’t return. Policymakers, businesses and the agriculture industry can best prepare for that possibility by applying what they have learned from past droughts to future events.

UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy professor and Deep Decarbonization Initiative affiliate Jennifer Burney aims to help. She, along with researchers at UC Irvine and UC Davis, want to offer guidance to mitigate severe, future shocks to the state’s water, food and energy supplies — three key sectors, or “systems,” that they say are increasingly interdependent.

Jennifer Burney“California represents a critical opportunity for us to discover how to model, monitor and manage these three systems,” Burney said. In addition to Burney, principal investigators on the project include Steven Davis, Amir AghaKouchak and Jack Brouwer of UC Irvine, and Frances Moore of UC Davis.

The researchers received a combined five-year, $2.72 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and National Science Foundation (NSF) to study “The California Crucible: Monitoring and Managing Food, Energy and Water Systems Under Stress.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Center for Energy Research Shares $13.5M Grant for Campus-National Lab Collaborations

The Center for Energy Research (CER), an organized research unit at the University of California San Diego, will share a $13.5 million, three-year University of California grant to encourage collaboration between the UC campuses and the Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories.

BegFarhat N. Beg, professor of engineering physics at UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering, CER Director and Principal Investigator for the university’s High-Energy-Density Physics (HEDP) Group, will use the UC funding on projects involving research at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Los Angeles, UC Santa Cruz, Lawrence Livermore, and Los Alamos. The CER’s share of the grant is $4.1 million over three years.

“The Center for Energy Research has been among the nation’s leaders in forward-looking energy research,” said Sandra Brown, Vice Chancellor for Research at UC San Diego, who oversees the university’s organized research units, including the CER. “The UC investment will help ensure that our nation continues to develop technologies with powerful promise for improving lives.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Understanding and Protecting the Planet Town Hall

As part of the broad goals set out in the university's strategic plan cultivating collaborative research, the Understanding and Protecting the Planet (UPP) coordinating committee sponsored a Town Hall to showcase interdisciplinary UC San Diego within the UPP focus area. The talks featured at the town hall reported on some of the efforts that were funded last Spring in response to our call for interdisciplinary efforts in UPP as well as other efforts developed by faculty and researchers.

The recording of the Oct. 24 Town Hall may be accessed at:

Read the original UC San Diego campus notice.

Creating a New Kind of Climate Warrior

Scripps researchers help rural women in India improve health and slow global warming through clean cookstove use

Project SFor several months out of the year, a band of brown haze almost a mile thick blankets northern India, trapped there by the Himalayas. It produces smog dense enough to be visible indoors in Delhi and other urban centers.

And daily, Indian women who are among the world’s poorest people add mass to the choking pollution cloud when they feed kindling to homemade stoves. They spend several hours a day preparing meals huddled over the fire, breathing in smoke and increasing their risk of respiratory illness.

Now, a multiyear experiment launched nearly a decade ago by a researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego may have hit upon just the right combination of technology and financial incentive to thin the haze and lift the lid on a problem causing societal ills on multiple levels.

Project Surya, introduced by Scripps climate scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan, found that women in poor Indian villages would more readily replace traditional polluting cookstoves with new clean-burning ones if the women could be more easily compensated for using such stoves and the stoves were easier to repair. If the use of cleaner stoves were scaled up, a very large but relatively short-lived contributor to global warming could be substantially diminished.

The discovery of what works and what doesn’t “opens the door for rewarding rural women for becoming climate warriors,” Ramanathan said.

An analysis by Ramanathan and others appeared in the journal Nature Climate Change on Oct. 31.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

UC San Diego Scientists Advocate Combining Technical and Social Expertise to Combat Climate Change

Lead image

Less than two weeks before global leaders meet in Marrakech, Morocco at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, scientists from the University of California San Diego offer their expert advice: bring scientists and policy makers together now to help ensure success in combating climate change in the future.

Charles F. Kennel of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and David G. Victor of the School of Global Policy and Strategy say combining science and policy is the answer to the world’s most pressing problem. Their article “Making climate science more relevant,” coauthored by Stephen Briggs of the European Space Agency and European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications, appears in the Oct. 28 issue of Science magazine.

