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G. E VERET T L ASHER


Late night sunset at a research camp in southern Greenland. Yarrow Axford, assistant professor in Northwestern’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, and her team are collecting sediment from Arctic lake bottoms to reconstruct past climate records of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Known as the second largest body of ice in the world, it has shown rapid melt in recent decades. Learn more about Axford’s research and ISEN ’s new $5.5 million Ubben Program for Climate and Carbon Science at http://isen.nu/climatesci17 empower

Spring 2017: Our Resilient World

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WELC OME TO EMP OWER Informing and enabling scientific, business, and policy solutions for a resilient and prosperous future

The present time is like no other in human

At the Institute for Sustainability and Energy

history. Population growth and the demand

(ISEN) at Northwestern, we work to build

for a more globally equitable standard of

integrated teams that cut across science,

sustainability and energy are at the core of

This inaugural issue explores the theme “Our Resilient World,” highlighting how

living are having an unprecedented impact

engineering, policy, journalism, and business

economic development that will position

on Earth’s climate and life-supporting

to advance innovative sustainability and

the United States competitively.

natural resources. While local, national, and

energy solutions. Whether it’s building an

international responses to critical climate

integrated system that converts sunlight into

and development goals remain fragmented,

a carbon-neutral fuel, or using real data to

encouraging progress is being made

advance the integration of renewable power

around the world.

sources into the US electrical grid, ISEN

For example, an American startup is teaming up with the world’s largest steel producer to recycle CO2 emissions into valuable chemicals at a site in Belgium. The largest regula-

connects University researchers to local and global partners dedicated to discovering, implementing, and scaling solutions. The Institute’s commitment to that mission

tory utility in the United States is partnering

is represented within the pages of this

with a company that uses CO2 as a working

magazine. Empower curates meaningful con-

fluid to power a combustion engine without

versations around current issues in sustain-

producing any emissions. Investments

ability and energy and the interdisciplinary

in green infrastructure are creating cities

collaborations that address them.

resistant to urban flooding in China. Around the world, momentum is building toward advancing a global, more sustainably

Within these pages, we look for practical answers to difficult questions. How do we design our materials, homes, and cities with both sustainability and economic purpose in mind? Where do we need more collaboration, investment, and innovation? How must we shift our thinking to meet climate adaptation and mitigation challenges in time? It’s with great enthusiasm that we invite you to learn from experts and leaders who think critically about these issues every day. We hope you’ll come away better informed and genuinely inspired to explore ways in which you can exert your own meaningful impact.

prosperous future. Beyond the pages of this magazine, the discussion continues online at www.isen.northwestern.edu and over social media at @ISEN at NU . We’ll meet you there.

Michael R. Wasielewski, ISEN Executive Director


EMPOWER S P R I N G 2 0 17 OUR RESILIENT WORLD

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F R O M M O D E L S T O M A I N S T R E E T: P U T T I N G C L I M AT E S C I E N C E T O W O R K W H E R E Y O U L I V E

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10

RESE ARCH SPOTLIGHTS P OWER PUZ ZLES: CONNECTING SOLUTIONS FOR GRID RESILIENCE

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14

CARBON 2.0: T E A M I N G N AT U R E A N D T E C H N O L O G Y F O R C L I M AT E S O L U T I O N S

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T HE NE X T IND U S T R I A L R(E VOL U T ION): D I G I TA L I N N O VAT I O N E N A B L E S G R E E N E R , LE ANER MANUFAC T URING SOLU TIONS

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24

INVES TMENT GR ADE: R E V I TA L I Z I N G U . S . I N F R A S T R U C T U R E

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ALUMNI PROFILES

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L I V I N G I N A M AT E R I A L S W O R L D

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NEWS ROUNDUP

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VISUALIZING THE GRID

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2145 Sheridan Road, L410, Evanston, IL 60208 www.isen.northwestern.edu

WRITERS Jim Dallke Glenn Jeffers Mike M. McMahon Megan Taylor Morrison Monika Wnuk PHOTOGRAPHY C. Jason Brown India Bulkeley Michael Goss Rob Hart

Kevin Krajick G. Everett Lasher John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Earl Richardson Sally Ryan Alyssa Schukar Jasmin Shah Carey Wagner Monika Wnuk DESIGN Grillo Group

Direct Questions to: Monika Wnuk ISEN Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications monika.wnuk@northwestern.edu @ISEN atNU

© 2017 Northwestern University. All rights reserved.


FROM MODE LS TO MAIN STRE ET C. JASON BROWN

P U T T I N G C L I M AT E S C I E N C E T O WORK WHERE YOU LIV E MIKE M. MCMAHON

The year 2016 set the record for the warmest global temperature ever,

In California, the state’s primary source of water comes from the

breaking the previous record set in 2015, which had broken the pre-

Sierra snowpack, which gradually supplies groundwater as it melts.

vious record set just one year before that, in 2014. If you’re noticing

But six years of sustained warm temperatures and drought led

a pattern, you’re not alone. The 15 warmest years since the US

Governor Jerry Brown to proclaim a state of emergency in 2014.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began keeping

He later enforced mandatory water rationing because of continuing

records in 1880 all occurred after 1998. These unprecedented spikes

shortages. Such catastrophic weather events put a strain not only

in temperatures are wreaking havoc on Earth’s weather patterns,

on the water-intensive agricultural sector but also on regional

with global, regional, and local implications.

economic development more broadly.

As evidence, you need look no further than recent hot weather events

“Let’s say you work in an industry that requires a lot of water, and

in the United States. In 2012, persistent and stagnant heat waves

you’re looking to build a new facility. It doesn’t make much sense

throughout the Midwest decimated corn and soybean yields. The

to build in California or the Southwest where water access is

health of these major cash crops plummets when temperatures

limited, expensive, and likely to get worse,” says Daniel Horton,

exceed 86° F for extended periods of time.

a climate scientist in Northwestern’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

4


“I look for climate change signals within patterns of atmospheric circulation. I’m using vast amounts of data to peer into the atmosphere’s behavior, cutting through the ‘noise’ to look for statistical signals of climate change.” DANIEL HORTON A S S I S TA N T P R O F E S S O R , D E P A R T M E N T O F E A R T H A N D P L A N E TA R Y S C I E N C E S NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSIT Y

Anticipating the regional impact of climate change falls within

“Each of the 40 simulations uses the same historical and future

Horton’s research expertise. He does so by using climate models

forcing scenarios,” Horton says. “The only differences in these

to gain a more comprehensive view of the long-term influence

experiments are the initial conditions we give them. In this

that global warming may be having on atmospheric circulation,

case, the atmosphere in the simulations begins at a slightly

and thus the formation and movement of Earth’s weather.

different initial state.”

“I look for climate change signals within patterns of atmospheric circulation,” Horton says of his research. “I’m using vast amounts

As large computers run the model simulations, climate scientists look at the ways in which seemingly small changes in the models’

of data to peer into the atmosphere’s behavior, cutting through

initial conditions affect weather and climate over time. In Earth’s

the ‘noise’ to look for statistical signals of climate change.”

natural systems, even small changes can have sizeable impacts.

Weather events are driven by currents of air—also known as the

“Running these 40 models with slightly different initial conditions

jet stream—in Earth’s atmosphere. As the planet warms, many

gives us a better sense of the internal variability of Earth’s climate

scientists hypothesize that the strength and routes of these

system,” says Horton. “These experiments allow us to better

atmospheric winds are becoming altered. Even seemingly small

understand the range of uncertainty driven by natural variability

changes in the jet stream can have large and chaotic conse-

and inform our climate change projections. Knowing the range of

quences in the formation and movement of weather.

uncertainty about a climate change signal is extremely important

“When the jet stream is slow and weak, weather tends to sit over

for assigning risk profile probabilities.”

a region for an extended period of time,” says Horton. “When this

As businesses, policy makers, and average citizens increasingly

occurs, bad things can happen.”

experience the effects of climate change, localized decisions

The model that Horton uses to assess regional impacts is known as the Community Earth System Model (CESM), hosted at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. For Horton’s research at Northwestern, the CESM uses millions of lines of code to run a suite of experiments—in this case, about 40 different simulations— using the exact same “forcings.” A forcing is any factor that

surrounding mitigation and adaptation strategies become of paramount importance. Those in charge would be shortsighted not to leverage data to inform such important decisions. As climate scientists like Daniel Horton continue to find louder and louder signals of climate change, an important question remains: Are the rest of us listening?

affects Earth’s climate and often includes changes in the energy output of the sun, changes in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, and volcanic eruptions.

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Spring 2017: Our Resilient World

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Felicia Teller (SPS ’15) in the process of freeze-casting solar cell materials in zero gravity. Learn more about this NASA-supported research in the following “Research Snapshots” section.

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COURTESY OF NASA

research spotlights


INSIDE T HE ISEN FL E X L A B An inside look at the who, what, and why of Northwestern’s significant investment in collaborative innovation

ISEN: What does the Flex Lab offer?

nanotechnology, catalysis, engineering,

RY: The lab is large and customizable accord-

biological chemistry, and materials

ing to the needs of its occupants. It spans

science. We’re very open to facilitating

8,000 square feet across two floors and

interdisciplinary collaboration among

can comfortably house 40 researchers, with

occupants of the lab and the wider

adjoining office and collaboration space.

Northwestern community.

The climate-controlled lab space also offers laser technology, basic lab amenities, and on-site support.

ISEN: What kinds of research projects

typically occupy the ISEN Flex Lab? RY: Our goal is to provide pathways for

Ryan Young, Director of Laboratory Research

The lab’s flexible design underscores the

at-scale application of discovery and

interdisciplinary nature of ISEN ’s mission.

technology. Preference is given to projects

In August of 2015, ISEN officially unveiled

Occupants can bring in large and specialized

that address ISEN ’s core research areas—

its Flex Lab. With the support of a $20 million

equipment to conduct a wide range of sus-

solar electricity and fuels, catalysis

investment from the University, the labora-

tainability and energy research. Researchers

and green chemistry, sustainable materials,

tory invites new levels of collaboration among

can generate controlled experiments, char-

climate and carbon science, water, and

the Institute’s academic, non-profit, public

acterize new synthesis, and develop proto-

resilient communities. We also look for

types that deploy their findings, without

projects that include collaboration with

ever stepping outside.

public and private partners, and we strive

sector, and industry partners. ISEN recently sat down with Ryan Young,

to prioritize projects that engage junior-

the Institute’s director of laboratory

ISEN: Who can use the ISEN Flex Lab?

research and a research associate professor

RY: The lab space is available to

of chemistry, to discuss the Flex Lab,

Northwestern faculty and student groups,

its capabilities, and the promise it holds

as well as researchers from academic,

Lab projects are designed to lead directly

for shaping the future of sustainability

non-profit, public, and private sector

to practical solutions to real-world

and energy.

organizations. Research teams should be

sustainability and energy challenges.

sponsored by at least one Northwestern

And that’s what ISEN is all about.

