SHEDDING LIGHT

How the project benefited the library

Then: Lights in the Special Collections area were typically on 10-13 hours per day

Now: Lights now are only activated when there is activity and only in the area where that activity is occurring

Then: A compact fluorescent bulb is 54 watts, lasts about 10,000 hours and produces heat

Now: An LED bulb is 25 watts, lasts about 50,000 hours and doesn’t produce heat.

Originally posted on @theU on November 26, 2018.

By Brooke Adams, senior news writer, University of Utah Communications

Paper and photographs can’t take the heat. Or the light.

Both elements cause historic, fragile documents to breakdown over time, much to the dismay of curators of the Special Collections at the Marriott Library.

Enter a trio of students — Sierra Govett, Dillon Seglem and Yinhuan Huang — in search of a project for Jennifer J. Follstad Shah’s environmental and sustainability studies capstone class last spring.

Govett initially proposed they tackle excessive light use across campus, especially at times when buildings are unoccupied.

“A lot of buildings on campus have lights on more than they should and we wanted to find some place we could address lighting at a large enough scale to make a difference, said Govett.

But the students abandoned that idea after realizing vast differences in lighting systems from floor-to-floor and building-to-building would make a standardized solution impossible.

Bill Leach, sustainability project coordinator for Facilities Management, suggested the students instead look at what might be done to address lighting concerns in the Marriott Library. Ian Godfrey, director of library facilities, was “not only excited about the prospect of a lighting controls project, but had an area in mind,” Leach said.

That area? Special Collections.

Leach, Godfrey and Emerson Andrews, Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) coordinator, helped the students conduct an audit of the space, come up with a plan and develop a budget.

Light and heat take a toll on fragile documents in the Marriott Library’s Special Collections area. PHOTO CREDIT: University of Utah

Their idea: install a new lighting system with LED bulbs that are motion and daylight sensitive. Lights above each row activate only when someone moves into the area and there is insufficient daylight.

“To take light off these resources is a huge benefit for us,” Godfrey said. “Everything in here is rare and unique. Paper is always in a state of degradation. Anytime you are lowering the temperature and reducing the heat, you are slowing the deterioration process.”

The students applied for and received a SCIF revolving loan of $40,000, which paid for installation of a new lighting system over the summer. The loan fund is specifically used for energy and money saving ideas proposed by students, faculty and staff for energy conservation, renewable energy production and water conservation projects. A Rocky Mountain Power wattsmart incentive grant helped off-set some of the project’s cost.

The library will repay the loan over 13 years, using money from utility cost savings. But the impact — both monetary and in preservation of its collections — will be ongoing.

“I am thrilled that this project, initiated by these three students in my capstone class, is coming to fruition and will help to reduce the campus carbon footprint while preserving library resources,” said Follstad Shah, an assistant professor in environmental and sustainability studies and research assistant professor in geography.

The SCIF revolving loan fund used in the project is available to all students, faculty and staff who have an idea for saving energy and money. It has paid for other energy projects, such as solar panels and heating system upgrades, but this is the first lighting project, said Myron Willson, deputy chief sustainability officer.

“We were pretty excited to do something that made such a difference,” said Govett, who graduated last spring with degrees in environmental studies and ballet.

Govett and Seglem toured the retrofitted space for the first time in mid-November.

“It’s really cool to come in here and see it working with the motion sensors and all,” said Seglem, a senior majoring in environmental studies.

THE WASATCH FRONT: A LIVING LAB

Originally posted on @theU on September 17, 2018

By Paul Gabrielsen, science writer, University of Utah Communications

University of Utah scientists know how to turn a challenge into an opportunity. Repeatedly, researchers at the U have developed innovative research solutions to some of the Salt Lake Valley’s most serious environmental issues. Light rail trains sample the air as they dart around the valley. Camera traps keep their eyes on the wildlife in mountain canyons. Climate and hydrological observations track rain, snow, plant stress, groundwater and streamflow from the mountain crest to the valley floor.

All of these environmental factors—earth, air, water and life—are interconnected, though. A change in one has the potential to impact any or all of the others. So how do U researchers respond to this extraordinary complexity? By banding together. This fall, the U launches a new university-wide collaboration called the Wasatch Environmental Observatory.