Scince magazine“With the 2015 Paris Agreement [on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions], governments launched a process that can move beyond setting agendas to coordinating national policies to manage the climate,” the authors write in Science. “Managing this complex, highly decentralized process must engage all levels of government and the private sector.”

Calling for better indicators for climate risk management, the authors see great opportunity in combining expertise. Assessments of physical climate change risks and more profound systemic risks are more successful when scientists have a seat at the table.

“The scientific community should judge its relevance by whether it helps these decentralized actors and its processes craft and implement more effective policies,” they write.

Kennel, director of Scripps Oceanography from 1998 to 2006, is an expert in climate science, with research focused on the California environment, global change and global environmental monitoring. He said the time is right to develop new analytical tools and methods needed to manage climate risk.

“Climate science can help diplomats keep track of the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but beyond that, it can help policy makers understand the risks to economies and societies,” Kennel said. “By grappling with the great diversity of regional climate change impacts, and understanding the needs of communities and industries, it can deliver relevant knowledge to a huge variety of decision makers.”

Victor, a political scientist and author of “Global Warming Gridlock: Creating More Effective Strategies for Protecting the Planet,” said the time is now for the scientific community to play a large political and policy-relevant role. He co-directs the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, and is a leader in the newly formed Deep Decarbonization Initiative at UC San Diego, a combined effort of engineers, climate scientists, and physical and social scientists across UC San Diego working to help cut global emissions of warming gases given very real technology, economic and political constraints that exist.

“The real potential for scientists lies with helping policy makers address climate change in ways that will have a tangible, actual effect. Decision makers need the hard science to understand how their actions work, and scientists need governments, businesses and other important societal actors to implement their work,” Victor said.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

'Climate change may speed democratic turnover'

UC San Diego News CenterWhile writing his Ph.D. dissertation at UC San Diego’s Department of Political Science and affiliated with faculty from the Deep Decarbonization Initiative, Nick Obradovich researched the political effects of extreme weather in electoral democracies. Looking at elections across 19 countries since 1925, he found that voters used extreme weather as a cue that politicians were not performing adequately.

His work, published in the leading field journal Climatic Change, builds on a long tradition in political science that explores how voters obtain information about whether their elected leaders are doing their jobs. Most of what elected leaders do is not visible to voters who must rely, instead, on proxies for behavior — the Obradovich work suggests that in the future, one of those proxies might be extreme weather, including weather triggered by climate change.

Read Obradovich's "Climate change may speed democratic turnover" in Climatic Change.

Read the UC San Diego News Center article on Obradovich's additional work, "How to Talk About Climate Change So People Will Act."

New California Law to Curb Climate Pollutant Emissions Based on Scripps Science

Meng LabCalifornia Governor Edmund “Jerry” Brown signed into law today new state restrictions on the emissions of so-called short-lived climate pollutants such as methane, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in refrigeration, and soot and other forms of black carbon. The new law was inspired by decades of research by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego Climate and Atmospheric Scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan. The work uncovered the potential for such curbs to have a nearly immediate effect in slowing the pace of global warming.

Ramanathan attended the ceremony in Long Beach at which Brown signed state Senate Bill 1383, which requires a 40-percent reduction of HFCs and methane, and a 50-percent reduction of black carbon below 2013 levels by 2030.

“Through SB 1383, the State of California has thrown a lifeline for its people and to the 7 billion people on the planet,” Ramanathan said. “The policies that California is implementing, if achieved worldwide, would cut the expected rate of global warming in half by 2050, save millions of lives, avoid millions of tons of crop losses per year, and slow down dangerous climate feedbacks such as melting ice caps and rising sea levels. The cost benefits of such a policy can far exceed the cost of enacting it.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

UC San Diego part of new DOE consortium to revolutionize electric car battery performance

Meng LabResearchers at the University of California San Diego are part of the new Battery500 consortium led by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) aiming to almost triple the energy packed in electric car batteries and make them smaller, lighter and less expensive. This would allow manufacturers to make more affordable electric vehicles that can travel two to three times farther.

