Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Noyes 147 (J. Holmes Sturdivant Lecture Hall) – Arthur Amos Noyes Laboratory of Chemical Physics

Administrative Contact Information Session

Smart Charging Network for EVs Installed at Caltech

In an effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in our environment and begin a campuswide shift to the use of renewable resources, a research group led by Steven Low, professor of computer science and electrical engineering in the engineering and applied science division, has installed 54 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations for use by all Caltech and JPL personnel and visitors. The stations, four of which are handicapped-accessible, were first installed in the California Parking Structure in February and are currently free to use.

Depending on a car's charger, the stations will fully charge an EV in about five hours. Users can monitor the stations—whether they are occupied or available, as well as whether the occupied stations are currently charging or done charging—via the Caltech Adaptive Charging Network (ACN) site at http://ev.caltech.edu/.

"Electrification of our transportation system will be important because today vehicles consume more than a quarter of our energy and emit more than a quarter of our energy-related carbon dioxide [CO2]," says Low, who was awarded a Caltech Innovation Initiative (CI2) grant last year to fund the design, building, and installation of the EV charging system, as well as its power-distribution infrastructure. "Electrification will not only greatly reduce CO2 emission, but EVs can also be critical resources to help integrate renewable sources, such as wind and solar power, into our electric grid. One of the key enablers to mass EV adoption is the availability of smart charging networks."

Because there are now so many stations on campus and charging EVs can require a substantial amount of electricity (most EVs charge at 7 kilowatts, the equivalent of simultaneously running 70 desktop computers), Low developed Caltech's adaptive charging network, which uses a smart algorithm to coordinate the charging schedule with the Institute's existing electrical infrastructure. This program helps minimize energy usage; as of now, the stations are consuming about 200 kilowatt-hours per day, only a fraction (0.00006 percent) of Caltech's total electrical usage. And, according to John Onderdonk, director of sustainability programs at Caltech, about 30 percent of the electricity at each charging station is from carbon-free renewable sources.

The ACN project is helping the Institute prepare for the vehicle of the future, Onderdonk notes. "Caltech's Facilities Management department is also benefiting from the project by learning about EV use patterns so that we can identify the opportunities and challenges that may come with integrating large numbers of EVs into the campus electrical infrastructure," he says.

Implementation of publicly available EV charging programs like Caltech's pilot ACN also can be beneficial for limiting energy usage in the long term. "Compared with charging these EVs at homes individually, ACN requires a smaller total power distribution capacity and can better use renewable electricity," says Low.

"We believe having ample charging stations available is the key to widespread EV adoption," says George Lee (MS '10), who is volunteering in Low's lab to continue contributing to this project. "Most installations outside Caltech only have a few EV charging stations, due to the high cost of upgrading electrical infrastructure and construction. Our technique allows a large number of stations to be installed at a reasonable cost."

Low's CI2 funding will allow the charging stations to be free to use until the end of the academic year. After that—and depending on renewal of the CI2 grant for phase 2 of the project, which would be focused on further developing the software based on data collected from the newly installed chargers—there will be a potential cost of less than $0.20 per kilowatt-hour. (Private residences purchasing energy from Pasadena Water and Power spend between $0.13 and $0.38 per kilowatt-hour delivered, depending on the specific plan and time of day.) While charging at home at night is the cheapest option, says Lee, charging during the day is cheaper at Caltech, where the rate is the same at all times, than at a private residence. "This financial structure helps maximize EV adoption because it allows for people who cannot install chargers at home to own an EV at reasonable electricity costs," Lee says.

When the research project concludes in April 2017, the chargers will become the property of Caltech's facilities department, at which point their fee structure will need to be reassessed. In addition to the current installation, Low foresees the need for additional charging stations in the future as EV use increases.

Home Page Title: 
Smart Charging Network for EVs Installed
Writer: 
Exclude from News Hub: 
No
News Type: 
In Our Community
Exclude from Home Page: 
Home Page Summary: 
A research group led by professor Steven Low has installed 54 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations for use by all Caltech and JPL personnel and visitors.

Resnick Sustainability Institute Boosts Caltech's Earth Day Celebration

The Resnick Sustainability Institute—Caltech's hub for projects aimed at tackling some of the toughest sustainability-focused problems our society faces—played a key role in Caltech's Earth Week celebration, during which various events were held to show support for environmental protection and achieving a sustainable future.