“We’ve talked about campus as a living lab, and faculty have gotten grants to develop research infrastructure throughout the Wasatch Front,” says Brenda Bowen, director of the Global Change and Sustainability Center (GCSC). “We have all this infrastructure and we thought: ‘How can we pull this together in a new way to not just study campus as a living lab, but our home, the whole Wasatch Front?’”

This observatory isn’t a single facility like, say, an astronomical observatory. It’s a network of sensors and instruments, stretched all across the Wasatch Front, that collectively monitor multiple environmental metrics. “We’re pulling together all of the systems that were initially funded by individual researchers or large multi-researcher grants to make it into something more than the sum of its parts,” Bowen says.

Part of the observatory is relatively stationary, providing consistent, long-term data. But part is portable and deployable, Bowen says. “As events occur, we can deploy infrastructure into a certain area by pulling together hydrologic, atmospheric and ecological research facilities into a distributed observatory or field station.”

Paul Brooks, professor of geology and geophysics, says that the observatory is a framework for future projects and infrastructure to be added in. State, federal and local agencies, he says, have already expressed interest in tying their instrumentation into the WEO network. The measurements and results from WEO can then be used by those stakeholder agencies. “That’s one of the exciting areas of WEO,” Brooks says. “It takes the new knowledge generated by students and faculty and ports it through as quickly as possible to people on the ground who use that knowledge to make better decisions.”

For Bowen and the GCSC, which brings together faculty from across campus to study environmental issues, WEO is a fulfillment of the center’s mission. “It’s realizing what GCSC strives to be,” Bowen says. “WEO will help integrate everything we’re doing to advance sustainability in our own backyard.” 

WEO will be led by a committee of six faculty members (including Bowen and Brooks) hailing from the departments of Geology & Geophysics, Atmospheric Sciences, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and the School of Biological Sciences. Beyond that, nearly 40 researchers from 13 different departments and eight colleges already have research or outreach projects associated with WEO.

According to a project summary from GCSC, current facilities to be linked together through WEO include:

  • Distributed hydroclimate, meteorological, biological and hydrological observations in seven catchments spanning the Wasatch Crest through the Great Salt Lake including six closely spaced stations spanning an elevation gradient from the top of Red Butte Creek down through campus and on to the Jordan River
  • Experimental stormwater, landscape, transportation, and architectural design infrastructure on campus
  • Long-term ecological, geological, and snow study sites
  • Seven atmospheric trace gas and climate stations from Hidden Peak (Snowbird) to the Salt Lake Valley floor
  • Light rail-based atmospheric observations distributed across land use and elevational gradients in the Salt Lake Valley (TRAX)
  • Deployable and relocatable high-precision atmospheric and hydrologic observation equipment
  • Co-Located, long-term, and spatially extensive databases from multiple disciplines

All of that equipment requires service, repair and maintenance. So WEO provides for two full-time research technical specialists, Dave Eiriksson and Ryan Bares, to keep the sensors running.

Brooks says the interconnectedness of the WEO sensor systems allows researchers to study the impacts on one environmental system, say, urban development, on others, such as the quality of water in urban streams.

“The idea is that each individual solution we have exists in a broader context,” Brooks says. “We want to be as comprehensive as possible so that the solution to one issue doesn’t then create a new problem down the line that perhaps we didn’t think of.”

Brooks adds that the U is uniquely positioned, with researchers and facilities, to study environmental issues common throughout the West.

“WEO brings those researchers and resources together,” he says, “so instead of addressing these issues piecemeal we have the ability to address them in concert.”

Want to join in?

If you’re considering or conducting environmental research along the Wasatch Front, come to a think tank mixer presented by GCSC on Sept. 26, from 5-7 p.m. at the College of Law, sixth floor, Flynn Faculty Workshop.

Learn more and register here.

 

5 GREEN FEATURES

Originally posted on @theU on September 10, 2018

By Brooke Adams, communications specialist, University of Utah Communications

The newly opened Gardner Commons building, which replaced Orson Spencer Hall, was designed with sustainability at its core. Here are five of its green features:

Looking out towards a carbon-neutral future

Gardner Commons is designed to be 100 percent electric-based. As the U installs and purchases more renewable energy like solar and geothermal, the building will eventually become carbon neutral, with no need for any fossil fuels. This design allows the U to move closer to its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

 

 

Looking down to the earth for power

The building is heated and cooled by the first and only geothermal ground-source heat pump on campus. The pump uses the ground as a battery, putting heat into the ground during the summer and taking heat out of the ground during the winter. This is estimated to save more than $70,000 a year in energy costs!