The consortium will receive up to $10 million a year over five years from the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy and Renewable Energy, the White House recently announced.

“Our goal is to extract every available drop of energy from battery materials, while also producing a high-performance battery that is reliable, safe and less expensive,” said consortium director and PNNL materials scientist Jun Liu. “Through our multi-institutional partnership, which includes some of the world’s most innovative energy storage leaders, the Battery500 consortium will examine the best options to create the most powerful next-generation lithium batteries for electric cars.”

“We are excited to partner with some of the leaders in the battery research community to develop the next generation of battery technologies,” said nanoengineering professor Ping Liu, the principal investigator of the UC San Diego team, which is comprised of researchers from the university’s Sustainable Power and Energy Center (SPEC). “We’ll be taking advantage of our different areas of expertise to try to reach this project’s aggressive goal and timeline.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Largest university solar power project pushes UC toward carbon neutrality

FivePoints locationA ribbon-cutting in Fresno County Aug. 18 marks the opening of the Five Points Solar Park, a 60-megawatt solar power installation built to supply renewable energy to the University of California. The power supplied by the new solar farm represents roughly 14 percent of the total UC system’s electricity usage, and is a key step toward the university’s goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2025.

An additional 20-megawatt installation is set to come online by mid-2017, for a total of 80 megawatts, the largest solar purchase by any university in the U.S. The full output from these two power projects will be going to UC under a 25-year power purchase agreement with project developer Centaurus Renewable Energy.

Nearly a quarter of the solar power will go to UC Davis, while the remainder will be shared among the other UC campuses and medical centers served by the university’s Wholesale Power Program. In addition to helping the university reach its goal under the Carbon Neutrality Initiative, the new solar power installations will also provide research and education opportunities for UC faculty, students and staff.

“As a national leader in sustainability, the University of California is taking on bold, new goals and transforming our approach to procuring and using energy in more sustainable ways,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “Our partnership with Centaurus Renewable Energy will ensure that UC has a steady supply of cost-effective, climate-neutral electricity.”

Read the full story at University of California News.

Downtown Change Makers event features ‘professor algae’ Stephen Mayfield

Stephen MayfieldUC San Diego’s Professor Stephen Mayfield, a pioneer in exploring the uses of algae for fuels, medicine, food and other purposes, is the featured speaker at the inaugural launch of the “Change Makers” series, set for 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 24 at the Downtown San Diego Partnership, 401 B St., Suite 100.

Registration is free, and the public is invited to attend.

Mayfield will speak on engineering algae for the production of therapeutic proteins and biofuels, as well as photosynthetic bio-manufacturing in his address, titled “Algae, Food and Fuel for the 21st Century.”

The Collaboratory for Downtown Innovation and Cleantech San Diego are co-sponsoring the event.

“The Collaboratory for Downtown Innovation is the first step in strengthening the connection between the Torrey Pines Mesa and Downtown’s emerging tech ecosystem,” said the Collaboratory’s Kris Mitchell. “We are thrilled to host Professor Stephen Mayfield for this inaugural Change Makers event.”

Mayfield, recently featured in Forbes magazine in an article titled “How Scientists Are Engineering Algae to Fuel Your Car and Cure Cancer,” says the humble aquatic weed “offers tremendous potential for the large-scale production of bio-products, as algae require only sunlight as an energy source and sequester CO2 during the production of biomass, and algae can be much more efficient than terrestrial plants in fixing CO2 and producing biomass.”

Using custom-designed photosynthetic microorganisms, he says, “we have the opportunity to develop a production platform for fuel, food, and biomaterials that has unmatched efficiencies and productivities. In order to fully exploit the productivities of algae we need to develop the biological and engineering processes that will enable algae as a commercial bio-products platform.”

