LightWorks Blog

ASU’s Solar Energy Engineering & Commercialization Program: Preparing Students to Be the Solar Entrepreneurs of the Future

published August 29, 2012, 11:02 am

With the 2012 presidential election coming up, energy policy ensures itself as a frontline issue that both candidates need to continue to address. The question of where and how we will produce our energy will need to be determined in order to accommodate our future energy demands. Renewable energy has become a hot topic of discussion due to rapidly advancing clean technology as a result of the necessity to find ways to be more sustainable and efficient in our methods of energy use and the ever-present impacts we continue to see in our environment from our current methods. That being said, it is no coincidence that the push for wide acceptance of renewable energy in U.S. (and global) energy policy has influenced the increased interest in renewable energy studies at universities across the nation. Students who are interested in renewable energy studies will be the ones to fill the demand of our growing green job market and help conduct the research to foster the appropriate technology to do so. Students here at ASU are already fulfilling these roles.

I was able to talk to Karen Dada, project manager of ASU’s Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization Program this week as she gears up for ASU’s fall 2012 semester. The Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization Program kicked off its first semester in spring 2011 making it the newest addition to ASU’s Professional Science Masters (PSM) degree. The PSM, affirmed by the National Science Foundation, is specifically designed to more efficiently prepare scientists for industry, non-profit, and government sector related careers.

“The PSM degree illustrates a workplace model rather than an academic model,” Dada said. “We’re not just doing what we think needs to be done, we’re doing what the industry directly tells us.”

Students who are completing the Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization Program work toward an applied project that focuses on high-impact solutions to solar energy and commercialization problems as opposed to a thesis paper that most graduate degrees require. Students work alongside a mentor to develop an individual project that ranges from technical engineering to energy policy. The purpose of working toward an applied project is to prepare these future solar engineers to become the entrepreneurs and innovators of the future.

“Our program focuses on producing solar company entrepreneurs, project managers, and policy makers,” Dada said. “We’re really filling a niche.”   

Since its inauguration, the program has already made ASU News headlines for their students’ entrepreneurial endeavors. During his final semester studying in the Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization Program, student Sage Lopez helped Sunshine Acres Children’s Care Home devise a solar-energy plan that will help control the energy costs of the home as it continues to grow. Lopez assisted in helping Sunshine Acres get closer to its goals of having a “net-zero” energy system within the next 10 years. Because of his applied project, Lopez was able to land himself a position at a San Diego-based company in the solar-energy industry after graduation.


Sage Lopez: Picture by ASU News.

Here is a list of other example applied projects from the Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization Program. 

As technology changes, so does the way we utilize our resources. The energy job market will need creative and educated innovators to use technology to better our future energy demands. If students are interested in pursuing a career in solar, then look no further than pursuing the Solar Engineering and Commercialization Program degree right here at ASU.

“We need to broaden our energy base,” Dada said. “Solar in Arizona is an obvious choice, and it’s a natural fit for ASU to take the lead in helping to create a sustainable energy source for our future.”

Campus Solarization – Innovation and Education in the Valley of the Sun from ASU News on Vimeo.

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

Additional Information:

AzCATI Update: Plastic Film vs. Acrylic Photobioreactors

published August 2, 2012, 2:24 am

AzCATI continues to be a crucial forefront of innovation in biofuels, bio-product research, and commercialization of algae-based goods. The research hub has taken significant strides in their mission to serve as a national test bed to accelerate the advancement of algae technology for the future. Although there are many goals that have been accomplished, a primary focus today at AzCATI is to continue research in producing a low-cost and efficient feedstock for biofuel production. Peter Zemke, technical lead of photobioreactors at AzCATI, chatted with me last week on some progress taking place to pursue this goal.