ISEN: What is the ISEN Flex Lab?

faculty member or senior research

RYAN YOUNG: The Flex Lab functions as a

staff member.

level faculty and researchers from underrepresented groups.

collaborative facility for global sustainability and energy research and serves as a major

ISEN: Do occupants of the Flex Lab have

Readers can find a more in-depth look

hub for accelerating and showcasing work

access to other resources at Northwestern?

at some of the research currently

in these highly interdisciplinary fields. It’s

RY: Absolutely. The Flex Lab is located in

home to an array of team-science research

the heart of Northwestern’s Technological

projects among groups at Northwestern

Institute, home to the McCormick School

and other universities, industry, non-

of Engineering and Applied Science, the

governmental organizations, and national

Department of Chemistry, and the

laboratories. The lab creates a bridge

Department of Physics and Astronomy.

between primary research, application,

The building also houses a number of the

and commercialization.

University’s core research facilities,

underway in the Flex Lab in the following “Research Snapshots” section or at http://isen.nu/flexlab

including those focused on solar energy,

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Spring 2017: Our Resilient World

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RESE A R CH SN A P SHOTS

Sossina M. Haile, Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Professor of Applied Physics

John Torkelson, Walter P. Murphy Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering

William Dichtel, Robert L. Letsinger Professor of Chemistry

Building a Better Fuel Cell

Reinventing the Wheel

Fuel cells accomplish a very important task—

Rubber can’t be recycled, only repurposed.

New Battery Storage Material Shows Its Power

they take chemical fuel and turn it into

Of the 244 million scrap tires that were dis-

A powerful new nanomaterial developed

electricity. In that sense, fuel cells resemble

posed of in the United States in 2015, more

by William Dichtel, Robert L. Letsinger

fossil-fuel power plants, but with a distinct

than 50 percent were simply burned for fuel.

Professor of Chemistry at Northwestern,

and very important advantage: they function

More than 10 percent—20 million tires—

and his research team could one day greatly

much more efficiently and cleanly. In fact,

were consigned to landfill. John Torkelson,

speed up the charging process of electric

fuel cells produce zero carbon emissions

Walter P. Murphy Professor of Chemical and

vehicles and help increase their driving

if fueled with hydrogen—a process that is

Biological Engineering and Materials Science

range. The material combines the best of

increasingly easy to accomplish. Sossina M.

and Engineering at Northwestern, is striving

batteries (the ability to store large amounts

Haile, Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials

to change all that. Torkelson and his research

of electrical energy) and supercapacitors

Science and Engineering and professor of

team have developed a one-step, inexpensive

(the ability to charge and discharge rapidly).

applied physics at Northwestern, focuses

solution that modifies the way in which the

In his experiments, Dichtel has combined

her work in the ISEN Flex Lab on creating the

polymers in rubber—that is, the chains of

a covalent organic framework ( COF )—

electrodes for fuel cells and other electro-

molecules that give structure and properties

a strong, stiff polymer with an abundance

chemical devices. Her research is supported

to larger molecules—are linked. Torkelson’s

of tiny pores suitable for storing energy—

by an Advanced Research Projects Agency-

recyclable rubber has applications that

with a very conductive material. This

Energy grant from the US Department of

range from common products like shoes and

first-of-its-kind modified COF can store

Energy, helping to clear a pathway for her

tires to advanced aerospace materials.

breakthroughs to reach the marketplace.

roughly 10 times more electrical energy than the unmodified COF, and it can get the electrical charge in and out of a device 10 to 15 times faster. As an added benefit,

Dichtel’s COF s are made of inexpensive, readily available materials.

8


David Dunand, James N. and Margie M. Krebs Professor of Materials Science and Engineering

Tracy L. Lohr, Research Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Randy Snurr, John G. Searle Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Solar Power in Zero Gravity Like other types of solar cells, dye-sensitized

Energy-Neutral Chemical Manufacturing

Finding Ideal Materials for Carbon Capture

solar cells convert energy from the sun into

Industrial chemical manufacturers use

In recent years, a class of tiny, highly

an electric current. Though dye-sensitized

approximately 2.1 billion kilowatt-hours

absorbent, porous crystalline structures

cells are cheap and simple to manufacture,

of electricity annually to produce about

called metal-organic frameworks (MOF )

they are inefficient relative to monocrystal-

30 million tons of formaldehyde worldwide.

have emerged as a promising material

line solar cells, which make up the panels

That’s enough energy to power 200,000

for carbon capture and sequestration.

found on most house rooftops. The reason?

homes in the United States for a year,

Scientists can tweak and fine-tune count-

The base of the dye-sensitized cell is

according to the US Energy Information

less variables in their MOF design. But

constructed from a porous foam material

Administration. At the ISEN Flex Lab,

there’s a downside—with so many inter-

that, due to manufacturing limitations, is

Tracy L. Lohr, research assistant professor

connected variables, finding the optimal

comprised of randomized holes that restrict

of chemistry at Northwestern, is experiment-

MOF for a pre-determined application

the orderly flow of electrons. The possible

ing with a new method of commercial formal-

such as carbon capture can be difficult.

solution? Remove gravity from the manu-

dehyde production—one that is completely

Randy Snurr, John G. Searle Professor

facturing process. David Dunand, James N.

energy neutral. Her prototype reactor,

of Chemical and Biological Engineering

and Margie M. Krebs Professor of Materials

which leverages bio-available methanol in

at Northwestern, has discovered a way

Science and Engineering at Northwestern,

its production, is designed to yield high,

to rapidly identify top MOF candidates

and a team of students are experimenting

single-pass conversion to formaldehyde

for carbon capture by applying a genetic

with freeze-casting materials in zero gravity.

while recycling co-produced hydrogen

algorithm. One of the identified MOF s,

The NASA-supported process will allow

to fuel the process.

a variant of NOT T-101 , has a higher

the researchers to more easily manipulate

capacity for carbon capture than any

the structure of the pores, thereby greatly

MOF reported in scientific literature.

improving the efficiency with which the dye-sensitized solar cells can transport the electrons they collect from sunlight.

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Spring 2017: Our Resilient World

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POWE R P U Z Z LE S CONNECTING SOLUTIONS FOR GRID RESILIENCE Imagine Alexander Graham Bell’s reaction if

FUEL , RENE WABLES, AND

someone handed him an iPhone and told him

THE DECLINE OF COAL

that the device in his hand was the same as the

Electricity demand has stabilized in the

large, cone-mounted transmitter he invented

United States and production is plentiful,

and used to call Thomas Watson in 1876.

with natural gas sustaining much of the

He’d probably say, “What the hell is this?”

country’s requirements. “From an industry

according to Kevin Self, senior vice president

standpoint, people have been [thinking]

of strategy, business development, and

that gas in the United States will remain

government relations for Schneider Electric

cheap and plentiful for many years to

North America, and a member of ISEN ’s

come,” says Tom O’Flynn, executive vice president and chief financial officer of

executive council.

AES , a multinational energy distributor

Conversely, Self notes, if Thomas Edison,

based in Arlington, Virginia, and a

the father of the modern-day grid, were

member of ISEN ’s executive council .

to look outside in 2017 and see all the wires and poles, he’d say, “Yep, nothing has

Meanwhile, non-hydroelectric sources

changed in 100 years.”

of renewable energy—most notably wind power and solar—have begun to gain

Nonetheless, after decades of stagnation,

market share. In just seven short years

power grids are modernizing. Utilities are

from 2009 to 2016, wind power tripled as

using consumer data to optimize usage. “Prosumers”—consumers who also produce

improvements to turbine technology saw gains in efficiency and a reduction in costs.

electricity—are emerging, with a greater

Solar generation quadrupled between

interest in managing their own usage. Energy

2013 and 2016, topping off at 33.3 billion

storage is a priority. Still, many wonder

kilowatt-hours in that final year as

if these changes will bring the sweeping

more people and businesses installed

effects that many envision.

rooftop solar panels.

GLENN JEFFERS

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Spring 2017: Our Resilient World

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Tom O’Flynn, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, AES

Kevin Self, Senior Vice President of Strategy, Business Development, and Government Relations, Schneider Electric North America

Another reason for the increase in renewables

resources,” he says, “because what you need

renewables,” says Nishikawa, who, with

has been the rise of battery storage. As part

are resources that are available 24/7.”

his colleagues, is working on a new control

of a grid storage system, batteries can retain electricity from these intermittent resources

P OWER GRID 2.0

architecture for the grid that can address the problem. Their project builds on the prospect

when production outpaces consumption,

Changing how we produce electricity also

that the power grid will soon evolve to include

and use it later when needed. “We’re using

means changing how that power is delivered.

two-way communication between utility

batteries to store power for when the

In other words, says Adilson Motter,

companies and consumers, including real-

wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining,”

Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor

time pricing—a defining characteristic of

of Physics and Astronomy at Northwestern,

smart grids.

O’Flynn says. As the use of renewables has grown, the use of coal has begun to shrink. Both wind and

“the power grid needs a reboot.” Over time, consumption has grown, and the

“This opens the possibility of creating incentives to control consumption to match

solar are cheaper than coal on average, with

grid hasn’t expanded fast enough to catch up.

intermittent production through the use of

wind costing $0.05 per kilowatt-hour and

The result is a strained system that suffers

smart appliances,” Motter says. He notes

solar coming in at $0.06 per kilowatt-hour.

from outages and other interruptions

that a smart washing machine, for example,

Coal on average costs between $0.09 and

that cost Americans $150 billion annually,

would turn on at a time when price is low,

$0.27 per kilowatt-hour, once you factor

according to a US Department of Energy

which is precisely when there is excess

in health and environmental costs.

(DOE) report.

energy production.

“A coal plant’s life expectancy is being jeopardized by the rising cost of operations, maintenance, and capital improvements,” O’Flynn says. “These are being replaced with costeffective gas and an increasing amount of solar and wind as costs per hour continue to decline.”

“Which is why we need to rethink the system to prevent this type of loss,” Motter says. Currently, the grid system is being overhauled, from replacing physical components to installing modern outage and distribution management systems. An ISEN team led by Motter and Takashi Nishikawa, research

Trends aside, coal will still have its place for

associate professor of physics and astron-

some time, O’Flynn says, especially in fast-

omy at Northwestern, secured a $3.2 million

growing economies with an immediate need

DOE grant to examine ways to avoid outages

for electricity generation, and where local

and help increase stability.

gas is not available. “The energy puzzle going forward is about balancing capacity

“We need some way to compensate for the loss of stability due to the intermittent nature and other salient properties of

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I T ’ S A S M A R T, S M A R T W O R L D So, how does a smart grid actually work? Smart grids use information and communications technology to track electricity usage within the system. That data is collected by energy companies and analyzed to help optimize usage. Interest is high. Many companies—startups and multinationals alike—see this as an opportunity to enter an emerging technology field adjacent to an industry known for its strong, asset-based growth.


Adilson Motter, Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Physics and Astronomy

“No one wants to be left behind,” says Self of Schneider Electric. “There are thousands

Ermin Wei, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

“Right now, you can only get 200 to 250 miles

valuable to the customer,” says Ty Benefiel,

per charge, and then you have to wait a few

a 2014 graduate of the Kellogg School of

of experiments going on right now in cities.

hours to charge,” says Ermin Wei, assistant

Management and CE O of MeterGenius.

It’s definitely a state of learning.”

professor of electrical engineering and

But of greater interest (and concern) to energy

computer science at Northwestern.