For example, on April 19, Resnick fellow Bryan Hunter gave a talk on "The 21st Century Solar Army," which focused on his volunteer work with Caltech's NSF Center for Chemical Innovation in Solar Fuels. Among CCI Solar's volunteers are Resnick postdoctoral scholars Bradley Brennan and Sonja Francis, whose efforts have included working with school teachers to show them how to build and test simple and cheap solar cells; the teachers then take these activities back to their classrooms.

The Resnick Sustainability Institute's 17 graduate student fellows and 10 postdoctoral scholars are actively engaged in research involving everything from solar fuels and photovoltaics to improved catalysts for greener industrial processes, carbon capture and storage, greenhouse gas assessment, wastewater treatment, and more.

Recently, postdoctoral scholar Christopher Prier and his colleagues in Frances Arnold's laboratory described a method for the synthesis of valuable amines using engineered variants of cytochrome P450, a common iron-containing enzyme, in the journal Angewandte Chemie. Because enzymatic processes are typically environmentally benign, Prier notes, his work contributes to the greening of chemical synthesis.

Francis and colleagues described in the journal ACS Catalysis a new catalyst made of two metals, nickel and gallium, which can be used for converting carbon dioxide and water into hydrocarbons like methane, ethane, and ethylene. Currently, no electro-catalyst exists that can convert carbon dioxide with both high efficiency and selectivity to hydrocarbons or even alcohols, Francis notes.

Additionally, in an upcoming issue, the Journal of the American Chemical Society will spotlight an improved catalyst for sustainable fertilizer production developed by Resnick fellow Niklas Thompson and others from Resnick Institute director Jonas Peters' research group. This same research also won the 2016 Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award at Caltech.

Learn more about the Resnick Sustainability Institute at Caltech at http://resnick.caltech.edu.

Home Page Title: 
Resnick Institute Boosts Earth Day Celebration
Exclude from News Hub: 
No
News Type: 
In Our Community
Teaser Image: 
Exclude from Home Page: 
Home Page Summary: 
The Resnick Sustainability Institute played a key role in Caltech's Earth Week celebration.

American Academy of Arts and Sciences Elects Two from Caltech

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has elected two Caltech professors—Hirosi Ooguri and Rob Phillips—as fellows. The American Academy is one of the nation's oldest honorary societies; this class of members is its 236th, and it includes a total of 213 scholars and leaders representing such diverse fields as academia, business, public affairs, the humanities, and the arts.

Hirosi Ooguri is the director of the Walter Burke Institute for Theoretical Physics and the Fred Kavli Professor of Theoretical Physics and Mathematics in the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy. He works on quantum field theory and superstring theory, aiming to invent new theoretical tools to solve fundamental questions in physics.

Rob Phillips is the Fred and Nancy Morris Professor of Biophysics and Biology and has appointments in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science and the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering. He focuses on the physical biology of the cell using biophysical theory as well as single-molecule and single-cell experiments.

Ooguri and Phillips join 86 current Caltech faculty as members of the American Academy. Also included in this year's list are two Caltech trustees, David Lee (PhD '74) and Ron Linde (MS '62, PhD '64); as well as three additional alumni: Gerard Fuller (MS '77, PhD '80), Melanie Sanford (PhD '01), and Robert Schoelkopf (PhD '95).

Founded in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock, and other scholar-patriots, the academy aims to serve the nation by cultivating "every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people." The academy has elected as fellows and foreign honorary members "leading thinkers and doers" from each generation, including George Washington and Ben Franklin in the 18th century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 19th, and Albert Einstein and Woodrow Wilson in the 20th. This year's class of fellows includes novelist Colm Tóibín, La Opinión publisher and CEO Monica Lozano, jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter, former Botswanan president Festus Mogae, and autism author and spokesperson Temple Grandin.

A full list of new members is available on the academy website at www.amacad.org/members.

The new class will be inducted at a ceremony on October 8, 2016, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Home Page Title: 
Two from Caltech Elected to AAAS
Listing Title: 
American Academy of Arts and Sciences Elects Two from Caltech
Writer: 
Exclude from News Hub: 
No
Short Title: 
Two from Caltech Elected to AAAS
News Type: 
In Our Community
Teaser Image: 
Exclude from Home Page: 
Home Page Summary: 
Hirosi Ooguri and Rob Phillips have been elected as members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Aliso Canyon, Methane, and Global Climate: A Conversation with Paul Wennberg

On October 23, 2015, the Aliso Canyon underground storage facility for natural gas in the San Fernando Valley—the fourth largest of its kind in the United States—had one of its wells blow out, leading to a large release of methane. The leak was not fully under control until February 11, 2016. In the interim, residents of nearby neighborhoods were sickened by the odorants added to the gas, thousands of households were displaced, and California's governor declared a state of emergency for the area. The story made international headlines; the BBC's headline, for example, read, "California methane leak 'largest in US history.'"