Algae, like any plant, needs light and energy to grow. A photobioreactor (PBR) incorporates both sources of light and energy input into a reactor to provide the feedstock necessary for algae to develop. For example, an open pond is a photobioreactor because natural sunlight and energy produce algae growth; but mostly, the term photobioreactor refers to a closed system in which no direct exchange of gasses or contaminants in the environment mix with algae in their growth process. The closed photobioreactors enable AzCATI technicians to better control the algae’s biocultural conditions; such as light intensity, pH, carbon dioxide, and temperature levels.  

There are many different types of photobioreactors. Many are in use or being tested at AzCATI. Zemke's team is currently focusing on two variations of a flat-plate photobioreactor specifically for mass production of algae.

Flat-plate photobioreactors are used because of their large illumination surface area, providing a great light path, which is suitable for outdoor cultures. Another benefit is that they produce a good amount of algal biomass. Biomass is the biological material from algae that can be used or converted into energy products such as biofuel. Although they are a relatively cheaper option than other PBR’s, such as the tubular photobioreactor, flat-plate PBR’s are still very expensive nonetheless, which leads researchers to continue searching for options that offer greater possibilities in biofuel production.


Flat-plate “Acrylic” Photobioreactors. Photo by AzCATI.

The plastic film photobioreactors are a relatively new technology that is being tested at AzCATI. The results so far have proven positive, especially in the cost that it takes to maintain them. Plastic film photobioreactors are also able to produce more biomass than acrylic, and the structure, which is made up of steel bars, is more durable and will last longer than the transparent acrylic structure made up in the acrylic photobioreactors. Another benefit of thin film PBR’s is that plastic is cheap and if punctured, is easier to replace. “We are very much focused on the plastic film photobioreactors over all,” Zemke said. “The effort is so much less than the acrylic photobioreactors.”

Thin film “Plastic” Photobioreactors. Photo by AzCATI.

For the time being, it seems as if plastic film photobioreactors are the best option, however that does not mean the research stops there. It is important for AzCATI to continue research and development in finding the best strains of algae- the ones that are the best at doing various things such as biofuels, feed, pigments, or nutracuticals, thriving in harsh conditions, or cleaning up wastewater. The development of the best technology to cultivate those strains is vital. Zemke used the upcoming summer Olympics as an example of how the roles of algae strain and photobioreactor development go hand-in-hand.

“The role of research and development into algae strains is essentially to find the Olympians of the algae world,” Zemke said. “Just as athletes need the right equipment to excel at their respective sports, algae need the right photobioreactor to perform at their peak.”

Out of only a small handful of labs in the world, AzCATI is one of the biggest to conduct photobioreactor research. As a result of their photobioreactor technology, AzCATI has the capability to produce larger and more reliable quantities of algae biomass of better quality than any other research institution in the U.S. 

“Here at AzCATI, we find the Olympian algae strains, figure out what light, temperature, and mixing conditions they need to perform their best, then design or select a photobioreactor that creates these conditions for them,” Zemke said.

The path of learning how to develop better photobioreactors, in terms of performance, reliability, and cost, is still a road of research ahead. Let’s salute AzCATI for keeping up the hard work in their efforts to reach for the algae gold medal! 

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

Sustainable Summer Presentation: Arizona’s Path to an Energy Efficient Summer

published June 28, 2012, 8:20 am

It’s no secret that living in Arizona during the summer can be quite the battle. With record temperatures soaring up, a group of experts specializing in how state residents can sustainably cope with these blistering sun rays gathered at the Global Institute of Sustainability last week to provide answers. The presentation touched on past, present, and the prospective future of dealing with the inevitable long, hot Arizona summers.

Mick Dalrymple- Project Manager, Energize Phoenix. Former Director, National Board, U.S. Green Building Council. Photo by Shawn Raymundo from the ASU State Press June 2012.