Based in Indianapolis, MeterGenius works with utilities to provide analytics services to

companies is the emergence of the microgrid,

That’s where modularity comes in, Wei says.

its customers. Benefiel’s company employs

a self-contained system that can connect

Similar to using batteries to solve the inter-

the same information and communications

and disconnect from the larger electrical

mittence problem with renewable energy

technology used in smart devices to retrieve

grid. Microgrids are common within medical

generation, building storage capacity into

electricity usage data, then merges that

facilities; in case of a power outage, on-

E V s in the form of “swappable batteries”

with additional customer information to

site generators keep respirators and other

would help lengthen mileage range, making

recommend ways to cut down on costs.

life-sustaining devices operational.

the automobiles more practical.

The concept gained greater attention after

The extra capacity would also help keep

spent. We also tell them why they spent

Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012. While major

E V s off the grid during peak demand hours,

and how they can make changes to reduce

portions of New York and New Jersey were

allowing owners to charge at night when

that in the future,” Benefiel says. “We give

pricing is lower. Wei suggests that these

the customers the answers rather than

without power, Princeton University kept the lights on, thanks to its on-campus microgrid.

S O LV I N G F O R E V This trend toward modularity could help solve a challenge facing another emerging trend in electricity: the electric vehicle (E V). Thanks to companies like Tesla and the growing prominence of electric-gas motor hybrids, E V s are at a tipping point, poised to become commonplace.

“swappables” could be sold to E V owners or discharged into the grid during the day.”

Many utilities offer similar services. And

So why aren’t we doing this already? “Right

smart devices have been around for a while (think Nest thermostats and Bluetooth-

are big and heavy,” Wei says. “We’re looking

enabled light bulbs). But it’s the connec-

for a breakthrough.”

tivity that Benefiel says will have lasting

N O T T O O S M A L L F O R B I G D ATA Amid all this change in production and transportation of electricity on the grid, more questions arise. What about residential cus-

length, and mileage range are still pain points

tomers? How will things change for them?

are nowhere near as prolific as gas stations.

the homework.”

now, it’s still very expensive and batteries

But power usage, the E V ’s internal battery for consumers. Charging stations for E V s

“It’s not enough to tell a customer what they

“We have a lot more data coming in now, and if you know how to use that data, you

effects in the future. “As these devices gain the ability to receive signals from the utilities and make smart choices, that’s going to be our first real crack at what the future’s going to look like,” he says. “It could be within the next few years if utilities and energy companies are smart about this.”

can turn it around into something that’s empower

Spring 2017: Our Resilient World

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Teaming nature and technology for climate solutions


One corner of the Omani desert is blanketed by a type of rock with an unquenchable thirst for a colorless and odorless gas vital to life on Earth. That gas is CO2 , and when it reacts with peridotite, a rock abundant in the Earth’s mantle, it’s soaked up, forming a solid carbonate similar to limestone. The Omani peridotite currently absorbs an estimated 10,000 to 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, but scientists say that with a little human intervention, it could be sped up to absorb one-eighth of the 38 billion tons of CO2 emitted through the burning of fossil fuels around the world. A greenhouse gas, CO2 accumulates in the Earth’s atmosphere, where it traps

heat and raises the global average temperature, fueling extreme weather such as hotter heat waves, more frequent droughts, and more powerful hurricanes. The current concentration of CO2 is around 400 ppm, the highest it’s been in at least the last 800,000 years. Although it’s just one of the rock types with CO2-absorbing properties, and just one method of reducing the impact of CO2 emissions, peridotite could help mitigate the impending risks posed by climate change. The pioneers behind the peridotite research, Peter Kelemen and Juerg Matter, geologists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, discovered peridotite’s affinity for consuming CO2 when they brought it into the lab to determine its age. Realizing that the peridotite had reacted with CO2 relatively recently, they began to conceptualize what scaling the reaction might look like. Although it would be too expensive to move the rock close to

MONIK A WNUK

power stations where it could soak up emissions, the researchers suggest that CO2 could be funneled into the Earth’s peridotiteladen mantle through a process similar to hydraulic fracturing. This could open up a giant repository for the gas that wouldn’t depend on location, but carries with it environmental implications that would need to be taken into careful consideration.

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Spring 2017: Our Resilient World

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Bradley Sageman, Professor and Department Chair, Earth and Planetary Sciences

Peridotite, a rock abundant in Earth’s mantle, reacts with CO2 to form a solid carbonate similar to limestone.

Chris Gould, Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy and Chief Innovation and Sustainability Officer, Exelon

Prabhakar Nair, Vice President for Business Development, LanzaTech

N AT U R E - D R I V E N S O L U T I O N S

during past events of global warming. This should lead to a better

Geologists have long understood that rocks are an important carbon

framework for discerning what may happen in a future warming

sink. Rock weathering happens when CO2 dissolves in droplets of

world,” he says.

rainwater, adding the acidity necessary to dissolve the minerals that

While the capture and long-term storage of CO2 suggest some viable

make up the rock. Rock weathering pulls an estimated one billion

solutions to mitigating CO2 , scientists are also looking at the gas as a

tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere annually.

resource for creating clean energy. All around the world, researchers

“Understanding these natural chemical processes can lead to breakthroughs that allow us to use and expedite processes that reduce

are demonstrating that CO2 can be a key ingredient in many technologies that produce clean, carbon-neutral energy.

CO2 in the atmosphere,” says Bradley Sageman, professor and chair

Such technologies could complement current fossil fuel-based

of earth and planetary sciences at Northwestern. “Methods like

systems to lower emissions, and eventually capture CO2 from the

these that are standard tech today were considered science fiction

atmosphere to help mitigate climate change. Companies big and

in the past. Take the Omani peridotite example. If we could harness

small—across industries that range from energy to airlines to

that reaction, we’ve got a potentially transformative mechanism

automotive—are taking notice.

to absorb CO2 at scale.” Some of Sageman’s colleagues study the kinetics of weathering

INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH SOLUTIONS

reactions to gain a fundamental understanding of the carbon cycle—

Industry strategists across the board, from small startups to multi-

the circular transformation of carbon between living things and the

national companies, are looking to define their roles and opportuni-

environment. Natural users of CO2 include forests, wetlands, and

ties in a clean energy future. They’re looking for complementary skills,

peat bogs. Scientists have studied these and other carbon sinks to

technologies, or technologists who are in the process of developing

develop many artificial processes that produce similar effects.

innovations that are technically feasible, but lack a view towards the market. They know that with risk comes reward, and the pioneers

Two commonly discussed types of artificial sequestration are ocean

aren’t waiting around for the perfect solution to their energy needs;

storage—pumping CO2 deep into the ocean—and geologic sequestra-

they’re working with the brightest technologists to create it.

tion—injecting CO2 deep into depleted oil and gas reservoirs or coal beds that can’t be mined. Scientists hesitate to pursue either of

Compared to companies in many other industries, utilities are not

these solutions aggressively out of concerns about the stability of

known to invest heavily in research and development, instead relying

disturbed natural systems and the potential effects on ocean life.

on a relatively static knowledge base. Disrupting that status quo, Exelon, the largest regulated utility in the country serving 10 million

To better understand the dynamics of storage solutions, Sageman

consumers, is aggressively investing in technologies it can shape

and his team look to periods in Earth’s history characterized by high

into customer-facing products.

levels of atmospheric CO2 and warming. “A lot of the work we do is to improve our understanding of how the Earth’s system behaved

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“ L E T ’ S J U S T S I T D O W N I N A R O O M A N D TA L K A B O U T W H AT T H E F U T U R E I S G O I N G T O L O O K L I K E . I F Y O U H AV E A C A N D I D D I A L O G U E B E T W E E N A S C I E N T I S T A N D A C O M P A N Y U P F R O N T, T H AT S E T S A N A P P R O P R I AT E F O U N D AT I O N T O A D VA N C E P R O J E C T S .” CHRIS GOULD S E N I O R V I C E P R E S I D E N T O F C O R P O R AT E S T R AT E G Y A N D C H I E F I N N O V AT I O N A N D S U S TA I N A B I L I T Y O F F I C E R , E X E L O N

“That process begins with a conversation,” says Chris Gould, Exelon’s

“We convert emissions into a variety of new valuable products that

senior vice president of corporate strategy and chief innovation and

would otherwise come from commodity feedstocks,” says Prabhakar

sustainability officer. “Let’s just sit down in a room and talk about

Nair, LanzaTech’s vice president for business development.

what the future is going to look like. If you have a candid dialogue between a scientist and a company up front, that sets an appropriate foundation to advance projects.”

LanzaTech’s process works with a variety of microbes, allowing a customer to specify the desired output—currently either ethanol or butanediol—and take advantage of market conditions.

Exelon is investing in many early- and middle-stage projects that complement its services while also reducing its carbon footprint, including investments in solar energy, fuel cells, and batteries. One example, a company called NetPower, uses CO2 as a working fluid to drive a combustion turbine that generates electricity without producing any emissions. The system also produces pipeline-quality

After opening two pre-production plants in China, LanzaTech plans to open its first scaled commercial plant in Shanghai in late 2017. The company is also working with the world’s largest steel producer, ArcelorMittal, to implement a commercial-scale project at its flagship steel mill in Belgium.

CO2 that can be stored or used in industrial processes, including

The key to the company’s success, according to Nair, lies in the

an enhanced oil recovery process where CO2 is injected into an

synergy between the technology, industry partners, and product

oil reservoir to boost output.

off-takers. Full service at a demo-scale facility includes linking

In March 2016, NetPower broke ground on a 50 -megawatt demonstration plant in La Porte, Texas, with the goal of operating as efficiently as the best natural gas plants today. Part of a $140 million program, the plant will include ongoing technology advancement, a full testing and operations program, and commercial product

industry partners with buyers for the byproduct that’s produced there. For example, LanzaTech has linked steel producers to local refineries that are required by regulation to mix ethanol into their fuel blends. “By serving as the bridge between industries that have a feedstock

development. Toshiba will provide a supercritical CO2 turbine

supply and those that have a need, and by doing that with waste

and combustor for the project.

emissions, we are putting the circular economy in motion,” says Nair.

“A lot of people say natural gas is a bridge fuel to lower emissions

The company recently received $4 million from the US Department

in the electricity sector, but because most natural gas plants are

of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office to design and plan a

powered by turbines that rely on a traditional steam cycle, they

demonstration-scale facility using industrial off-gases from steel

cannot produce high quality CO2 that can be repurposed for other

manufacturing to produce three million gallons of low-carbon

things,” says Gould. “On top of that, since NetPower plants

jet and diesel fuels a year. This comes on the heels of a partnership

don’t require steam to drive their turbines, it eliminates water

with Virgin Atlantic, which plans a test flight in 2017 using jet fuel

usage as well.”

made from LanzaTech’s proprietary low-carbon ethanol. LanzaTech estimates that its technology is compatible with 65 percent of

F U E L I N G V A L U E C R E AT I O N

steel mills, and if implemented could produce 15 billion gallons of

Like NetPower, many technology companies have developed

jet fuel a year, or one-fifth of aviation fuel used around the world.

processes to help industries reduce their carbon footprint, and in some cases, make new products in the process. One such company, LanzaTech, is making waves in carbon recycling with a proprietary biological process that uses a microbe to convert industrial emissions to useful fuels and chemicals.