The Collaboratory for Downtown Innovation, a partnership between UC San Diego and the Downtown San Diego Partnership, is designed to deliver the resources needed to ensure that entrepreneurs and downtown innovators are connected with the research and development that is shaping new economic opportunities and promoting the growth of this burgeoning urban innovation ecosystem.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

UC San Diego named SDG&E energy champion

Award reflects university’s commitment to achieve energy innovation and efficiency

The University of California San Diego was honored as an Energy Champion of Higher Education at SDG&E’s 11th annual Energy Showcase. UC San Diego, along with 10 other local organizations, was commended for its “remarkable commitment to sustainability, energy efficiency and conservation.” The university was recognized for its continued search for innovative and diverse energy sources to support the needs of its residents, laboratories and learning and medical facilities as part of the University of California System’s larger mission to be carbon neutral by 2025.

“We are honored to receive this award,” said Gary C. Matthews, vice chancellor for Resource Management and Planning. “SDG&E’s recognition of UC San Diego’s commitment to energy efficiency highlights the university’s role as a living laboratory in the world of energy, promoting the principles of research and innovation to find novel and varied sources of energy.”

Supporting approximately 45,000 employees and students and 16 million square feet of buildings, UC San Diego requires a strong energy infrastructure to support the needs of its community. Though the university already generates approximately 85 percent of its energy onsite, it is still a net importer of peak electricity. With the help of SDG&E incentives, the campus has implemented a series of energy retrofits and technological advancements to reduce its reliance on expensive and inefficient energy.

This story first appeared on the UC San Diego News Center.

New ocean current simulations alter view of climate change impacts

SDSC’s ‘Gordon’ used to model dynamics of California current

California CoastA “more realistic” computer model, created with the aid of Gordon at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at UC San Diego, paints a new picture of global warming’s impact on the complex processes that drive ocean mixing in the vast eddies swirling off the California coast.

The new model, published in the July issue of Nature Geosciences, more accurately describes how global warming affects the winds and circulation in the California Current system that runs parallel to the coast, and how previous models, based largely on offshore winds generated by global warming, misrepresented what was actually happening.

Information like this is critical since the California Current provides a habitat for one of the most populous and species-diverse regions in the world, while providing a bounty of seafood and tourism jobs for the state.

“Climate change could intensify coastal winds, but that does not imply it would increase the production of nutrients,” said Lionel Renault, an atmospheric and oceanic sciences researcher with UCLA, and lead author of the paper. “This research gives us a more realistic overview of the different ‘upwelling’ systems, the mechanisms that drives productivity (of nutrients), and how climate change can impact those mechanisms and productivity.”

‘Upwelling’ is a condition in which winds push surface water offshore and are replaced by deep waters, circulating nitrates, phosphates, and trace metals from below where they provide nutrients for the marine food chain.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Researchers improve performance of cathode material by controlling oxygen activity

GSIR modified cathode materialAn international team of researchers has demonstrated a new way to increase the robustness and energy storage capability of a particular class of “lithium-rich” cathode materials—by using a carbon dioxide-based gas mixture to create oxygen vacancies at the material’s surface. Researchers said the treatment improved the energy density—the amount of energy stored per unit mass—of the cathode material by up to 30 to 40 percent.

The discovery sheds light on how changing the oxygen composition of lithium-rich cathode materials could improve battery performance, particularly in high-energy applications such as electric vehicles. The findings were published July 1 in Nature Communications.

“We’ve uncovered a new mechanism at play in this class of lithium-rich cathode materials. With this study, we want to open a new pathway to explore more battery materials in which we can control oxygen activity,” said Shirley Meng, nanoengineering professor at the University of California San Diego and one of the principal investigators of the study.

Meng leads the Laboratory for Energy Storage and Conversion and is the director of the Sustainable Power and Energy Center, both at UC San Diego. A hallmark of her group’s research efforts is understanding the science behind battery materials—at the level of single atoms and molecules, and at the interfaces. Her group is one of the first to focus on the activity of oxygen atoms in battery materials. Typically, the focus has centered on lithium and transition metal atoms. “Now we’re showing that oxygen also plays a significant role in battery performance,” Meng said.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Insights from UC San Diego Sustainable Power and Energy Center research summit

Student specialistThe Sustainable Power and Energy Center (SPEC) at the University of California San Diego recently held a Research Summit for interested industry partners. Attendees from a variety of industry sectors gathered at UC San Diego to interact with faculty and graduate students, tour the UC San Diego microgrid and attend the Jacobs School’s Research Expo in the afternoon.