The speakers of this event also included:

  • Tony Brazel- Professor Emeritus, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. Former Arizona State Climatologist
  • Doreen Pollack- Executive Director, Valley Permaculture Alliance. Master Gardener, Down 2 Earth Gardens
  • Luis Salazar- Architect, Salazar Associates Architects Ltd. Winner, Valley Forward Environmental Excellence Award, 2010
  • Philip VanderMeer- Associate Professor, School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies. Author, Desert Visions and the Making of Phoenix

Historically, the Phoenix area was a lush city with canals and plenty of trees shading the sidewalks. Buildings and houses had awnings that would shade windows in an effort to keep heat out. Irrigation canals would stimulate growth of trees and grass as well as a popular way for families to jump in for a swim in order to stay cool. Because air conditioning had not been invented yet, the implementation of shade and canals had made living in Arizona easier for residents.

Farm home and irrigation canal two miles west of Mesa in the early 1900s. (Reclamation photograph) via National Register of Historic Places Multiple property Documentation Form, Salt River Project, Arizona, prepared by Jim Bailey, Bureau of Reclamation, June 2010.

As we developed as a city, and as more people began to inhabit the Phoenix area, urban sprawl took action and the temperature began to rise. The continued construction of buildings and homes begins to rapidly grow to accommodate people, yet some have not been designed to accommodate the summer heat to provide energy efficiency. Sustainable design is a present initiative that stresses the importance of taking from history (implementing shade and an oasis environment) and planning the design of our newer buildings and homes to incorporate state-of-the-art design and technology toward energy efficiency and comfort from the heat to state residents.

The implementation of shade, plants, and sustainable design can save home and business owners significant money on their energy bill. Luis Salazar, architect for his firm Salazar Associates Architects Ltd., sees the future of all Arizona homes and businesses to incorporate just that. In his presentation, Salazar said that in order to achieve the first step of sustainable design we must embody logical and local characteristics. The sun is an example of both logical and local characteristics. When we design our buildings and homes, we have to remember that we live in an area with a vast abundance of sunlight. Salazar believes that we must move forward in utilizing energy from the sun to turn it into something beneficial to us. He sees the future city of Phoenix to have solar collectors on everything from buildings, to homes, to billboards. The sun is endlessly available in Arizona. It is necessary to incorporate the sun into sustainable design today for tomorrow’s buildings and homes.

The future of energy efficiency in Arizona is being discussed by a number of people. Mick Darlymple, the Project Manager of Energize Phoenix, explained that Energize Phoenix aims to save energy, create “green jobs”, and transform a diverse array of neighborhoods by offering cash incentives and financing to help pay for most energy efficiency improvement project costs for homes and businesses. The Energize Phoenix program was launched from a $25 million federal grant awarded to the city of Phoenix from the U.S Department of Energy Better Buildings Neighborhood Program and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Energize Phoenix works in partnership with ASU Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS) and support from Arizona Public Service (APS).

In order to encourage the transition of greater energy efficient initiatives in Arizona, the Arizona Corporate Commission (ACC) is also working on improved energy efficient and renewable energy standards. The ACC plans to have Arizona’s public utilities required to achieve annual energy savings of at least 22% by 2020, with the savings to increase incrementally as a percent of retail energy sales in each prior calendar year to reach that goal. Up to one-third of the energy savings can result from energy efficient building codes and up to one-third of the savings can come from energy efficient appliance standards. Not only do home and business owners save money by energy efficiency improvement projects, but they also are reducing the amount of heat that is generated from using outdated energy standards.

I learned a lot from this enjoyable and thought provoking presentation; therefore, I would like to close on a few energy saving tips, told to me by Mick Darlymple, which will give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Energy tips you can do today to save:

  • Change your light bulbs to LED or CFLs
  • Check and fix air ducts
  • Implement shade screens
  • Fix/add house insulation
  • Use less hot water and change your water heater’s thermostat to 120 degrees F

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

Additional Information:


LARB Student Worker Reflects Upon EPA Granted Algae Wastewater Project

published June 14, 2012, 2:12 am

Almost one year ago, ASU graduate students and Laboratory of Algae Research and Biotechnology (LARB) student workers Joshua Wray, Martha Kent, and Emil Puruhito were granted the P3 Award from the EPA for their project "Developing Commercially Viable Culture Media from Wastewaters Optimized for the Emerging Microalgae-based Biofuel Industry." The P3 Award is a national student design competition for sustainability that focuses on people, prosperity, and the planet. These forward thinking ASU graduate students incorporated the three principle ‘P’s’ necessary to win research funding toward their project for a one year period from August 15, 2011 through August 14, 2012.