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18

ROB HART


THE R ACE TO THE SOL AR REFINERY

infrastructure to run on fuels. And when it comes to mitigating the

Imagine pulling up to the gas station tomorrow, but instead of

effects of climate change, if these fuels were made from carbon

choosing between unleaded, plus, or diesel, you reach for a highly

dioxide captured from the air, the process would be carbon-neutral

efficient fuel made only from sunlight, water, and CO2 .

and would not emit new greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

These very components that make up this “solar fuel” are the same

C O L L A B O R AT I O N O N A G L O B A L S C A L E

three things that living plants convert into food. Dubbed “artificial

Because many questions remain unanswered, JCAP has modified

photosynthesis,” at scale this process could jump major hurdles

its goal of creating a solar fuels system, instead focusing on getting

in reducing dependency on fossil fuels.

the fundamentals right. Meanwhile, other scientists carry on a

With its advantages, it’s no wonder that solar fuels research has

whole system approach.

taken off around the world—from hubs in Japan and Sweden to

That approach will take collaboration and systems engineering, says

the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) in California,

Michael R. Wasielewski, Clare Hamilton Hall Professor of Chemistry

founded by the US Department of Energy in 2010. With a budget

and director of the Argonne-Northwestern Solar Energy Research

of $122 million over five years, JCAP ’s mission is to build a

(ANSER) Center. “Researchers have subsystems that can perform

prototype of a solar fuels system.

on some baseline level, but when you try to integrate them, it’s not

The components of the system envisioned at JCAP are fairly basic.

seamless and therefore not commercially viable. You need scientists

The system requires a photovoltaic material to absorb light energy

collaborating with engineers to work out the bugs and create a

from the sun, which is then directed at two separate catalysts to

complete working system,” Wasielewski says.

lower the energetic hurdle for a reaction. One catalyst splits water

At ANSER, an Energy Frontier Research Center of the US Department

into protons and oxygen and the other converts carbon dioxide and

of Energy, Wasielewski works with more than 60 researchers to

protons into hydrocarbons, the main components of fuels. While

develop a fundamental understanding of the molecules, materials,

these processes are currently possible, they still present challenges.

and methods required to create significantly more efficient tech-

One is economic. The materials used in both the photovoltaics and

nologies for solar fuels and solar electricity production. In 2013,

catalysts are expensive, including rare materials such as iridium or

Wasielewski also founded the Solar Fuels Institute (SOFI ).

platinum, which presents a scalability challenge. The other is effi-

SOFI launched a six-phase demonstration project in 2016 with sights

ciency. Although ten times more efficient than natural photosynthesis

set on taking a systems approach to developing solar fuels. At the

at capturing and converting the sun’s energy, the highest recorded

end of last year, SOFI scientists had successfully produced methanol

efficiency for artificial photosynthesis is still only 10 percent. That’s

in the lab at Northwestern. “The SOFI demo project was viewed as

less than half the efficiency of silicon panels on the market today.

a system from the outset,” says Wasielewski. “We’re going to need to

So why all the fuss to make energy-dense fuels when we have more

make this work from one end to the other. But we can’t do it alone.”

efficient renewable technologies available today? Sources of renew-

As a global consortium, SOFI has university and industry partners

able energy, including solar and wind, can only be generated inter-

from around the world—from academic institutions that span

mittently—when the sun shines or wind blows. Fuels present a viable

three continents to major multinationals like Shell and Total. Still,

option for grid-scale energy storage that could compensate for that

SOFI is seeking collaborations from wide-ranging fields, including

intermittency and be easily transported to where they’re needed.

economics and policy, to work on implementation strategies.

The energy density of fuels is also around 100 times greater than

“Generally speaking,” Wasielewski says, “scientists and engineers can

that of the highest performing batteries, and many methods of trans-

come up with more than one solution to a problem. We can fine-tune

portation—including cars, ships, and airplanes—already have the

a process to be that much more efficient, but we can’t know what the priorities are for real-world customers if we don’t involve them early on. That’s what constitutes a breakthrough technology.”

Joseph Christensen, PhD ’19, chemistry, shows Michael R. Wasielewski, professor, chemistry, the oxygen-sensitive compounds that the group is testing for use in solar fuels.

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T HE NE X T Digital innovation enables greener, leaner manufacturing solutions

In 1981, as an employee for Graco Robotics, Al Hufstetler often visited manufacturing sites to program and service robotic systems. Inside the dark, poorly ventilated facilities, Hufstetler wore earplugs to block out the sounds of welding automation and die machines stamping sheet metal. In these buildings, machines ran around the clock, and emissions poured unchecked from smokestacks. “We were starting to learn our lessons about factories,� says Hufstetler, now a vice president at Siemens PLM Software. Over the past 15 years, Hufstetler has worked with Siemens to create the next generation

M E G A N TAY L O R M O R R I S O N

factory through digital manufacturing. For him, this includes the use of digital data at all stages of the manufacturing process, including design, assembly, distribution, logistics, and reuse or end of life.

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Because of digital manufacturing, the pace

stay in this country to keep up the quality

Because of the massive economic and

of innovation across virtually all industries

of life,” he says. “Thirty years ago, every-

environmental payoffs, countries around

has skyrocketed. Consequently, companies

thing was built here—microwaves, cars,

the world are also investing billions to

are seeing substantially better returns on

refrigerators, stereos. It’s different today.”

support digital manufacturing efforts

investment, significantly less environmental impact, and drastically improved conditions for factory workers. It’s been 20 years since Hufstetler wore earplugs on a factory floor, and that’s just one small payoff from the changes happening at Siemens. “Every manufacturer wants to figure out ways

According to Hufstetler, companies that embrace the new trend will create highervalue jobs, bring select jobs back to the United States, and maintain the standard of living. International companies like Siemens—headquartered in Munich, Germany—that base much of their manu-

to reduce cost and improve quality and pro-

facturing in the United States will help

ductivity,” Hufstetler says. “We’re lining up

keep jobs here as well. Furthermore, the

everything we do around the digital factory.”

changes will allow companies to respect

C R E AT I N G V A L U E B E Y O N D THE BAL ANCE SHEET Hufstetler maintains that the value of these

environmental standards, meet the growing demand for sustainably made products, and keep up with a consumer market that thrives on customization.

changes goes far beyond Siemens’ bottom

and create the “factory of the future,” according to Caralynn Nowinski Collens, CEO of UI L ABS in Chicago. Collens

oversees the organization’s research and commercialization portfolio, including the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII). In 2015, the US government invested $70 million into

the DMDII to support its efforts to keep the country at the forefront of digital manufacturing innovation. “Digital manufacturing is the centerpiece of the fourth industrial revolution,” Collens says. “As with previous industrial revolutions, countries at the forefront

line. “We need to have high technology jobs

will experience economic development and job growth. Those that don’t will be sidelined.”

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centimeter in length: a tiny flower, butterfly,

Continued research and partnership—

industrial economy around manufacturing,

house, car, and even a structure resembling

especially among people with complemen-

it lost its competitive edge over the past

the Sydney Opera House. Each item is manu-

tary skills—will be critical in bringing the

20 years. Collens attributes this to earlier

factured in 2D and then assembled into its

technology to market, Huang says.

shifts in industry that emphasized low-cost

3D shape, much like a pop-up book.

While the United States initially built its

labor and dispersed supply chains. “We think of [manufacturing] as a commodity, rather than a differentiator,” she says. “We must stand out through updated manufacturing processes if we want to be competitive.”

“Producing something in 3D can be slow, time consuming, and simply not achievable for some materials,” Huang says. “You can do anything you want in 2D, and then pop it up to 3D. It’s fast, straightforward,

OVERCOMING TR ADITIONAL M A N U F A C T U R I N G O B S TA C L E S Another Northwestern professor, Jian Cao, partners with UI Labs and companies such as Siemens, Boeing, GE , Ford, and Dow to create digital solutions to manufacturing

L E A D I N G T H E W AY W I T H S C I E N C E

and very robust.”

At the core of these shifts are scientists

The team uses computer simulations to

working to develop solutions to manufactur-

ensure the resulting structure will match

Civil and Environmental Engineering, as well

ing challenges. These include several

specifications before creating it. In other

as the director of the Northwestern Initiative

visionary researchers at Northwestern. Yonggang Huang, who is the Walter P. Murphy Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, and also a professor of materials science

obstacles. Cao is the Cardiss Collins Professor of Mechanical Engineering and

words, the manufacturing process is devel-

for Manufacturing Science and Innovation

oped and tested virtually before it begins.

(NIMSI). She and her team develop method-

This level of quality assurance is one of

ologies that would make complicated

the big benefits of digital manufacturing.

manufacturing processes more suitable for

“We don’t have to sacrifice materials or time

and engineering, is one of them. Huang

through trial and error,” Huang explains.

worked alongside Northwestern collabora-

Once the process is tested more extensively,

distributed manufacturing. In other words, they work to make advanced technology simpler and commercially viable.

tor John A. Rogers and his research team

the pop-up model could create structures

Cao’s work has major implications for the

to develop a fabrication method that

of various sizes that address challenges

modern supply chain. Many toolings, such as

closes gaps in the 3D printing industry.

in modern factories.

While 3D printing works mainly with polymers, “We’re providing a tool,” Huang says, adding Huang’s method applies to many more mate-

that companies will be able to leverage the

rials, including inorganic semiconductors,

technology to work out a product’s kinks

metals, and silicon. The team is testing the

virtually in advance of manufacturing. Before

technique by creating microscale shapes

synthesizing a tunable antenna, for instance,

that measure between a nanometer and a

the team could verify that the shape would match the desired range of radio frequency.

those used to make automobile components, are transported to factories in other countries to complete specialized aspects of manufacturing. As a result of Cao’s research, these specialized processes could be automated and products made more quickly in a single location. Not only would automobile manufacturers save money on transportation, they would also dramatically reduce the emissions from moving heavy toolings and parts long distances.

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“Once you have predictivity embedded in a system with digital engineering, anyone can use the technology. It’s as simple as pushing a button.” JIAN CAO CARDISS COLLINS PROFESSOR OF MECHANICAL ENGINEERING A N D C I V I L A N D E N V I R O N M E N TA L E N G I N E E R I N G

Siemens’ Hufstetler observed that with processes in one place, companies also could

how materials react, they can create auto-

more easily keep up with rapidly changing

mated processes that adjust manufacturing

market demands. “The new way of the world

in real time, working out a product’s kinks

is customized and personalized,” he says.

during its creation and design phases,

“If I’m an automobile manufacturer, I may

Yonggang Huang, Walter P. Murphy Professor of Engineering

As the team gains more understanding of

where 70 to 90 percent of total product costs

see market demand for cars one month and

are determined. This will save companies

trucks the next month. We need flexible

money over a product’s lifespan because

factories that allow manufacturers to adjust

well-made products require less mainte-

desired products quickly and easily.”

nance and upkeep.

Customization is also critical in other

RES TORING U.S. GLOBAL

industries, according to Cao. For example,

MANUFAC T URING LE ADERSHIP

just five years ago, when a dental patient needed a crown, the dentist took the imprint of the tooth, sent it to another location to have the replacement tooth made, and asked the patient to return days or weeks later to have it inserted. Today, that same dentist can make the new tooth in-house thanks to automated machines that create customized products based on a tooth’s unique measurements. The key to making processes like these more accessible is understanding how materials perform and how to predict their behavior under various conditions. “Once you have predictivity embedded in a system with digital engineering, anyone can use the technology. It’s as simple as pushing a button,” Cao says.