“Our center is quite unique in the sense that it includes engineering, physical sciences and social sciences,” said Shirley Meng, the faculty director of the Sustainable Power and Energy Center and a nanoengineering professor at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. “We are working to engage public policy experts on campus as well, so that together we can work on sustainable power and energy from different angles.”

Center faculty are also training and mentoring tomorrow’s workforce for green and advanced energy.

“Our graduate students are often hired before they have even graduated,” said Meng. “Why is this happening? Because innovation in energy storage and conversion requires rigorous training in things like advanced materials chemistry and physics.”

Some of this rigorous training was on display at the summit when graduate students gave their 90-second research presentations during the summit’s fast break poster pitch competition.

First prize went to nanoengineering PhD student Shen Wang for his pitch on additives in solar cells. Wang is part of Shirley Meng’s Laboratory for Energy Storage and Conversion.

Wang used the analogy of a human heart to explain his research. “We can control the efficiency and stability of solar cells with additives, much like doctors use tools to improve the function of a human heart.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Stretchable, flexible, wearable solar cells take top prize at Research Expo 2016

Expo WinnersSolar cells that are stretchable, flexible and wearable won the day and the best poster award from a pool of 215 at Research Expo 2016 April 14 at the University of California San Diego. The winning nanoengineering researchers aim to manufacture small, flexible devices that can power watches, LEDs and wearable sensors. The ultimate goal is to design and build much bigger flexible solar cells that could be used as power sources and shelter in natural disasters and other emergencies.

Research Expo is an annual showcase of top graduate research projects for the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego. During the poster session, graduate students are judged on the quality of their work and how well they articulate the significance of their research to society. Judges from industry, who often are alumni, pick the winners for each department. A group of faculty judges picks the overall winner from the six department winners.

This year, in addition to solar cells, judges recognized efforts to develop 3D skeletal muscle on a chip; a better way to alleviate congestion in data center networks; a nano-scale all-optical sensor; fiber optic strain sensors for structural health monitoring; and a way to predict earthquake damage in freestanding structural systems.

Students are chosen both for the quality of their research and their ability to communicate their work clearly, said George Tynan, associate dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego. “It’s not enough to have great ideas and great solutions,” he said. “You have to be able to communicate the impact of your work.”

Timothy O’Connor, a nanoengineering Ph.D. student in the research group of professor Darren Lipomi, and winner of the overall best poster award, certainly did that during an interview after the poster sessions. “The greatest challenge of our time is the way that we acquire and distribute energy,” he said. “I honestly believe that if the human race doesn’t get a grip on the way in which we do this, we’re going to play the end game for all of us.”

O’Connor is part of a team of researchers in Lipomi’s lab that is working to create extremely cheap but still efficient solar cells that can be printed roll-to-roll, much like a newspaper, and can easily be deployed on everything from solar farms, to buildings, to clothes and even the human body.

To make the solar cells, O’Connor first needed to determine the best recipe to get optimal electronic performance and flexibility in the same material. He and colleagues discovered a series of rules for molecular design that allowed them to develop solar cells capable of producing 1000 microWatts of power over more than 1000 cycles. That is enough to power a digital watch and LEDs, as well as other wearable biomedical devices. By contrast, the lab’s previous version of these cells could only function for five to 10 cycles.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Cutting Aerosols will help secure world’s water supply

UC San Diego scientists outline policy solutions to reduce atmospheric dimming

A landmark accord was reached at the United Nations 2015 Paris Climate Conference. Now comes the difficult process of implementation. Countries must find ways to cut emissions that cause climate change, and then prepare to adapt directly to the large number of changes that will inevitably occur.

As countries grapple with the practical realities of the Paris process, they must also recognize that pollution has many distinct effects. For there is more to climate change than higher temperatures, say UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy political scientist David G. Victor and Scripps Institution of Oceanography climate and atmospheric scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan in the essay “The Next Front on Climate Change: How to Avoid a Dimmer, Drier World.”