 

 

 

Looking inside for a holistic eating experience

Carolyn’s Kitchen, inside the commons, stocks reusable dishes, silverware and even reusable to-go containers. When it comes to food, this location features a plant-based station that satisfies vegan and vegetarian diets, a rotating station that hosts local vendors including Saffron Valley and local roaster Hugo Coffee, which uses fair trade beans. All this and more makes Carolyn’s Kitchen a holistic eating experience.

 

 

Looking all around for unique, beautiful and ethically sourced building materials

Those funky little dots on the windows? These ‘frits’ act as blinds while still allowing daylight, reducing solar heat gain to the inside of the building and glare from the sun. The horizontal panels on the outside of the building are glass fiber reinforced concrete, made locally. (Other buildings in Salt Lake City with these kinds of panels had them shipped from as far as Germany.) Marble from OSH’s restrooms was repurposed in Gardner to build front entry desks for all departments.

 

 

Don’t forget the Water Conservation Garden

Sandwiched between Gardner Commons and the Eccles School of Business, the Water Conservation Garden will be a beautiful oasis in the middle of campus. Formerly covered with water-consuming grass, the garden will bring water that would be piped through the city’s stormwater drain system to the surface, filter it, use it for irrigation, and send what’s left into the groundwater. The impetus for the garden was an $80,000 grant written by a team of U students and funded by the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund. The students also helped bring Red Butte Garden’s staff and expertise to this campus project. Look for the garden in spring 2019.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

Originally published on @theU on August 20, 2018.

By Vince Horiuchi, public relations associate, College of Engineering

Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico last September, which left nearly all the island’s 3.4 million residents without power, is one of the most frightening scenarios for a metropolis: A natural disaster or cyberattack wipes out a city’s power grid.

University of Utah electrical and computer engineering assistant professor Masood Parvania has received a $2 million grant from the Office of Naval Research to build a new laboratory and develop technology that would help communities get their power back online faster in the wake of a natural disaster or cyberattack.
PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering

But University of Utah electrical and computer engineering assistant professor Masood Parvania is building a new laboratory to develop technology that would help communities get their power back online faster in the wake of those kinds of devastating events.

He was awarded a three-year, $2 million grant from the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research beginning July 1 to build the lab and research and test technology for microgrids–smaller, more localized versions of a city’s power grid that could provide backup electricity in a catastrophic situation.

When a natural disaster hits, much of a city’s power grid that receives electricity from sources such as thermal and hydroelectric plants, can go dark.

Microgrids are power systems in smaller areas of a city that operate autonomously from the main grid and get electricity from sources like solar panels or energy storage devices. They can provide emergency power to neighborhoods and essential services such as hospitals until the main system is restored. Microgrids can be as small as a building like a college campus or military base that use backup generators, or a large neighborhood that uses wind turbines or geothermal generation. Microgrids, for example, are now being created all over Puerto Rico in the event of future massive power outages.

Parvania and his team at the Utah Smart Energy Lab (U-Smart) will be developing microgrid controllers that act as the computerized brains of a microgrid and determine how to best distribute electrical power in an area. These controllers will be faster, smarter and more secure from cyberattacks, the newest concern for power companies. Two days before Christmas in 2015, for example, Russian hackers remotely attacked the control centers of three Ukrainian electricity distribution companies, briefly wiping out power to more than 200,000 customers.

“Today, power grids are becoming more and more vulnerable with modernization and digitization,” Parvania says. “These microgrid controllers will be faster and more accurate in returning power back to communities. But we also want to make sure that once they work they are not affected by cyberattacks.”

Parvania’s laboratory, which will be built on the University of Utah’s College of Engineering campus, will consist of software and specialized computers called “real-time digital simulators” that will simulate a power system. New technologies that his team develops can be experimented on this new testbed. The laboratory also will be used to help educate the next generation of power engineers who are studying microgrids.

Another component of the research grant involves commercializing any technology that Parvania’s team develops. The University of Utah is partnering with the Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) initiative, Governor’s Office of Energy Development, Idaho National Lab, and the U’s Office of Technology and Venture Commercialization.