Joshua Wray (right) and Emil Puruhito (left) pose with waste in one hand and biofuel in the other at AzCATI.

The objective of their project focused on finding a sustainable and cost-efficient way to use standard wastewater treatment practices to develop an inexpensive algae culture media. An algae culture media is a nutrient rich solution (along with carbon dioxide and light) that provides the materials necessary for algae to grow. Nutrients such as nitrogen (N), phosphate (P), and potassium (K) are all nutrients that algae love. The project concentrated on treating wastewater to develop multiple wastewater streams rich with nutrients thus creating a viable algae culture media to suffice the demand of an affordable and sustainable solution for biofuel production.

The project aimed at benefiting people as well as the planet by reducing nutrient pollution from recapturing waste nutrients, improving overall water and air quality, and creating new jobs. The project also aimed at providing additional revenue or reducing production costs of agricultural producers, as well as diminishing competition of fertilizer supplies between the biofuel industry and the food crop industry.

I talked with Joshua Wray as he reflected upon his experience with the EPA granted P3 award from the project’s very beginnings, to its present standing, and lessons learned to guide the future.

Big Beginnings

Wray first became interested in algae because of its potential to be used as a biofuel. He soon realized that the cost to fertilize enough algae for a significant amount of biofuel would be highly expensive. Wray wanted to provide a cultivation media for the growth of algae for biofuel production that would be both low-cost and sustainable to our environment. Wray, along with his fellow student workers Kent and Puruhito, began to work with dairy waste from a neighboring dairy farm to test the feasibility of using the waste as a culture media for algae growth. The team developed a process of harvesting the waste, concentrating nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus that algae thrive on, and then carefully treating the media so as to not contaminate the algae culture. The results showed promise due to the success of growing a robust local strain of algae with high oil content on the waste water culture media. With a successful strategy and  help from members at AzCATI, the team applied for the P3 Phase 1 Award from the EPA website in hopes of further refining a protocol and testing media derived from different waste streams.

Wray describes working with algae as a big puzzle that must be patiently pieced. Although only in its early stages, he can clearly see his project having great potential with the future of biofuel. Wray and his fellow workers, upon winning the P3 Phase 1 Award, were able to piece more of the “algae puzzle” together and continue to move the project forward.

Picture from March 10.

Present Progress

With the success of phase I of the P3 project, the team has now moved on to incorporating swine, poultry, and municipal waste into their wastewater treatment process. Although they are still testing for a way to decrease contamination in the media, the team has been able to develop an algae culture media in just seven days.

Despite the fact the team was not awarded the P3 Phase 2 Award, they were recently awarded funding by ASU’s Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative for furthering their research on production of omega-3 fats from algae. Omega-3 fatty acids are rich with health benefits and can be found in fish due to their tendency to feed on algae. Unlike omega-3 found from fish-oil, the omega-3 found in algae is mercury free and is sustainably produced from waste nutrients using sunlight to lower cost. This could be beneficial to pursuing new research in algae based foods.

Picture from February 28.

Prospective Future

What Wray intended to gain from the project was learning to create a viable algae culture media. Although they need to do more testing, in only one year Wray and his team have accomplished just that with a successful protocol adaptable to multiple waste streams.

In addition to allocating resources and developing a protocol, Wray’s highlights from the P3 project experience included trying his hand at grant writing, and being able to network, discuss, and collaborate with other grant winners at the expo in Washington D.C.

Wray firmly believes that as human population continues to grow, recycling our nutrients will be increasingly important in the future. Through his experience with the project he has learned that good grant writing and networking skills, along with perseverance to understand the science and design of good protocol, will be the main factors in continuing to move the algae industry forward. Overall, more research must be done, but the pieces of the “algae puzzle” are falling together nicely.