Once researchers like Cao and Huang prove new technologies, the next step is to disseminate them through the supply chain, Collens says. She feels optimistic that the United States is poised for resurgence as a global manufacturing leader given the talent she sees in her team, emerging scientific breakthroughs, the creativity of US -based startups that find new ways to leverage technology, and forward thinkers like Hufstetler in large corporations. “The United States has a compelling advantage with our legacy of innovation and courageous leaders thinking about how to work with the innovation ecosystem to make a bold, digital transformation,” she says. In doing so, she believes, the United States can take the lead in digital manufacturing

Her research both represents and leverages

and enjoy the environmental and economic

digital manufacturing. Using digital manu-

payoffs of the factory of the future.

facturing, Cao and her team carefully model The “pop-up” 3D manufacturing method

a material’s response as it is subjected to

can be applied to a diverse set of materials,

various loading means, such as lasers or

including inorganic semiconductors,

magnetic fields.

metals, polymers, and silicon.

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INVESTMENT GR ADE R E V I TA L I Z I N G U . S . I N F R A S T R U C T U R E W I T H D ATA - D R I V E N F O R E S I G H T, B O L D L E A D E R S H I P, A N D S T R AT E G I C I N V E S T M E N T

MIKE M. MCMAHON

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The end of World War II marked the beginning of a golden age for

Fortunately, there is no shortage of ideas to revitalize—and in many

American infrastructure. Significant investment in roads,

cases, revolutionize—the nation’s infrastructure. But building

bridges, water networks, power grids, and railroads created the

a better future will require leadership both locally and nationally.

interconnected transport and service networks upon which our modern economy depends. Once a global standard for excellence, these critical structures are beginning to reach the end of their useful lives. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASC E ) recently gave US infrastructure a grade of D + (i.e., “strong risk of failure”) and estimated the need for $3.6 trillion in investment over the next 15 years. As these interdependent systems begin to falter, so too does our economic competitiveness. Since the early 1990 s, Chinese infrastructure

T H E F U T U R E O F T H E B U I LT E N V I R O N M E N T Dams, roads, sewer systems, airports, bridges, power plants, tunnels. Nearly all of our built infrastructure is comprised of concrete. And with good reason. It’s cheap and simple to produce, and it provides durability and strength like few other construction materials, but it doesn’t last forever. From real-time data to genetically engineered bacteria, innovators are reimagining the ways in which we use, manage, and repair the literal building blocks of modern society.

investment has outpaced that of the United States by nearly 350 percent, while US spending continues to decline.

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In terms of its compression—the ability to hold things up—concrete is particularly strong and effective. However, when it comes to tension—the ability to withstand flexing and being pulled apart— concrete is shockingly fragile. “To combat this,” says Gianluca Cusatis, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern, “most of the material used in infrastructure projects is reinforced concrete, which involves casting wet concrete around steel reinforcing bars, also

Gianluca Cusatis Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering

known as rebar. Many people don’t realize that it’s the bars—not the

Aaron Packman Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Director, Northwestern Center for Water Research

Harold Kung Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering

concrete itself—that are the primary element holding many structures together.” Corrosion of these reinforcements ultimately causes structural failure. “Water is the biggest enemy of rebar,” says Cusatis. “It carries corrosive chemicals like chlorides and sulfates through

“People are also exploring ways to make concrete more durable,” Cusatis says. “Researchers at Northwestern and elsewhere are devel-

pores in the concrete to the steel elements. Anything that increases

oping ultra-high-performance materials that weave reinforcement

the ability of water to reach the steel reinforcements is a problem.”

fibers into the concrete mixture. Other research includes self-healing

Even though concrete is fundamental to the most critical elements of our built environment, protocols for monitoring its safety and functionality are often deficient. “Currently, we rely on experts to go out and survey infrastructure mostly by hand. The visits are often infrequent—especially in remote areas—and the assessments

materials, where researchers put dormant bacteria into the pores of the concrete. When the bacteria come in contact with water, they become activated and produce calcium carbonate, which fills in the cracks. From big data to bacteria, it’s a very interesting time to be working in this field.”

aren’t very scientific,” Cusatis says.

T H E F U T U R E O F W AT E R I N F R A S T R U C T U R E

He and other leaders in the field advocate the use of real-time

We don’t create water. We simply capture and purify it. Prioritizing

sensors and mathematical models that predict when and where

clean drinking water and efficient wastewater services is vital for

structures should be repaired. “Because we’re not investing

sustaining public health, supporting the economy, and protecting

enough resources to repair all of our aging infrastructure at once,

the environment. But public investment in water infrastructure and

it becomes a question of priorities,” says Cusatis. “The models

management remains shockingly low. ASCE estimates the need

we’re developing at Northwestern are powerful tools that rely

for $12 billion annually to reach a state of “adequate” by 2020.

on informed forecasts rather than perceptions. Decision makers

Likely solutions not only involve deploying innovative technologies,

will know if they need to invest in this bridge today, or if they

but also envisioning new ways to repurpose this finite resource.

can wait a few years.”

Nearly all the water infrastructure in our major cities is designed for

But real-time sensors and predictive models are just the beginning.

purifying and managing one thing: drinking water. Yet, less than eight

Experts are exploring a wide array of new technologies aimed at

percent of water in the United States is actually used for drinking

improving our built environment.

purposes, according to a recent US Geological Survey analysis.

Remote control aerial drones with high-quality cameras are working

“The management of drinking water is incredibly costly, time-

their way into the infrastructure management tool kit. Drone technol-

consuming, and energy-intensive,” says Aaron Packman, professor of

ogy could greatly improve the efficiency and frequency of infrastruc-

civil and environmental engineering and director of Northwestern’s

ture inspection by enabling engineers to examine widely dispersed

Center for Water Research. “The current system is very inefficient.”

or inaccessible areas in a relatively short amount of time.

Packman and others advocate new types of water systems in the United States that reuse wastewater, mostly for industrial and commercial purposes. Matching industries with sources of wastewater

26


and building the infrastructure and control mechanisms to facilitate

Nearly all global population growth between

the economical reuse could lead to big savings for businesses,

2016 and 2030 will be absorbed by cities.

end-use customers, and the environment.

United Nations

“While it’s certainly important for drinking water to meet health and safety requirements, many water-intensive industrial processes don’t require the same standards,” Packman says. He points to the

Purifying water consumes about 2 percent

electric power sector, which annually uses almost half of the nation’s

of the nation’s electricity—enough to power

water supply to drive turbines to produce electricity. That’s triple

all of New Jersey for a year.

the amount of water that passes over Niagara Falls in a year.

US Environmental Protection Agency

Packman is working diligently to turn the US wastewater recycling infrastructure into a reality. His colleague Harold Kung, professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern, is developing

Inflation-adjusted federal spending on water

an innovative technology that may help.

and transportation infrastructure has fallen

If an industrial entity wants to repurpose untreated wastewater,

19 percent since 2003; state and local

it needs to push it through a filtration system. The problem?

spending has fallen by about 5 percent.

Microorganisms. As water is pushed through, they stick to the

US Congressional Budget Office

filter, multiply, form colonies, and begin to clog it. “The blockages mean that you need increasingly large amounts of energy to force water through the clogged filter,” Kung says. “Eventually, the pressure becomes too high and breaks the apparatus,

For every federal dollar spent on infrastructure, the value of economic activity increases by

or you need to clean or replace it. The process becomes incredibly

$1 to $2.50.

time-consuming and costly.”

US Congressional Budget Office

To solve this problem, Kung is creating a new material to use in industrial wastewater filtration systems. Every $1 billion spent on infrastructure “I’m experimenting with a catalyst that will utilize air particles and

creates 18,000 jobs, almost 30 percent more

organic material that are dissolved in the wastewater to create reac-

than would an equivalent cut in personal

tive oxygen molecules—something like hydrogen peroxide,” says

income taxes.

Kung. “As the wastewater comes into contact with the catalyst, this species is generated, and it kills the bacteria. No bacteria ultimately

University of Massachusetts Amherst

means no blockages. It will save water, energy, time, and money.”

THE FUTURE OF MOBILIT Y

Thirteen people were killed and 145 others

When it comes to transportation in the United States, trucks and

injured when the I-35W bridge in

cars reign supreme. Even though private motor vehicles account for

Minneapolis collapsed, in August 2007.

more than 90 percent of the country’s daily passenger trips, the

Nearly ten years later, 21 percent of the

nation’s roads and highways are alarmingly inefficient, not because

nation’s bridges remain “structurally

of the system’s design, but because of the way people use it.

deficient” or “functionally obsolete.”

One solution involves turning automobiles into interconnected,

Federal Highway Administration

automated computers on wheels.

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“ T H E C O N C E P T O F U S I N G N AT U R A L INF R A S T R U C T U R E I S N ’ T NE W. B U T N O O NE HAS E VER DEPLOYED THESE INTERVENTIONS AT S U C H A L A R G E S C A L E A N D I N S U C H A M E T H O D I C A L W AY.” BOB MOSELEY Joseph Schofer Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Hani Mahmassani Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Director, Northwestern University Transportation Center

DIREC TOR, ASI A PACIFIC CITIES PR O GR A M, T H E N AT U R E C O N S E R V A N C Y

The 2015 Annual Urban Mobility Scorecard, an extensive report from

Bob Moseley Director, Asia Pacific Cities Program, The Nature Conservancy

“Reaction times with autonomous vehicles are quicker and less abrupt,

the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, examined traffic trends

which greatly improves the traffic flow efficiency,” Mahmassani

and their economic impacts. It revealed that travel delays due to con-

says.“The first autonomous vehicles will likely be deployed as fleets

gestion kept drivers stuck in their cars for nearly seven billion extra

like Uber, Lyft, and Zipcar rather than through individual purchase.

hours and caused travelers to waste more than three billion gallons

This has to do with economies of scale and the gradual adoption of

of fuel. The annual nationwide price tag of the delays and extra

the new technology.”

fuel amounted to $160 billion, or $960 per commuter. “Facilitating the easy, cost-effective flow of goods and people is

As digitization of automobiles becomes more pervasive, the capabilities of autonomous vehicles increase. Not only will automobiles

one of the most important drivers of economic development,” says

drive themselves, they’ll also collect and transmit vast amounts of

Joseph Schofer, professor of civil and environmental engineering

data, communicating with us and with one another. Among other

at Northwestern. “Our transportation systems are primarily

things, this could greatly improve the efficiency of roads. As conges-

about creating, attracting, and sustaining jobs.”

tion begins to spike on a particular highway, vehicles throughout

While spending on transportation infrastructure stimulates temporary job growth in construction, access and mobility create lasting value. Well-connected areas become more economically

the area could be alerted and automatically redirected to more efficient routes, easing the flow on the entire system. The data revolution also has implications for the way we pay for

competitive, attracting and retaining business opportunities.

transportation infrastructure. The bulk of public spending on roads

When mobility is constricted, economic opportunities wither.

and highways currently comes from motor fuel taxes. But the national

“The average throughput of traffic on a freeway is 1,800 to 2,000 vehicles per hour per lane,” says Hani Mahmassani, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Northwestern University Transportation Center. “But this flow breaks down over time as vehicles interact—people slow down, change lanes, and so on. The breakdown leads to an actual throughput of about 1,300 to 1,400 vehicles, meaning we’re losing about one-third

of the capacity for which these systems were designed.” Technology can improve this flow breakdown by removing the human elements. Enter self-driving vehicles, big data, and dynamic pricing.