“We are also going to work with utilities, energy companies, and military bases to see how we can commercialize our technology for the betterment of communities,” says Parvania.

 

 

 

 

MARRIOTT LIBRARY’S NEW DANCE

Originally posted in@theU on June 4

By Liz Ivkovich, Sustainability Office

The Marriott Library operates like a complicated piece of choreography.

The heating, ventilation and air conditioning goes on and off, and it lets air into and out of the building in an overlapping sequence of operations. This dance is directed by the building automation system — a computer system that monitors the building’s electrical and mechanical equipment and tells each part what to do.

Thanks to the recently completed upgrade to the building automation system, the library is saving $270,000 a year.

The multi-year project began as an effort to better protect collections, with the added benefit of reducing the library’s energy use by 28 percent annually.

The library’s building automation system has to meet many needs at once and prevent various functions from stepping on each other’s toes. The system ensures a comfortable temperature while people are in the library and provides adequate ventilation to protect indoor air quality. It controls the humidity level within a safe range for valuable books and equipment. Additionally, it pressurizes the space so that no cold air leaks into the building. Given this operational complexity, it is not unusual for these systems perform inefficiently. Plus, building automation systems are more robust with today’s technology than when the library was renovated 10 years ago.

The library upgrades addressed both the issue of outdated technology and provided an opportunity for more thoughtfully designed sequences of operation. Much of the work went into rearranging the choreography — changing the order of instructions for the automation system to run more efficiently. By using many of the system’s existing components, Facilities Management was able to lower the price tag of the upgrade.

“If we replaced the entire mechanical system, we’d have had an insanely high cost,” said Chris Benson, Sustainability & Energy program manager. “We carefully chose the sensors, the controllers, and labor to pull wires and really focused on adjusting the sequences of operation. It makes a huge difference to make sure we get the right sequences the building really requires. That’s where we get the best return on investment.”

The upgrades began in 2014 on the first floor, expanded to include special collections on the fourth floor, and all other floors by the project’s conclusion.

In addition to energy reduction, the upgrades will also aid in preservation. Special Collections and its curators and archivists are tasked with safeguarding some of the most valuable assets of the State of Utah. Items held by Special Collections include more than 80,000 rare books, maps and ephemera as well as moving image and sound archives and manuscript collections.

“Whether the collections we have curated are 2,000 years old or printed yesterday, we have a responsibility to ensure they are protected for the university and world communities for generations and mitigating water risks and stabilizing climate control helps us do that,” said Ian Godfrey, director of library facilities.

Not only have the library’s book and paper residents benefited from the upgrades, its human occupants are enjoying more control over their environment. The upgrades enable employees to regularly adjust their thermostats for more comfortable temperatures during chilly winter and hot summer days.

The upgrades wouldn’t be possible without the dedicated work of staff in University Planning, Design & Construction, Marriott Library, Facilities Management, as well as vendors Spectrum Engineers, Wasatch Controls and ETC Group.

With more than 200 campus structures with automation building systems similar to the one in the Marriott Library, the U has many more opportunities to implement these kinds of upgrades. On with the dance…of energy efficiency.

REVOLVING LOAN PAYS LEED GOLD DIVIDENDS

Originally posted in @theU on May 14, 2018

By: Liz Ivkovich, Global Change & Sustainability Center

The building that is home to the College’s Department of Mechanical Engineering has achieved a LEED Gold certification after the building’s latest upgrade – the installation of a solar panel array on the roof. These upgrades were made possible through the support of the university’s Revolving Loan Fund, which provides low interest loans to help reduce carbon emissions on campus.

The architect for the $24-million renovation, Derrick Larm, said the new 34.2-kilowatt solar panel system, which was installed earlier this year and is comprised of four separate panels on the roof, provides an additional 5 percent energy-cost savings per year for the building. The Rio Tinto Kennecott building now is one of seven U buildings on campus with the Gold certification.

The LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a certification rating by the U.S. Green Building Council for highly efficient, cost-effective green buildings. The Rio Tinto building at 1495 E. 100 South originally achieved a Silver rating when the renovation of the 65-year-old structure was completed in 2015. The Revolving Loan Fund was able to provide the up-front costs for the rooftop solar energy project, which enabled the project to achieve enough credits to earn LEED Gold Certification.