EPA P3 Project from ASU Research on Vimeo.

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks 


Additional Information:

ASU’s Power Parasol: Cutting-Edge Solar Structure Implements Energy and Shade to Lot 59

published May 10, 2012, 11:56 am

The massive Lot 59 parking area, located between Sun Devil and Packard stadium, was notorious for being one of the most sweltering parking lots on ASU’s Tempe campus. Although being one of the more affordable ASU parking lots, the lack of shade and distance from campus made students dread the arrival to their car that had beyond question absorbed heat by roasting in the sun.

Lot 59 accommodates over 6000 parking spaces making it the largest black-top parking lots at the university. Because of the abundance of space and the powerful amount of sun directed in that area, Lot 59 grasped the attention of ASU and NRG Solar for the nation’s first PowerParasol™ installation.

The PowerParasol™ project marks the first partnership between ASU and NRG Solar. The innovative solar structure began as the vision of Arizona-based Strategic Solar Energy, LLC. Construction began in August 2011 and was finished by December 2011.  

PowerParasol™ is a 24-foot high solar-panel structure covering a vast 5.25 acres. The structure covers 800 parking spaces providing not only much obliged shade, but also sustainable solar energy from the panels that generate 2.1 megawatts of electricity. To give you an idea of how powerful 2.1 megawatts of solar energy is, consider that one megawatt of solar energy can power about 250 homes.


The sunshine that had previously heated up student’s cars has now transformed into valuable, clean energy through the PowerParasol™. The solar panels soak up energy from the sun while providing shade, yet still allowing natural light to shine through making areas of landscaping possible. When the sun goes down, the energy produced from the solar panels has enough power to provide nighttime lighting in the parking lot, power security cameras, and power vehicle electrical charging stations.

By implementing the PowerParasol™ over Lot 59, ASU takes a positive leap forward toward supporting solar energy in Arizona.

PowerParasol™ Grand Opening Video:

 PowerParasol™ Grand Opening Slideshow:

 More pictures available from Strategic Solar Energy, LLC.

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks


For more information visit: 

Arizona Solar Summit, Spring 2012: Breaking through the Barriers to a Solar Future in the Southwest

published May 1, 2012, 1:08 pm

The Spring 2012 Arizona Solar Summit took place March 26-27, 2012 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort. Participants included a wide-range of panelists and speakers from a variety of Southwestern states. The goal of this year’s summit was to explore the current barriers in solar expansion and identify the challenges acting as inhibitors to a solar build-out. Panel discussions focused specifically on the way state actors and federal agencies could work together in solar development in the Southwest.


The Arizona Solar Summit began in 2011 as a way for industry to come together and create a road map for Arizona solar. This discussion fed into the themes presented in this year’s summit. Kris Mayes, former Arizona Corporate Commission (ACC) Chairwoman and current head of the Law and Sustainability program at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, sees the summit as a way to help define Arizona as a solar hub, to gauge the way solar will evolve, and to determine how Arizona can position itself to progress with it.

One of the key themes to emerge from the summit centered around energy policy and its various effects on manufacturers, solar marketability, and development. There was also discussion around Arizona’s Renewable Energy Standard (RES) currently set to achieve 15% of power from renewable sources by 2025, a modest number (some argued too modest). Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton stated, “The fifteen percent needs to be the floor, not the ceiling.”

Naturally, this placed Arizona House Bill 2789 (HB 2789) contextually within this discussion. HB 2789 seeks to cap Arizona’s RES at this modest 15% even though it has benefited industry and provided incentives for individuals and businesses. As many panelists noted, it is equally detrimental to Arizona’s economic climate because it deters industry from choosing Arizona as a place to operate; the legislative swings create what appears to be an unstable environment for solar development. In his introduction, Mayor Stanton thanked Kris Mayes for her service In the ACC, calling her his “favorite Republican,” and expressed his hopes that the current legislature does not undo all the work she has done. Arizona is fantastically positioned to be a solar leader with 300+ days of sunshine every year and vast amounts of land for solar development. Public polls consistently reveal strong solar support, yet it remains to be seen whether the Arizona RES will continue to be supported by the state’s legislature.