28

tax has not been raised since 1993, when it was at 18.4 cents per gallon and gas prices hovered around one dollar per gallon. As big data enters the automotive sector, we may start paying for the time and routes we take rather than for the gallons of gas we consume, what’s known as “congestion pricing.” “Under this pricing system, a device in your car would track your use of various roads,” Schofer says. “At the end of the month, you would receive a bill reflecting how many miles you drove and the level of congestion on the roads you used. The idea isn’t new, but now we have the technology to do it in an easy, equitable way.”


A 1995 pilot program on State Route 91 in Orange County, California—

Sponge Cities is a stormwater absorption program initiated by

one of the most heavily congested freeway corridors in the state at

China’s central government in 2014 to alleviate the escalating prob-

the time—became the first practical application of variable conges-

lem of urban flooding. In July 2016 alone, the nation’s overburdened

tion pricing in the United States. The pricing regime, which charges

stormwater infrastructure and poor water management led to

drivers between $1.55 and $10.45 for a ten-mile trip depending on the

150 deaths in central and northern regions of the country.

time of day and day of the week, greatly reduces delays, accidents, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with idling vehicles.

“Through Sponge Cities, China is looking to deploy unconventional, natural infrastructure technologies to soak up and divert rainfall

Revenue collected from the program—approximately $40 million

rather than relying on overburdened gutters, drains, and rivers,”

per year—also funds highway maintenance and expansion. Chicago

Moseley says. “They’re looking at using permeable materials and

drivers can expect to see similarly priced express lanes on the

green spaces to soak up rainfall instead of simply relying on

city’s I-55 Stevenson Expressway in the coming years.

solid concrete to divert or contain it.”

THE GREENING OF INFR ASTRUCTURE

TNC is working in the city of Shenzhen to do just that. Representative

Population growth is ballooning in cities all over the world. In fact, it’s getting ready to pop. By 2030, global population is expected to increase by 1.7 billion people, nearly all of whom are predicted to reside in urban centers.

of China as a whole, the population of Shenzhen grew from just 30,000 people in the 1970 s to more than 11 million today—about the same population as the entire state of Ohio. “TNC , in collaboration with the government in Shenzhen and other

Such unprecedented urban growth creates new challenges, particularly the strain it’s putting on overloaded and aging infrastructure. As policy makers strive to address the problems of overburdened built environments, they’re looking to an unexpected source for inspiration: Mother Nature. The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a science-based advocacy organization that works in land and water conservation in urban and rural communities throughout the world, has been leveraging lessons from nature since the 1950 s. At the end of 2016, the organization’s notion of “nature as infrastructure” reached a whole new level through a partnership with China, the most rapidly urbanizing country in the world.

partner institutions, will analyze the ecological, hydrological, and social aspects of the landscape to figure out where to get the biggest impact,” says Moseley. “Everything from soil types to socioeconomic equity will affect the location and types of solutions we deploy.” In addition to deploying natural solutions, TNC is helping China explore innovative public policy, financing, and management structures for similar types of projects. “China’s central government has left a lot of room for innovation in the deployment of Sponge Cities, which is rare in my experience,” says Moseley. “For example, China has shown interest in a market-based stormwater credit trading system that TNC helped establish in Washington, DC , to prevent water pollution.”

Over the past 40 years, China has seen half a billion people moving from the countryside to urban areas, perhaps the largest and most rapid migration in human history. In an effort to keep pace with intensifying urbanization, the country is spending more on national infrastructure than North America, Western Europe, and Latin America combined. One of those investments, the foundation of TNC ’s partnership, involves China’s ambitious Sponge Cities Program. “The concept of using natural infrastructure isn’t new,” says Bob

While concrete and steel will undoubtedly play an important role in infrastructure for the foreseeable future, China’s large-scale experiment with Sponge Cities has Moseley optimistic that an increasingly large portion of global infrastructure will be green.

RESILIENT REINVENTION Regardless of the future design or composition of our national infrastructure, it’s clear that imagination and reinvention are

Moseley, Director of TNC ’s Asia Pacific Cities Program and advisor

crucial. A decisive investment in our infrastructure is a decisive

for the organization’s efforts in China. “But no one has ever

investment in our legacy of socioeconomic resilience and the

deployed these interventions at such a large scale and in such

economic vitality of our communities.

a methodical way.”

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Spring 2017: Our Resilient World

29


alumni profiles Each issue of empower features Northwestern University alumni who are recognized leaders in the fields of sustainability and energy. We reached out to New York-based alums at GE Global Research, Nomura Securities, NRG

Energy, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and the United

Nations, and asked them to answer a common question—what will it take to ensure a more resilient future for all? Their answers were intriguing, informative, and most of all, inspiring.

Sustainability and energy in the Empire State

30


Danielle Merfeld leads technology development with a customer-focused approach

Danielle Merfeld McC ’99 Vice President, GE Global Research

Danielle Merfeld’s job requires her to stay

Prior to moving to GE ’s global research

I N T E G R AT I N G S C I E N C E AND DESIGN

ahead of the curve. As vice president for global

division, Merfeld ran the company’s solar busi-

research at General Electric, Merfeld directs

ness, working on ways to make solar electricity

GE has experts with many diverse skills—

technology development impacting all of

accessible and affordable for communities.

engineers, chemists, biologists, computer

GE ’s businesses. Although every day is differ-

“I’ve learned over the years that just listening

scientists. We’re finding that we need people

ent, she acknowledges that her job mostly

is not enough. You have to connect with people

with backgrounds in both systems thinking

involves talking to customers about what

on a personal level and seek to understand

and physical science. These are the people

technologies—existing or future—may

their needs,” she says.

who can seamlessly design a motor, build

benefit them. “We’re always working to make sure that the projects we embark on and the technologies we develop align with clear

When asked about areas of opportunity in

it, and then develop an application to self-

her field, Merfeld described three:

diagnose its health. More and more, we’re moving toward that integrated approach

needs,” says Merfeld.

IMPROVEMENTS ON THE EDGE

to create new technical solutions.

Her first exposure to this type of customer-

Think of the edge as the physical manifes-

aligned work came as a PhD student at

tation of the cloud. Assets such as buildings,

Northwestern studying electrical and elec-

trains, and aircraft are on the edge, and

tronics engineering. Before LED lights became

they’re getting smarter. For example, GE

Customers care when a technology saves

commonplace and cost competitive, her

developed an industrial operating system

them money, saves them time, or cures

engineering team worked on technology that

called Predix for building applications

their ailments. This is where communication

enabled a variety of colors, with the goal of

that connect industrial equipment, ana-

is critically important. We need to engage

getting to the white LED s available today.

lyze data, and deliver real-time insights.

across a broader landscape in a dialogue

She notes, “At that time, lighting accounted

A Predix-based application on an aircraft

about what is possible. We get buy-in from

for 20 percent of the electricity usage in the

engine can prevent flight delays and save

engaged consumers when we teach them

United States. Any increase in efficiency

airlines money by conducting diagnostic

about our technologies and share stories

met a real need.”

tests during takeoff, cruise, and landing

about what we’re doing, how we’re doing

to identify any anomalies before they

it, and most importantly, why we’re doing

could be detected manually. Machines

it. We want to communicate the passion

IMPROVING CONSUMER C O M M U N I C AT I O N

equipped with this type of predictive anal-

behind what we do and pass it on to our

ysis can check their own health, diagnose

customers and wider audiences.

problems, and even order needed parts without human intervention.

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Spring 2017: Our Resilient World

31


David Hill explores the complex future of the US energy sector

David R. Hill Law ’88 Executive Vice President and General Counsel NRG Energy, Inc. and NRG Yield, Inc.

Since 2012, Hill has served as executive

COMPETITION

policy to serendipity. After graduating from

vice president and general counsel at NRG

In areas of the electric sector where compe-

Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Hill

Energy, an American energy company,

tition has been in place for a number of years,

went to work in Washington, DC , and after five

and is responsible for the company’s legal,

some companies and other stakeholders

years, joined the firm of Wiley Rein & Fielding

regulatory, environmental, and government

are now pushing back and arguing for a return

(now Wiley Rein LLP), cofounded by another

affairs activities and personnel. In this

to a more centrally-planned, monopoly-style

Northwestern alum and former chairman

role, he works with other company leaders

model. However, it makes no economic or

of the Federal Communications Commission,

to navigate the rapidly changing US

environmental sense for that to happen. The

Richard Wiley (Law ’58).

electric power sector.

American economic experience has demon-

In 1995 , when Wiley Rein & Fielding decided

Here, he elaborates on three areas that can

strated over many decades that competition

to expand its work in the energy regulatory

significantly impact the current utility model:

benefits consumers and the overall economy

David Hill owes his career in energy law and

area, Hill was excited to apply his interest

by providing more choices, lowering costs,

in macro policy issues to the field. Ten years

ENERGY S TOR AGE

later, Hill was nominated by President George

Large-scale storage may be the holy grail

W. Bush and confirmed by the US Senate

of electric energy. If you could reliably and

as general counsel of the US Department

cost-effectively store large amounts of

As a public company, NRG focuses on

of Energy (DOE ). After his time at the DOE ,

renewable energy, we’d have a more resilient

growing and delivering shareholder value

he joined Sidley Austin LLP in Washington

grid with cleaner energy and lower emissions.

and making economically and environmen-

as a partner in the firm’s energy practice.

For this to be possible, we’re talking not

tally sound decisions that support that.

only about new technology, but also an

We believe that our customers want afford-

“After working in both the public and private sectors, I’ve learned that you want crosspollination,” says Hill. “You want people working in the private sector who’ve worked in government and understand how hard it can be to make decisions that balance interests and advance the public good. You also want people working in the government who’ve had experience in the private sector and know what it’s like to operate businesses with the regulatory systems put in place by the government.”

32

and promoting innovation.

S H A R E H O L D E R VA L U E

overhaul of energy infrastructure and the

able, cleaner, more sustainable energy

way we think about how electric energy is

solutions. For that reason, we’ve committed

dispatched and priced. Expect some very

to bringing more renewable energy online

interesting advancements in this area.

and to making that more affordable for customers and more effective for the whole electric power system.