The leak was indeed large and undoubtedly difficult for the residents of the area. However, Caltech's Paul Wennberg says there is also a bigger picture to keep in mind: enormous methane and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions occur all the time, with troubling implications for global climate. Wennberg is Caltech's R. Stanton Avery Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Science and Engineering, executive officer for Environmental Science and Engineering, and director of the Ronald and Maxine Linde Center for Global Environmental Science.

We recently sat down with him to talk about methane emissions and how to put the Aliso Canyon event into perspective.

What was your involvement with the Aliso Canyon event?

We have a greenhouse gas remote sensing system here at Caltech that is part of TCCON—the Total Carbon Column Observing Network. The day after the Aliso Canyon leak started, we observed something really weird in the air above Pasadena. There was a large, big plume of methane and ethane gas that came over. We now know that it was from the Aliso Canyon facility. We are providing data for the final analyses of the leak.

In the past you have suggested that the methane emissions from Los Angeles are much larger than was previously included in models.

Right. Thankfully, models are now catching up as we learn more from the data.

What does the Aliso Canyon event suggest about Los Angeles's methane emissions in general?

Aliso Canyon was a very dramatic event. Everyone heard about it worldwide. The leak continued for about 100 days, and yet it only doubled the amount of methane being emitted by LA during that period. This was a tragedy for the people living next to it, who had to deal with horrible nausea and other side effects of the chemicals associated with the natural gas. But from a climate point of view, the methane leak was actually quite trivial.

There are enormous amounts of methane being released into the atmosphere globally as a result of human activity. That is certainly true of LA, but as far as climate goes, it doesn't matter whether it's released in LA or New Zealand. On the timescale that methane sticks around in the atmosphere, it gets well mixed and affects the entire planet.

How much methane is emitted per year?

About three hundred teragrams [Tg; one teragram is equivalent to one billion kilograms] of methane are emitted every year by people and the activities of people, like agriculture and energy. Los Angeles emits about 0.4 Tg. That means that of the human methane emissions, LA as a total is one part in a thousand—not nothing, but a pretty small amount.

For perspective, Aliso Canyon emitted around 0.1 Tg. It was a big event, but what it really illustrates is how big a challenge we truly face. There are many sources emitting methane into the atmosphere and they are very diffuse. Reducing them will require hard work on many, many fronts. So it's not just, "If we solve this one problem, everything will be beautiful in the world."

You could imagine the response to the Aliso Canyon leak might be that we would all of a sudden focus all of our efforts trying to prevent leaks in natural gas storage facilities. That would not be the right answer from a climate perspective.

How should people go about eliminating methane emissions?

There is not "one" fix. Each source requires a different strategy for mitigation.

First, there is fixing leaks in the pipelines and storage facilities.

Then, it turns out that ruminants like cows and sheep produce a lot of methane—probably a third, if not more, of the human emissions. A paper about this, recently in Science, suggests that an important part of the recent increases in methane is coming from agriculture. Depending on what you feed these ruminants, they produce less methane. They eat grass, but they can't metabolize it: they have a fermenter going in their bellies—a whole microbiome that breaks the grass down into smaller things like acetate that they can metabolize. Depending on the microbiome of their guts, the cows and sheep make more or less methane. And it turns out that you can manage this.

Then there are the wetlands used for rice agriculture. Methane is produced anaerobically—in places with no oxygen—by Archaea. If you have a flooded rice paddy, the methane is produced at the roots and is transpired through the rice plants into the atmosphere. Quite a few studies now show that if you can change your rice agricultural practices to allow the fields to dry periodically, the methane emissions drop hugely.

If you were able to fix all of these things what would the impact be in terms of climate change?

If we could really knock the methane emissions back to what they were before people started emitting methane, it would be a large change. It would be a half a watt per meter squared. The total global warming would drop by around 25 percent.

How does the importance of reducing methane emissions compare to the importance of reducing carbon dioxide emissions?

Globally, methane is important. It's maybe a third of the climate forcing of CO2—that is, the increase in methane has contributed about one third of the total change in Earth's climate over the last 100 years. In terms of climate impact, however, the methane emissions from people in Los Angeles are absolutely dwarfed by their CO2 emissions—all of our driving, going on airplanes, and everything else that we do. Still, if we are to reduce our global warming potential and the amount of greenhouse gasses we emit to the atmosphere, methane has to be part of the equation.