In addition to policy issues, panelists and audience members discussed exports and power transmission potential. The power grid will certainly require an overhaul to integrate new energy systems like solar. With Arizona’s rich solar resource, there is a lot of potential to export power to neighboring states like California, but it is equally important to have a power system that is capable of distributing energy to those areas. Bill White from Americans for a Clean Energy Grid said that this is an important message to bring to the conversation, that a grid overhaul is needed in order to move renewables like solar to greater levels.

The keynote speaker, John Wellinghoff, cited Germany as an example to learn from in terms of solar power production, implementation, and policy. Germany produces the amount of solar energy in one month that the whole United States produces in one year. Wellinghoff noted that although Arizona has the potential to be the leading solar state in the country, we rank third behind California and New Jersey. He also noted the dependence of solar as an emerging technology on federal policy in order to be competitive against traditional carbon-based energy sources. Multiple conversations addressed the need to make solar a mainstream energy source in order to grow public and federal support. Wellinghoff noted that in order to mainstream solar, it is vital that solar development companies “walk and talk like conventional energy companies.”

In addition to policy and legislative structures, civic engagement and education often became an underlying theme. Several twitter users engaged in conversation throughout the summit with the hashtag #azsolarsummit, indicating that there is somewhat of a civic following, though this could certainly grow to include a wider variety of the public. Mesa Mayor Scott Smith noted the frequency with which his constituents were often unaware of what constitutes “solar energy,” and upon obtaining the facts, they often walked away supporting solar with new perspectives.

Twitter user Jeffrey Luth concluded: “Key takeaway from #azsolarsummit is need for broad-based coalition that can reach all Arizonans with a cohesive & compelling solar story.”

It seems clear that the conversations need to continue in order to determine this solar story and utlimately to share it. Details on a third solar summit will be forthcoming. Visit for more information.

Videos of the 2012 Arizona Solar Summit are now available on Vimeo.

Slideshow from 2012 Arizona Solar Summit:

Written by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks


Additional coverage:

Discovering ASU’s Sustainability Initiatives: A Self-Guided Tour of the Tempe Campus

published April 5, 2012, 11:03 am

ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS) has published online a self-guided sustainability initiatives tour of the Tempe campus. The walking tour is 1.2 miles and consists of a variety of examples of ASU’s collective movements to comprise a university-wide approach at maintaining and improving our efforts in sustainability. Included in the tour are LEED-certified buildings, energy storage technology, solar installations, sustainable dining programs, and more. The tour begins at the Memorial Union (MU) and weaves around campus to 10 specific points of interest, though the map also identifies additional locations to visit including sustainable gardens and green events around campus.

Some of the highlights I found were at the Apache Boulevard parking structure, an edifice that generates a whopping 880 KW of solar power from its panels. The Coor Hall was equally fruitful. I went to the top floor of the Coor Hall and stood in the sitting area to gaze across the ASU campus. It offered views of the solar panels on top of the Hayden Library, Payne Hall, Farmer, and the covered walkway between Payne and Farmer. So much solar!


As part of ASU’s Waste Management System, compactors are used to accept trash and recycling products like paper, metal, aerosol cans, etc. It has reduced fossil fuel emissions and waste-handling costs. Additionally, the compactors run on solar power. Prior to this tour, I had no idea this was even on campus.


The tour offers an abundant supply of sustainable movements happening on ASU’s campus. See photo highlights in slideshow.

ASU recently reached 14.5 MW of solar power with projections forecasting 17 MW by the end of 2012 and 20 MW by 2014. ASU has also been nominated for a Planet Forward “Climate Leadership Award” for being a living solar laboratory (voting ends April 14, 2012). Additionally, GIOS is a very recent recipient of a $27.5 million grant to increase these initiatives.