What began as a 54,000-square-foot building built in the 1950s for Kennecott Utah Copper Corp.’s research offices has now become a 76,000-square-foot U lab space with the latest in energy-saving technology and safety features.

The building now has energy-efficient elevators, a chilled beam system for air conditioning and a heating system that use much less energy, new walls and braces for earthquake stabilization, a horizontal fire shutter above the atrium designed to stop the spread of a fire, and a new pedestrian walkway called “Job’s Crossing” that connects the building to the rest of campus for safer pedestrian traffic.

“It’s a complete renovation, and it’s amazing that we took something that had no insulation and get it to a place where it is performing 40 percent better than a code-compliant building,” Larm said. “The swing in energy efficiency is just enormous.”

All told, these energy upgrades will save the building 32 percent in annual energy costs, he added. The Revolving Loan Fund helped to off-set the cost of making these changes to the building.

The Revolving Loan Fund operates by fronting the extra incremental costs often associated with energy efficiency or renewable energy. Often the initial costs of these on-campus projects—such as solar panels and high efficiency water heaters—can be a barrier for the University, even if the project will save money over its lifetime. After the project is complete, the loan is paid back to the fund through savings accrued in reduced energy costs to the university. In addition, after the loan is paid back (typically 8-15 years), the university benefits from those savings for the remaining life of the equipment (usually 25 years).

“Not only does the university save money and reduce carbon emissions through the fund, but the returns on investment are plowed right back into other projects for decades to come,” said Myron Willson, deputy chief sustainability officer. “The fund is also one of only a few student fee-based revolving loan funds in the country. It is unique on campus in that student fees and donations provide annual funding like an endowment, while returns from previous project investments grow the available pool exponentially. It is the fund that literally keeps on giving.”

BRIGHT LIGHTS UNDER A DARK SKY

Originally Posted on February 12, 2018 in @theU By Abeni Czajkowski, communications specialist, Planning Design & Construction

You don’t need to wait for the
yearly walk to report an area
you think needs to be
addressed. To report a lighting
issue, click here.

A report can be made at any
time via your phone. Simply select
the lighting condition,
describe the problem and
identify the location using
the interactive map.

The safety of all students, faculty and staff is a top priority for the University of Utah. For the past 18 years, administrators, safety experts and volunteers have worked together and focused on ensuring a well-lit and safe campus at night. At the same time, recent sustainability and environmental measures have increased focus on reducing light pollution and helping the U to become compliant with the dark sky initiative of minimizing light trespass and skyglow with specially approved light fixtures.

Walk after dark

When identifying areas of campus that are too dark or seem unsafe, it’s best to experience it first-hand. Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety (OEHS) sponsors an annual “Walk After Dark” during which participants walk every sidewalk on campus to identify areas of concern. Team members use their phones to mark exact GPS locations where they find potential safety issues with lighting.

“The walk occurs in the fall after the sun sets, the leaves are full and the moon is hidden — a night of ‘optimal darkness’” said James Stubbs, associate director of OEHS. “We also identify uneven pavement, broken light fixtures, areas of perceived darkness versus actual darkness and landscape elements that interfere with the light or could provide a potential hiding place. We then analyze the data found in order to find solutions to the problems.”

Ensuring proper lighting across campus was a priority of the Presidential Task Force on Campus Safety, which requested and received $125,000 for that purpose in this year’s budget.

Light pollution mitigation

The first steps in preventing light pollution is understanding what it is. One example of an inefficient light fixture is the “lollipop light pole,” which distributes uncontrolled light. These are being replaced with more efficient fixtures that keep campus areas brightly lit while also reducing light pollution from “sky-glow.”

“Light pollution is wasted energy in the form of artificial light that impairs one’s ability to see the night sky,” said Bill Leach, sustainability projects coordinator with Facilities Management. “It’s not as simple as just turning off the lights in a campus setting. It’s not just about getting rid of lights but it’s controlling light, working to make sure it’s going where we want it to go and not outside of its parameters.”

Light pollution not only affects the night sky but it affects our bodies as well as the surrounding environment and the inhabitants within it. Motivations to become a Dark Sky Compliant campus include health-related concerns, the environment, wildlife and sustainability efforts.