We like to think that we can solve these problems by fixing singular events, but climate doesn't work that way. We're talking about the emissions of 7 billion people. If it were that this was produced by 100 events like Aliso Canyon, this would be a simple problem: we solve the 100 problems, and we're done. But it's all of us, and it's all of what we eat, it's all of the energy that we use, it's all of the miles that we drive. It's a much more complex problem.

What work is your group currently doing in terms of methane?

One of the things we've been doing is long-term monitoring. Natural gas is mostly methane (CH4) but there's also ethane (C2H6) in it and this provides a way of separating the signature of methane emitted from agriculture, which has no ethane, and emissions from natural gas, which does.

Over the last five years or so, the production of oil in the United States has increased hugely, and associated with that oil production is natural gas, and therefore methane and ethane. Traditionally, most of the ethane produced at a wellhead was pulled off and sent to the plastic industry. With the changing oil production, the market has become flooded in ethane: there's simply not enough plastic to be made. When the industry can't sell the ethane to the plastic industry, they simply leave it in the natural gas. We see this in the natural gas delivered to Los Angeles. Five years ago natural gas had about 2 percent ethane. Now it's 5 percent—it's more than doubled. What we've seen—and this has nothing to do with Aliso Canyon—is that over the last five years, the amount of ethane in the air over Pasadena has increased.

That's important because it tells us that a significant fraction of the methane that's being released in LA is coming from natural gas brought into Los Angeles. This has been a topic of a lot of debate. Is the big methane emitter the oil production down in the Long Beach area? Is it waste treatment plants? Is it garbage dumps? What we find is that about half of all the methane emitted in this part of LA is gas that originally came in on a pipeline.

How do you know that?

We actually know from the gas company how much ethane is in the natural gas. They report this publically from one of their storage fields and this matches the ethane in samples of the natural gas coming into our buildings.

Are there other projects under way at Caltech to study methane emissions?

Christian Frankenberg [associate professor of environmental science and engineering at Caltech and a JPL research scientist] has been leading an effort to build remote sensing instruments that allow imaging of methane plumes. Using small spectrometers on airplanes, he has flown over areas where you might have a lot of methane emissions and identified individual sources. Last year they were able to find individual pipelines that were leaking in Colorado and in New Mexico. They found several big leaks from pipelines and were able to tell the pipeline operators, who shut them down and fixed them.

Home Page Title: 
Aliso Canyon, Methane, and Global Climate
Writer: 
Exclude from News Hub: 
No
News Type: 
Research News
Exclude from Home Page: 
Home Page Summary: 
We recently sat down with Paul Wennberg to talk about methane emissions and how to put the Aliso Canyon event into perspective.

Will Orbiting Flying Carpets Light the World?

Imagine a rocket emerging from Earth's atmosphere. Its nose cone opens and out comes a flying carpet.

It had been folded and rolled into a cylinder just 3 feet in diameter and 5 feet long. But freed from the launch vehicle, it unfurls to its full expanse: two-thirds the size of a football field and 1 inch thick.

Now imagine that this is one of 2,500 spaceborne magic carpets flying side-by-side in tight formation, covering an area of 3.5 square miles (9 square kilometers) in Earth orbit. That's 1,670 football fields, still only an inch thick.

What are they doing up there? Capturing the sun's energy and beaming it down to Earth to make electricity.

"What we're proposing, somewhat audaciously, is to develop the technology that would enable one to build the largest-ever-built space structures," said Harry Atwater, one of three Caltech professors leading the Space Solar Power Initiative, or SSPI. The other two are Ali Hajimiri and Sergio Pellegrino, who is also a senior research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "The work I do at Caltech benefits enormously from the things I do at JPL," Pellegrino said, "and from the people at JPL."

Read the full story from JPL News

Home Page Title: 
JPL: Will Orbiting Flying Carpets Light the World?
Writer: 
Exclude from News Hub: 
No
News Type: 
Research News
Exclude from Home Page: 
Home Page Summary: 
For much of the Earth’s population that lacks access to reliable electricity, orbiting solar panels could be a solution.
Monday, May 23, 2016
Brown Gymnasium – Scott Brown Gymnasium

Animal magnetism

Monday, February 29, 2016
Brown Gymnasium – Scott Brown Gymnasium

Animal magnetism

Thursday, May 26, 2016
Avery House – Avery House

The Mentoring Effect: Conference on Mentoring Undergraduate Researchers

Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Center for Student Services 360 (Workshop Space) – Center for Student Services

TA Workshop: Getting the Biggest ‘Bang for Your Buck’ - Teaching strategies for busy TAs

Pages