As is apparent from the numerous milestones and continuing accolades, ASU is leading an unprecedented effort in sustainability initiatives. This post is only meant to be a small preview. Take the tour to allow yourself the opportunity to discover ASU’s sustainability efforts!

*Note: AzCATI, though featured in the above video, is located at the ASU Polytechnic campus. You may schedule a tour of the groundbreaking algae biofuel facilities.

Congratulations GIOS and ASU!

Written by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks

AzCATI Grand Opening: The World’s Largest Algae Biofuel Test Bed Blooms in the Arizona Desert

published March 14, 2012, 12:26 pm

AzCATI grand opening 012

On February 21, 2012, ASU’s Polytechnic Campus celebrated the Grand Opening of the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI), an expansion that includes an 80,000 gallon capacity on a 2-acre site, making it the world’s largest test bed. There were over 100 guests and a noteworthy line up of speakers (listed here in order of appearance):

  • Gary Dirks, Director of ASU LightWorks
  • Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, Sr. Vice President of ASU Knowledge Enterprise Development
  • Governor Janice Brewer, State of Arizona
  • Mayor Scott Smith, City of Mesa
  • Bill Harris, President and CEO of Science Foundation Arizona
  • Mitzi Montoya, Vice Provost and Dean of ASU College of Technology and Innovation
  • Dan Simon, President and CEO of Heliae Development, LLC

Gary Dirks opened the ceremony, standing at a podium between two silently bubbling tubes, one filled with maroon-colored algae, the other gold (ASU’s colors). He welcomed the crowd to the celebration of a facility where the research and commercial development of algae will provide “a real economic opportunity” for Arizona. He thanked speakers for their support of AzCATI and the innovative research happening at the center.

Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan thanked state leadership for their continued support of AzCATI’s groundbreaking biofuel research in algae technology. “This is an excellent example of Michael Crow’s vision of the New American University,” he said, highlighting the university’s initiatives in innovation and entrepreneurship. He discussed the way in which AzCATI is creating both a physical and intellectual environment for algae research, development, and commercialization.

Governor Brewer, an early supporter of AzCATI’s research, took a golf cart tour of the facilities with AzCATI Co-Director Dr. Milton Sommerfeld and Mitzi Montoya earlier that morning. Brewer discussed Arizona’s potential to be a national and global leader in algae research and biotechnology, saying, “AzCATI is a hub of algae-based research.” She talked about the lab’s potential to reduce national fossil fuel dependence; for green job growth, cleaner air and water; and the creation of valuable products for both human and animal usage. Brewer noted that she wouldn’t be surprised if Arizona added an “A” to its five C’s and was excited to be discussing such innovative Arizona-grown research during the year of the state’s centennial.“It’s a fantastic vision,” she said, “and I’m proud to say I played a small part in it. It’s wonderful to see this center blossom.” Brewer previously approved $2 million in research funding for AzCATI and was given the honor of cutting the ribbon during the Grand Opening ceremony.

AzCATI grand opening 071 

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith focused on the need to change the way we view and use energy in the future. He discussed the need to find ways to improve the economy and to improve the world. In his view, AzCATI is doing that very thing. “There are no small dreams here. There are no small goals. We want to change the world,” he said.

Science Foundation Arizona’s President and CEO, Bill Harris, highlighted a constant issue with universities not translating their research into economic value and the way ASU is continually “breaking down barriers” by creating and contributing to much needed economic diversity. He talked about the importance of university collaboration with industry to develop usable products. “This state is uniquely positioned for this kind of work,” he said.

Mitzi Montoya talked about her excitement about the lab’s ability to "bridge the gap between science and technology" so effectively. Following in line with Harris’ observations, Montoya highlighted the facilities unique strengths in the Arizona desert. In the backdrop of a typically clear-blue, sunny sky, “We have something not everyone can copy,” she said. “We want the Polytechnic Campus to be a legend for innovation.”