Genevieve Maricle helps map the path to global sustainable development

Genevieve Maricle  WCAS ’02 Senior Policy Adviser to US Ambassador US Mission to the United Nations

Genevieve Maricle’s first act of protest came

aimed at solving global challenges such as

I N N O V AT I V E I N D I V I D U A L S

at the age of five. When she learned that city

poverty, public health, conflict, and environ-

One of the things we most need as imple-

developers were trying to build a highway

mental sustainability.

mentation gets underway are ideas for what

Looking back at that experience, these

individuals can do to help achieve the SDG s.

through a popular park in her town, she went door to door to get the signatures necessary to oppose the project. “This obviously wasn’t something I knew how to do, but my mom instilled in me both a

are three groups whose engagement Maricle

In some areas, the answer is clear cut—

says will be crucial to the successful

an individual knows how they can make their

implementation of the SDG s:

home more energy efficient, for example. But in other areas—inequality, community

THE THOUGHT COMMUNIT Y

food security, global health—the actions

that it’s our responsibility to stand up for

One of the most inspiring—and unconven-

are not as obvious. The good news is that

it,” she says.

tional—aspects of the SDG negotiation

good ideas can come from anywhere. We will

process was its inclusivity. The UN held

better understand resilience when we turn

thousands of conversations with stakehold-

it into a movement of individual actions.

deep respect for the Earth and the conviction

As a double major in math and environmental science, and president of Northwestern’s environmental group, SEED , Maricle was given the opportunity to attend the annual international climate change negotiations (COP 6) in the Hague, Netherlands in 2000.

ers in every part of the world. It was complex, but it brought a range of new ideas

T H E P R I V AT E S E C T O R

and players to the table. The predecessor

Realizing the ambitions of the SDG s will

to the SDG s, the Millennium Development

require corporate involvement—beyond

Goals (MDG s), relied primarily on govern-

corporate social responsibility and into

ments and development organizations

action around the bottom line. Deeper

fascinating world in which all countries—

for their implementation. The SDG s will

corporate engagement needs to be about

no matter their size or situation—can come

rely on a great many more partners—from

making investments that have embedded

together around a set of solutions, I knew

academia and think tanks to the private

social impact. Water is a good example.

I had found my place,” she says.

sector and individual citizens.

“When I realized that there was this chaotic,

If you look at Coca-Cola, clean, affordable water is central to the company’s business

At the U S Mission to the UN , Maricle

model and to the needs of communities

supported U S Ambassador Samantha Power

across the developing world. Efforts

in the lead-up to the COP 21 climate change

like this will continue to have enormous

conference in Paris. Prior to that, she nego-

impact, as private investment is poised

tiated and helped develop the 2015–2030

to outpace that of the public sector.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG s),

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Spring 2017: Our Resilient World

33


Jim DeNaut explores financing a clean energy future

James A. DeNaut  WCAS ’84 Northwestern University Trustee Joint International Head of Investment Banking and Head of Investment Banking, Americas, Nomura Securities

James DeNaut knows financing. He got his

MLP s distribute excess cash flow to

These features have created financial

start in the early 1980 s at Goldman

shareholders in the form of distributions,

certainty around the cash flow asso-

Sachs, later working at Morgan Stanley and

which are similar to dividends. In con-

ciated with future energy production.

Deutsche Bank before taking on his current

trast with corporations that are taxed

Subsequently, creditors have been

role at Nomura Securities. He is a

on income that is generated before it is

more willing to finance projects.

Northwestern trustee and a member

distributed, MLP s are not taxed at the

of ISEN ’s Executive Council.

corporate level due to their classifi-

S TA N D A R D I Z AT I O N

cation as a partnership.

Over time, technologies associated with

DeNaut has spent the majority of his career covering energy companies and financing

The problem? To qualify for this tax shield,

energy projects around the world. “The energy

an ML P must earn at least 90 percent

sector and the economy are inextricably

of its income from qualified sources as

linked,” DeNaut says. “The debate surrounding

defined by the Internal Revenue Service.

economic growth versus sustainability

That definition is mainly limited to fossil

centers on the efficiencies and externalities

fuel and biodiesel products. Expanding

of different energy sources.” While public policy encourages certain sources of energy over others, the private sector also plays a crucial role in energy production. With that in mind, DeNaut discusses some of his ideas for financing a clean energy future.

M AS TER LIMITED PA R TNER SHIP S Energy-oriented master limited partnerships

it to include renewable energy could have a big impact on investment.

maintenance of renewable energy have become more efficient and cheaper to produce. But renewables also accrue “soft costs” related to the legal processing, permitting, and financing of new projects. These factors now account for as much as 6 4 percent of the total cost of a new solar energy system.

CREDIT ENHANCEMENT

Working to standardize contracts, risk

The US government primarily supports

assessments, and energy policies

renewable energy through tax policies,

across state lines can help reduce these

including production, investment, and

expenses and increase access to financing.

accelerated depreciation benefits. But

Similarly, because one-off renewable

governments abroad have taken different

energy projects often lack the corporate

approaches with notable success.

credit rating and diversity required to

have recently garnered a lot of attention

Take Germany’s recent Renewable Energy

from investors. Energy MLP s are publicly

Sources Act. In contrast to the tax incentive

traded partnerships that own operating

system in the United States, the act

assets that generate revenue from the

established a distributed energy generation

production of natural resources or from

model that offers a fixed price for various

associated activities.

types of renewable energy and guarantees access to the power grid.

34

the development, installation, and

finance them at economic levels, consolidation of projects to create scale would be greatly beneficial from a financing perspective.


Andre Davis’s holistic approach to renewable energy solutions

Andre Davis  KSM ’05 Senior Project Manager, Renewable Heating and Cooling Programs New York State Energy Research and Development Authority

In the realm of energy, Andre Davis is a triple

THERMAL STOR AGE

installation costs. We’re starting to

threat. He studied systems engineering as an

In our current model, heat is generated

research various drilling and installation

undergrad at Georgia Tech, served as editor

at the time of use. A customer turns on

techniques to bring down the price

of the environmental law journal while earning

a heater, and when the ambient temperature

and doing lifecycle assessments to

his JD degree at NYU School of Law, and

reaches a certain point, the thermostat tells

compare comprehensive costs.

actively participated in the Kellogg Energy

it to shut off. In a situation quite analogous

Club as a student in Northwestern’s MMM

Air source heat pumps, which transfer

to the grid storage question, if you could

dual-degree program, which combines busi-

heat from outside to inside a building, are

generate and store that heat at a time when

ness education and design methodologies

probably the most within reach. They’re not

demand was not at its peak and use it later,

for innovation in the engineering school.

as efficient as ground source heat pumps,

you would see much greater efficiency.

but they cost less, and they can operate

This multidisciplinary experience has helped

There are some really high-tech methods

down to five degrees Fahrenheit.

shape Davis’s thinking throughout his career,

that show promise. One is plain old water

including in his current position as senior

as a way to store energy as heat. Another

project manager at New York State Energy

is ceramic bricks made of a special material

Research and Development Authority

that can store heat for a long time after

We need to familiarize the public and

you run an electric current through it or apply

companies in the heating and cooling

(NYSERDA). “A big part of my job,” Davis says,

CONSUMER AND MARKET AWARENES S

pressure or heat to it. As an added bonus,

industries with the benefits of renewable

government agencies, and non-profits will

it only requires a small amount of pressure

thermal. We also have to work on the

interact and make decisions.”

to release energy over time.

“involves thinking about how businesses,

At NYSERDA , Davis focuses on how to utilize

support model. When you call an electrician, someone comes out and makes

GROUND SOURCE AND AIR

the needed repairs. We don’t have

S O U R C E H E AT P U M P S

that [kind of support] for renewable

of solar or fuel cells, everyone thinks of elec-

Sometimes it comes down to infrastructure.

thermal just yet.

tricity, but in some states thermal is the

Ground source heat pumps use the naturally

biggest consumer of energy,” says Davis. He

existing heat contained within the Earth—

notes three areas in which improvements

a clean, reliable, and renewable source of

could help deliver significant gains.

energy—to heat, cool, and provide hot water

thermal energy generated or stored by renewable resources. “When people think

to buildings. The downside is the hefty

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Spring 2017: Our Resilient World

35


Models of metal-organic frameworks (MOF)

NuMat team

Living in a Materials World Four Northwestern Entrepreneurs Bring Sustainability and Energy Solutions to Market

A salt brine from which lithium is extracted

As the world has continued to move toward clean energy, so has Northwestern’s materials science program, which is increasingly focused on sustainable materials design. The University has helped launch several companies with the goal of creating innovative energy solutions by designing and developing better materials with less energetic requirements. By bringing innovative materials to the market, these startups are creating disruptive technologies for electric car makers, produce shippers, battery manufacturers, and more.

N U M AT Nanotech startup NuMat has developed a more effective method for storing and separating gases—one that eventually could work for vehicles that run on hydrogen gas. NuMat modifies the interiors of cylinders and other gas equipment with nanomaterials called metal-organic frameworks (MOF s) that can be programmed to selectively interact with targeted gases and chemicals. MOF s have immense storage capacity, which makes them incredibly valuable in fuel and gas storage. “You can think of NuMat’s technology like a bath sponge,” says Omar Farha, president and chief scientific officer. But instead of holding water, NuMat’s MOF s store gases and chemicals. Farha continues, “In the long term, we’re going after applications such as CO2 capture, hydrogen storage for vehicles, natural gas storage for vehicles, and separation applications.” In September 2016, NuMat announced it had entered a partnership with The Linde Group, one of the world’s leading industrial gas and engineering companies. Linde will use NuMat’s innovations to create better gas storage solutions for its customers. NuMat also

JIM DALLKE

has a contract with the US Department of Defense to see how MOF s can scale.

The startup has grown to 17 employees, Farha says, including engineers, chemists, and other experts with decades of experience in the industry. NuMat has won a slew of startup competitions, including those sponsored by Northwestern, the Clean Energy Trust, and the US Department of Energy.

36


Hazel Technologies’ ethylene inhibitor extends the shelf life of produce

SiNode Systems at the 2013 DOE Clean Energy Business Plan Competition

SiNode Systems conducts early-stage battery research

LIL AC SOLUTIONS

produce packaging that can extend the shelf life of the fruit or

As the consumer demand for electronics and electric cars has

vegetables up to 50 percent by distributing ethylene inhibitors.

accelerated, the global demand for lithium has also increased as

Similar in size to a packet of sugar, the insert is being used today

manufacturers find new ways to make more efficient and long-

by growers and shippers to help make their items last longer,

lasting batteries. Tesla alone expects to produce 500,000 electric

improving profitability.

cars by 2020, and predictions are for a $1.7 billion global lithium market by 2019.

“Giving customers another five days [of shelf life] means it can be attractive in the store longer and less likely to go bad en route,”

Lilac Solutions is working on a new way to extract lithium to make

says Hazel’s co-founder Adam Preslar (McC ’15). “A product that

the process of mining this highly prized element more efficient and

can increase life and quality will translate to more sales and

cost effective, according to Lilac’s co-founder David Snydacker

satisfied customers.”

(McC ’16). But the challenge, he acknowledges, is extracting enough

The startup is funded in part though a United States Department

lithium at scale to keep up with the increasing demand created by

of Agriculture grant and has raised more than $1 million in funding.

every phone, tablet, and other device destined to hit the market in years to come.

SINODE SYSTEMS

Today, most lithium is extracted from salt brines in South America

SiNode Systems is developing materials for the next generation of

using a process that requires expensive evaporation ponds,

lithium-ion batteries. The company’s technology—silicon-graphene

results in toxic salt piles from the residual salt collected, and takes

anodes—has potential uses in a wide variety of industries from

up to two years to complete. Even then, this expensive and time-

consumer electronics to electric vehicles.

consuming process recovers only 50 percent of the lithium that’s

SiNode Systems’ materials are used inside a battery to make it

available in the brine.

last longer and charge faster, founder Samir Mayekar (KSM ’13)

Lilac’s method uses ion exchange beads to directly remove and

says. The technology can charge a cellphone battery in fewer

retain only the lithium from the brine while allowing elements like

than 15 minutes, the company claims.

sodium and magnesium to pass through without being collected.