So how do you control light?

The University of Utah is replacing current fixtures with Dark Sky-Friendly LED lighting. LED light beams travel in a more linear path and therefore can be easier to control. These fixtures don’t allow the light to escape above its horizontal plane. The new fixtures help to minimize contributions to sky glow through spectrum intensity, color temperature and shielding.

“There is no black and white answer for what is adequate because light levels in a given area are perceived differently by each individual,” Leach said. “We can help people feel more safe using lighting but we cannot give it a one-size fits all answer. The night sky is there but people don’t often get to see it in an urban setting. We are working hard and will continue doing so to find a balanced solution.”

Resources

The U offers a number of resources that allow campus community members to raise concerns with lighting safety, which can be found here. Campus police also are available to escort you to a residence hall or vehicle at night, which can be arranged by calling 801-585-2677.

  • Report a light out by clicking here
  • Lighting safety information can be found here
  • SafeU website
  • Campus Police: 801-585-2677

For more campus resources on Dark Sky Compliance:

10 YEARS OF SUSTAINABILITY

Originally posted in @theU on Sept. 22, 2017.

By Amy Brunvand, Sustainability Librarian.

The University of Utah Sustainability Office turns 10 years old this year, and it is truly amazing to look around campus and realize how much has changed for the better in the past decade. Nowadays, there are campus vegetable gardens with ripe tomatoes and hives of buzzing bees, solar parking canopies that provide both power and shade, electric vehicles plugged into charging stations, crowds of students arriving on TRAX light-rail trains, tasty vegetarian and vegan options on offer at the cafeteria, water bottle refilling stations in most buildings, and plenty of recycling bins to divert waste from the landfill.

The curriculum has changed, too. Undergraduates can earn a number of sustainability-focused degrees and minors, while graduate students in any field can add an Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability to their credentials.

Over the years, students, staff and faculty have all contributed to a vision of making the University of Utah a better place. In September, the Sustainability Office will celebrate these milestones and achievements with a Sustainability Showcase highlighting current programs and resources, and a special presentation by Dr. Vandana Shiva who advocates for traditional agriculture, and environmental and social justice issues worldwide.

Join us at the Sustainability Showcase on Friday, Sept. 29, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on the Marriott Library Plaza for food, live music and fun activities. Later this fall, Dr. Vandana Shiva will present a public lecture at Libby Gardner Concert Hall on Saturday, Oct. 20, 7:30 p.m., as part of UtahPresents 2017-18 season. Tickets are available now.

1991-2006: Early Beginnings of Sustainability

Ten years ago, the transition to campus sustainability had barely begun, although a few major milestones laid the foundation. The first big sustainable change was a side effect of trying to cope with limited parking; in 1991, Commuter Services launched the Ed Pass program to give a UTA transit pass to every student and employee on campus. Not only did this encourage people to leave their cars at home, it helped expand Salt Lake City’s light rail network when enthusiastic transit riders from the U showed up at City Council meetings to press for construction of the Red Line TRAX, which opened in 2001.

In 1996, a biology professor named Fred Montague started an “unofficial” campus vegetable garden to teach students about his ideas for ecological gardening. That unofficial garden became the foundation of today’s Edible Campus Gardens, which teaches volunteers how to grow food, supports organic gardening curriculum and sells produce at the University of Utah Farmers Market. By 2006, the university had also constructed the Spencer F. and Cleone P. Eccles Health Sciences Education Building, the first LEED-certified building which incorporated efficient use of energy and water, waste reduction and consideration of human health in the building’s design, construction, operations and maintenance.

These efforts were significant, but they weren’t yet part of a unified drive to implement sustainability on campus.

2007-2014: The Sustainability Office Forms

Divergent efforts began to coalesce in 2007, with the formation of the Sustainability Office (then called the Sustainability Resource Center), underneath Facilities Management.

Something like the Sustainability Office doesn’t happen without visionaries. The idea was originally proposed by students, but it was City & Metropolitan Planning faculty member Craig B. Forster who led the effort to make the idea work. Forster, who became the first director, was a natural fit with sustainability. He was interested in facilitating interdisciplinary research and bridging the gaps between science and public policy. He also had a talent for bringing people together and was deeply involved with the local community. In the summertime, he was often seen at the Pioneer Park farmers’ market playing cimbalom (a kind of hammered dulcimer) with his Hungarian Táncház band.