Coauthored by Jessica Seddon, founder and managing director of the India-based Okapi Research and Advisory, the essay appears in the March/April 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs, available in print Feb. 23.

“Whereas greenhouse gas emissions will bring about relatively distant and diffuse danger, aerosols cause immediate and localized harm,” the authors write. “As states sharpen their pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years, they should also make distinct pledges to cut aerosols.”

They explain how many of the pollutants that affect the climate also dim the planet. Some of these pollution particles — known as aerosols — reflect sunlight back to space. Others absorb sunlight before it reaches the Earth’s surface. Dimming has a profound effect on the water cycle, leading to decreased rainfall and even drought. In societies that depend heavily on agriculture, much of which is fed by natural rainfall, the result can be threats to food security and increased poverty.

“Many of the activities that cause greenhouse gas emissions … also yield ultra-small particles known as aerosols, which blanket vast areas in a haze that blocks and scatters sunlight,” the authors write. “By reducing the solar energy that reaches the earth’s surface, aerosols reduce evaporation and slow the water cycle that governs where, when, and how much rain falls.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

UC San Diego’s big ideas for 2016 — and beyond

Replace petroleum-based plastics with biodegradable plastics made from algae

Stephen MayfieldStephen Mayfield, professor of biology, director of the California Center for Algae Biotechnology

“Algae are the most important photosynthetic organisms on Earth,” Mayfield says. “They capture more solar energy and produce more oxygen than the sum of the rest of the plants on our planet.” Mayfield’s lab has been developing strains of algae that can produce sustainable transportation fuels capable of replacing fossil fuels in the future. Earlier this year, in partnership with Oceanside-based Arctic Foam, the largest surfboard blank manufacturer in North America, the researchers developed the world’s first sustainable algae-based surfboard using oil from algae. “But let’s not stop there,” he says. “Let’s replace all of our petroleum-based plastics with sustainable biodegradable plastics made from algae. Surfboards are just the start!”

Read all 14 visionary ideas from across campus on the UC San Diego News Center.

Jennifer Burney: Change agent

Professor and National Geographic ‘Emerging Explorer’ sets out to address food production’s footprint on global climate change

BurneyWhat are some unforeseen damages caused by air pollution? How do we solve the problems of climate change? How do we feed the billions of people suffering from chronic hunger, and do it without causing further harm to the environment? These are just some of the questions that drive Jennifer Burney.

Burney, a professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, conducts research that focuses on simultaneously achieving global food security and mitigating climate change.

“We are a world of plenty, but 800 million or so people still go to bed hungry every night,” she says. “At the same time, the way we produce, distribute and cook food contributes tremendously to climate change. Finding a way to lift the world out of perpetual hunger without creating an even worse climate crisis is an intricate, interwoven problem.”

Burney studies the environmental impacts of food production and consumption and climate impacts on agriculture. A physicist by training, she designs, implements and evaluates technologies for poverty alleviation and agricultural adaptation. Much of her current research focuses on the developing world.

A trailblazer in the field

Fieldwork has led Burney to develop technologies to help farmers in Africa and Brazil adapt to climate change. “Having more money is not the only thing they need; we have to explore what adaptation looks like,” she says.

In lands baked by sun, Burney makes sunshine the answer. She helped develop solar irrigation systems that enable African and Brazilian farmers to grow more fruits and vegetables year round, boosting nutrition and income. Unlike motorized systems powered by fuel that’s too costly and unreliable, the systems Burney studies require no batteries, gas or kerosene.

In addition to devising methods to help improve food production, which only solves part of the climate equation, Burney looks at how cooking also contributes to the problem. “Cooking uses about 8 percent of global energies,” Burney says. “The biggest footprint comes from developing nations.” To study this often forgotten impact and how to reduce it, she worked on a project in India when she was post doctoral fellow at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Burney and a team of scholars from Scripps replaced highly inefficient, traditional cook stoves in Uttar Pradesh with new more eco-friendly stoves and conducted a series of tests to understand how emissions changed, and how they were linked to larger-scale impacts.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

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Jacobs School of Engineering

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Jacobs School of Engineering