The startup has ambitions to change the landscape for lithium-ion

What’s more, it can also be done in as little as one day, not two

batteries. It has already caught the eye of Ford, GM , and Fiat Chrysler,

years, Snydacker says.

which announced a $4 million deal with SiNode to develop high-

Lilac, which is still refining its technology, has already filed for three

energy anode materials to power next-gen electric cars.

patents and is designing mining equipment that it plans to sell to

“Anytime you have the end OEM s working with you, it’s a good sign,”

lithium miners. “The lithium producers are very excited to have new

Mayekar says. He also notes that SiNode is “on the cusp of commer-

technologies coming into their space,” Snydacker says. “With our

cialization,” and the startup has several customers with whom

technology we eliminate large evaporation ponds and truckloads

it’s working to bring product to market.

of chemicals … and we can get more lithium from the same Ultimately the company plans to sell its technology to battery

amount of brine.”

makers—like Elon Musk’s Gigafactory battery plant, for example—

HA ZEL TECHNOLOGIES

with the long-term goal of developing products to meet the

Two-year-old startup Hazel Technologies wants to make your produce

electric vehicle market. In the short term, Mayekar says his tech-

last longer. The startup has created an insert for placement inside

nology could be used to help power small consumer gadgets as well as drones, tablets, and smartphones.

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Spring 2017: Our Resilient World

37


news roundup

Dick Co, research professor of chemistry, at the United Nations

Digitial rendering of “House by Northwestern”

Chemist Addresses United Nations

to the US Secretary of State, and Ambassador

“House by Northwestern,” the two-bedroom,

Dick Co, research professor of chemistry

Macharia Kamau, permanent representative

two-bathroom home will be ideal for older

at Northwestern and managing director

of Kenya to the United Nations. Ambassador

adults looking to downsize from a larger home,

of the Solar Fuels Institute (SOFI), delivered

Kamau commented on the urgent need for

retire in the next few years, and age in place.

one of three opening keynote addresses

the Forum to facilitate stakeholder collabo-

at the first annual United Nations Forum on

rations that translate to impact.

Science, Technology, and Innovation in New

The team will work with some high-powered corporate partners, including PositivEnergy

“This Forum cannot be just a talk show. We’re

Practice, a consulting firm that implements

York City on June 6, 2016. Invited by the

going to have to figure out how the outcomes

carbon reduction strategies; DIRT T, which

US Department of State, Professor Co joined

of the collective efforts are systematized

creates sustainable, prefab, modular

other scientists, entrepreneurs, and execu-

in a way in which they can be picked up and

interior solutions; and Adrian Smith + Gordon

tives in addressing the global challenges

used, and really impact the work we’re trying

Gill Architecture, one of the world’s foremost

identified by the UN ’s Sustainable

to do as the United Nations,” Kamau said.

architecture firms and the designer of the

Development Goals for 2030. During his remarks to an audience of 400

Students Build a Smarter Home

distinguished participants, Co highlighted

Picture a beautiful home nestled along the

SOFI ’s work to make a cost-competitive,

shores of Lake Michigan—large windows

carbon-neutral solar fuel from sunlight,

opening to the lake, native grasses punctu-

water, and air. SOFI is one of four ISEN

ating the exterior landscaping, and rooftop

research centers.

solar panels soaking up the sun. Now consider that this house is so energy efficient

“Answering the United Nations’ call for solutions will require nations to

that it operates entirely off the grid as a “smart home” with a residential battery and

leverage existing infrastructures to turn

electric vehicle charging station. Not only

scientific breakthroughs into scalable

will Northwestern students and faculty

technologies, and to implement effective

see a home like this on campus in 2017,

policies toward the UN ’s the Sustainable

they’ll also help create it.

Development Goals,” Co said.

Jeddah Tower (formerly Kingdom Tower) in Saudi Arabia, set to be the tallest building in the world. Team members have until fall 2017 to complete the house. They will then ship it to Denver, where it will be scored in 10 categories ranging from design to communications. Teams will compete for $2 million in prize money.

Engineer Joins COP 21 Discussions Eric Masanet has never shied away from a complex problem, so when he got the call to join the discussion at the United Nations

As one of 13 university-led teams competing

Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in

The Forum was co-chaired by Vaughan

in the US Department of Energy’s Solar

Paris in 2015, he accepted. Masanet, Morris

Turekian, science and technology adviser

Decathlon, Northwestern will begin construc-

E. Fine Junior Professor in Materials and

tion in spring 2017 on a 1,000 -square-foot,

Manufacturing, is currently on a sabbatical

highly modular and adaptive house. Dubbed 38


Eric Masanet, Morris E. Fine Junior Professor in Materials and Manufacturing

2016 report of Northwestern’s Global Strategy Task Force

Solar array on the roof of Kresge Hall

with the International Energy Agency

faculty, students, staff, and alumni in

engagement, and curriculum and research.

in Paris, where he leads the organization’s

making recommendations for the University’s

Among the accomplishments featured in

Energy Demand Technology Unit. The unit’s

path forward in an increasingly global world.

the report are efficiency improvements

mission is to identify clean energy pathways and policies to mitigate global emissions. At Northwestern, Masanet’s research and courses focus on analyzing the lifecycle of processes and products to make improvements for sustainability. More specifically, Masanet develops mathematical models and decision support tools to quantify opportunities for reducing energy and resource use in industrial technology systems. Upon his return to Northwestern, Masanet

The task force identified “Finite Earth” as one of six strategic themes. The reasoning behind this choice reads:

to Northwestern’s built environment, a new 81 kilowatt solar array added to Kresge Hall

to offset the building’s energy use, and resource conservation and waste reduction

“Maximizing the lifespan of essential

of 39 percent through waste diversion

from landfills.

resources and managing the complex

network of politics, economics, and

technologies that connect them is

perhaps the most critical challenge

of our time.”

In early 2017, Northwestern plans to publish its first Strategic Sustainability Plan, which has been developed through an inclusive process guided by sustain NU and ISEN . This

Appropriately, this theme aligns directly

plan and an accompanying implementation

plans to integrate the knowledge and global

with ISEN ’s work to connect the multidisci-

roadmap establish sustainability goals for

perspective he gained in Paris into his

plinary assets of the University, spanning

the next five years and outline strategies for

research and courses, including ISEN 210,

the sciences, engineering, law, policy, and

achieving these goals. Working groups made

Introduction to Sustainability: Challenges

business to create global partnerships

up of students, faculty, and staff members

and Solutions.

equipped to scale and implement sustain-

from departments and schools across

ability and energy solutions.

the University will be tasked with guiding

University Identifies “Finite Earth” as Strategic Theme

Sustainability Year in Review

In 2015, Northwestern’s Office of the Provost

Northwestern focuses on minimizing the

deployed a Global Strategy Task Force to

University’s environmental footprint

explore new global opportunities and path-

through efficiency and renewable energy.

ways for the University. Coming on the

The University’s inaugural Year in Review

heels of a transformational gift from Roberta

Sustainability Report (2015–2016)

Buffett Elliott, the task force began an 18-

covers milestones and accomplishments

month campaign in late May 2015 to engage

during the academic year in the areas of

the implementation of the plan.

Check out ISEN ’s Five-Year Strategic Plan for 2016–2020 at www.isen.northwestern.edu/about

built environment, resource conservation, transportation, communications and

empower

Spring 2017: Our Resilient World

39


V ISUA L IZING T HE GRID

TA K A S H I N I S H I K AWA

Network visualization map of the US electric grid

To ensure that the US electric grid remains

What does this network map help us visualize?

What does your expert eye see when

stable and resilient, power generators in

TAK ASHI NISHIK AWA: The image visualizes

you look at one of these maps?

three main regions (Eastern, Western, and

the network of interactions between gen-

TN: We see a huge difference between

Texas) must be synchronized, all operating

erators in power plants across the United

the pattern of physical connections among

at the frequency of 60 hertz. Because

States. A line is drawn between the locations

generators through transmission lines and

generators interact with each other through

of two generators that mutually influence

the pattern of influence connecting them

a network of transmission lines, if one

their frequencies. The blue network in the

through electrical interactions. The latter

generator gets out of sync, it can disrupt

background shows the connections between

matters for the behavior of the grid under

the stability of the entire system and

generators through transmission lines

small disturbances, and studying the

lead to outages for power consumers.

and substations.

Integrating renewable energy sources, which

What do the colors and clusters represent?

generate electricity intermittently, can also

TN: Each line is color-coded by how strong

lead to disturbances. Through a grant from

the influence is, from dark green (weakest)

mathematical properties of that pattern gives us insights into how to measure, analyze, and control the grid. What/who do you hope this mapping

the US Department of Energy’s Advanced

to white (strongest). A cluster of white

will inform?

Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E), Takashi

links represents a group of generators

TN: Network visualization informs grid

Nishikawa, research associate professor

that are strongly coupled; in such a group,

operators, as well as the energy industry

in Northwestern’s Department of Physics

frequency disturbances in one are very

and decision makers, of the scale, com-

and Astronomy, and his colleagues are work-

likely to disturb others.

plexity, and interdependencies associated

ing to develop a new frequency-based load control architecture for power grids that integrates increased portions of electricity generation from renewables. Here, Nishikawa describes how network visualization maps like the one above help us to understand the locations, strength, and nature of interactions on the grid.

What can we learn from mapping power grid networks? TN: This mapping tells us that the network

is very heterogeneous: the mutual influence between some pairs of generators is much stronger than others, with the strength varying across multiple orders of magnitude. This creates a real challenge for modeling and predicting the power grid’s dynamics.

40

with the problem of power grid dynamics. Analysis of the influence pattern could be used to identify parts of the grid that are more likely to benefit from upgrades, such as the installation of additional transmission lines.


ONL INE AT ISEN.NOR T HWEST ERN.EDU

Want more empower? Online you’ll find enhanced content for all the stories highlighted in this issue, including videos, exclusive interviews, and additional resources. ISEN also regularly features additional online coverage of our award-winning faculty, breakthrough technologies in sustainability and energy, and new approaches and collaborations aimed at solving some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

Exelon Partnership Northwestern and Exelon partner for clean energy innovation http://isen.nu/exelon17

A R PA-E Award Northwestern physicists use equations to solve for a more sustainable and resilient grid http://isen.nu/arpa-e17

ISEN Impact From sustainable startups in the Midwest to social enterprises abroad, our faculty and students are making an impact http://isen.nu/ISEN impact17

Ubben Program for Climate and Carbon Science ISEN ’s Ubben Program for Climate and Carbon Science seeks to

model future climate impacts and discover market-ready solutions http://isen.nu/climatesci17


2145 Sheridan Road, L410, Evanston, IL 60208 www.isen.northwestern.edu @ISEN atNU

WE WILL: D I S C O V E R C R E AT I V E S O L U T I O N S

We will contribute to the solutions for renewable energy and a sustainable environment and to how public policies and economic incentives promote implementation of new technologies and practices‌ Our [Institute] for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) focuses our research and education strategically. Northwestern Strategic Plan

Empower: Spring 2017  

The Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern's Empower magazine informs and inspires dialogue around current issues in sustai...

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