With only one full-time staff member and some volunteers, the Sustainability Office got to work organizing recycling at football games, installing the first solar panels on campus, setting up a campus farmers’ market, making sure that sustainability was included in the Campus Master Plan and developing a student fee to support student-led sustainability projects through the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund. On Earth Day 2008, University of Utah President Michael K. Young signed the American College & University President’s Climate Commitment, dedicating the university to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The year ended in tragedy, though, when Forster died in a hiking accident.

Despite the loss of Forster, the university persevered with a vision for making sustainability integral to its operations. In 2009, after a competitive nationwide search, architect and planner Myron Willson was appointed the next director of the office.

2014-2017: Sustainability is Integrated into Academic Affairs

In 2014, the Sustainability Office made another big change to adapt to the growing campus. Originally, the office was on the organizational chart under Facilities Management with the idea that university employees would take care of recycling, xeriscaping, transit passes and such.

But then an interesting thing happened. Students were getting more and more interested in sustainable change. They wanted to try out their ideas, and the campus was the most natural place for them to do so. With the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) now up and running, grants were available for student-led sustainability projects. The university had become a living laboratory for sustainable change, and sustainability-focused courses had popped up in academic departments all over campus. With so much involvement in interdisciplinary research and learning, the Sustainability Office moved into Academic Affairs, and Associate Vice President for Faculty and law professor Amy Wildermuth was named Chief Sustainability Officer in 2014. Wildermuth added Adrienne Cachelin, Environmental & Sustainability Studies faculty to the team as the director of sustainability education to guide burgeoning sustainability education efforts across campus.

Under Wildermuth, the Sustainability Office also joined forces with the Global Change and Sustainability Center (GCSC), founded in 2010 by biology professor Jim Ehleringer to foster interdisciplinary sustainability research. Nowadays, under Director Brenda Bowen, Geology & Geophysics faculty, the 129 faculty affiliates of the GCSC represent nine colleges. The center supports graduate students through grants and fellowships, offers an interdisciplinary research seminar series, faculty networking opportunities, assistance for large interdisciplinary grants and core courses in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability curriculum.

Sustainability is You: The Next 10 Years

Today, the Sustainability Office team includes fourteen faculty and staff members as well as numerous student interns and volunteers and continues to expands its scope. Though much progress has been made, sustainability is an ongoing effort, and there is still a lot of work to do.

This year, the Sustainability Office celebrates 10 years of dedicated efforts of faculty, staff and students from across campus. The next 10 years of sustainability at the university will be guided by those in our community who get and remain involved. We invite you to be part of this important work. Join us at one of our fall events to learn about ways you can help make the U a better place for all who live, work and play here.

Your Utah Your Future

Sustainability Office receives “Your Utah Your Future” award.

On May 31 at the State Capitol, the University of Utah Sustainability Office was honored to receive a Your Utah Your Future award from Envision Utah for our U Drive Electric program—a community discount program for electric and plug-in-hybrid vehicles.

Envision Utah is a nonprofit community partnership that includes both public and private sectors, with the goal of maintaining a high quality of life for current and future generations of Utahns. Envision Utah recognized the combined success of two electric vehicle programs – U Drive Electric, which was managed by University of Utah in coordination with Salt Lake City, and Drive Electric Northern Utah with Utah State University and Weber State University. Both electric programs were administered by Utah Clean Energy with support from UCAIR.

“We are thrilled to be honored and to share this recognition with our great partners and all those who participated in the program,” said Amy Wildermuth, the university’s chief sustainability officer. “The university strives to serve as a model for what is possible in sustainability. Only 22% of the people who enrolled in U Drive Electric had planned to buy an electric vehicle. But what they saw and heard about electric vehicles inspired them. With over 200 zero to low emission vehicles now on the roads, we know that programs like these play an important role in our shared goal of improving our air quality and community.”

STABILIZING ENERGY STORAGE

Originally posted at UNews on Feb. 21 2017.

Because the sun doesn’t always shine, solar utilities need a way to store extra charge for a rainy day. The same goes for wind power facilities, since the wind doesn’t always blow. To take full advantage of renewable energy, electrical grids need large batteries that can store the power coming from wind and solar installations until it is needed. Some of the current technologies that are potentially very appealing for the electrical grid are inefficient and short-lived.

University of Utah and University of Michigan chemists, participating in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, predict a better future for a type of battery for grid storage called redox flow batteries. Using a predictive model of molecules and their properties, the team has developed a charge-storing molecule around 1,000 times more stable than current compounds. Their results are reported today in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

“Our first compound had a half-life of about eight-12 hours,” says U chemist Matthew Sigman, referring to the time period in which half of the compound would decompose. “The compound that we predicted was stable on the order of months.”

Not your ordinary battery

For a typical residential solar panel customer, electricity must be either used as it’s generated, sold back to the electrical grid, or stored in batteries. Deep-cycle lead batteries or lithium ion batteries are already on the market, but each type presents challenges for use on the grid.

PHOTO CREDIT: Image by Sharmila Samaroo/University of Michigan.

PHOTO CREDIT: Image by Sharmila Samaroo/University of Michigan. A diagram of a redox flow battery. An energy source, in this case a solar panel, provides the energy to the central cell to charge the battery. The charge is held in tanks of electrolytes that are pumped back into the cell to discharge the battery.

All batteries contain chemicals that store and release electrical charge. However, redox flow batteries aren’t like the batteries in cars or cell phones. Redox flow batteries instead use two tanks to store energy, separated by a central set of inert electrodes. The tanks hold the solutions containing molecules or charged atoms, called anolytes and catholytes, that store and release charge as the solution “flows” past the electrodes, depending on whether electricity is being provided to the battery or extracted from it.

“If you want to increase the capacity, you just put more material in the tanks and it flows through the same cell,” says University of Michigan chemist Melanie Sanford. “If you want to increase the rate of charge or discharge, you increase the number of cells.”

Current redox flow batteries use solutions containing vanadium, a costly material that requires extra safety in handling because of its potential toxicity. Formulating the batteries is a chemical balancing act, since molecules that can store more charge tend to be less stable, losing charge and rapidly decomposing.

Molecular bumper cars

Sanford began collaborating with Sigman and U electrochemist Shelley Minteer through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), an Energy Innovation Hub dedicated to creating next-generation battery technologies. Sanford’s lab developed and tested potential electrolyte molecules, and sought to use predictive technology to help design better battery compounds. Minteer contributed expertise in electrochemistry and Sigman employed a computational method, which uses the structural features of a molecule to predict its properties. A similar approach  is widely used in drug development to predict the properties of candidate drugs.

The team’s work found that a candidate compound decomposed when two molecules interacted with each other. “These molecules can’t decompose if they can’t come together,” Sanford says. “You can tune the molecules to prevent them from coming together.”

Tuning a key parameter of those molecules, a factor describing the height of a molecular component, essentially placed a bumper or deflector shield around the candidate molecule.

The most exciting anolyte reported in the paper  is based on the organic molecule pyridinium. It contains no metals and is intended to be dissolved in an organic solvent, further enhancing its stability. Other compounds exhibited longer half-lives, but this anolyte provides the best combination of stability and redox potential, which is directly related to how much energy it can store.

Sharing skills to build batteries

Sigman, Minteer and Sanford are now working to identify a catholyte to pair with this and future molecules. Other engineering milestones lay ahead in the development of a new redox flow battery technology, but determining a framework for improving battery components is a key first step.

“It’s a multipart challenge, but you can’t do anything if you don’t have stable molecules with low redox potentials,” Sanford says. “You need to work from there.”

The team attributes their success thus far to the application of this structure-function relationship toolset, typically used in the pharmaceutical industry, to battery design. “We bring the tools of chemists to a field that was traditionally the purview of engineers,” Sanford says.

Find the full study here.

Funding for the project was provided by the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, a Department of Energy Innovation Hub supported by DOE’s Office of Science.

The Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), a DOE Energy Innovation Hub, is a major partnership that integrates researchers from many disciplines to overcome critical scientific and technical barriers and create new breakthrough energy storage technology. Led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, partners include national leaders in science and engineering from academia, the private sector, and national laboratories. Their combined expertise spans the full range of the technology-development pipeline from basic research to prototype development to product engineering to market delivery.

Cover Photo: By Leaflet (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.