Dan Simon, the final speaker of the event, reminisced on his research days at AzCATI. “Heliae was born right there behind you in that building." He showered Co-Directors Dr. Milton Sommerfeld and Dr. Qiang Hu with accolades, calling them “the fathers of this center.” He also noted that AzCATI has had a leading role in creating “a global epicenter of algae technology.” Before closing, he asked the audience to support HB 2225 and HB 2226, the two house bills that seek to classify algaculture as agriculture.

The expanded facilities will provide local partners with space, material, and equipment for algae production—partners like algae research company Heliae, a sort of graduate of AzCATI’s algae program. Researchers say that algal biofuel could be a prevalent energy source within the next ten years. The ultimate goal, they say, is to reduce national dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels. The new facilities will increase production, capacity, and availability of research biomass—potentially drawing further collaboration and partnerships from other companies and research organizations.

Written by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks

Slideshows and video of the event and expanded facilities:


AzCATI Grand Opening Ceremony from Keith Jennings on Vimeo.

Related Posts

ASU and UA Team Up on ARID Raceway Algae Test Bed

Algae Farming and Arizona Agricultural Laws 

AZ = Algae

ASU Doctoral Student Uses Harvested Algae to Produce Sustainable Fertilizer

Horizon Interview with Milt Sommerfeld and Dan Rees on Arizona’s Biofuel Industry

Algae Cookies: A Sweet Solution for Harvested Algae 

ASU Energy Club Students Speak Up About “Arizona’s Energy Future”

published February 28, 2012, 9:09 am

On February 2nd, the ASU Energy Club partnered with Arizona Town Hall, bringing an ASU energy-concerned student presence to their “Arizona’s Energy Future” road show as part of their inaugural town hall event. Stemming from the Youth Town Hall discussion on October 12th, which was open to all college and high school students across the state, this event was created to further address student concerns and provide them with an outlet to express their opinions on the future of energy in Arizona. Several students from varying backgrounds joined in on the conversation and spoke with the panelists about what they thought Arizona’s Energy Future should look like.


(From left to right: Mike Zirulnik, moderator. Panel: Jen Fuller, Leisa Brug, and Clark Miller)

One of the three panel members was Clark Miller, ASU professor and associate director of the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes. Second was Jen Fuller, second year ASU PhD student studying Environmental Social Sciences. Lastly, Leisa Brug, the director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Policy, was a member of the panel as well.

Following discussions from the Youth Town Hall in October and the recommendations made in the 99th Annual AZ Town Hall Background Report, members of the ASU Energy Club identified a few questions and concerns that they wanted to address during this discussion. Major topics and points are included below:

Career Paths for Energy Focused Students

With the growing number of students becoming involved and interested in the future of energy, students from the ASU Energy Club wanted to know how Arizona should develop career paths for students who are interested in entering the energy industry. As the discussion and brainstorming continued, it was a general consensus that partnerships need to be made between education and industry, thus creating a bridge for students to easily enter the energy industry after getting their education.

Competition and Innovation in the Arizona Energy Industry

Competition within the energy industry is necessary, as it encourages innovation and progress, but Arizona must foster these two elements so as to create a sustainable energy economy. Enthusiasm should be given towards “garage innovation,” perhaps providing spaces that operate like HeatSync (a community workspace that is free to the public for use on a variety of projects). Barriers within the energy industry will only slow the process and discourage innovation. Leisa Brug also made the suggestion that renewable sources be willing to work with traditional energy sources and involve them in the discussion because Arizona is still heavily dependent on sources like coal, oil, and nuclear. She noted that alienation will only slow the transition process.

State Leaders and Engagement in Energy Policy

Representatives expressed concern over the lack of student interest in energy. In this day and age, energy is becoming a growing topic and it is important that the younger generation is actively engaged in it. As the leaders of the future, younger generations must find ways to stay involved, but it is also up to state leaders to get the younger generation engaged in energy policy. Discussions offered suggestions of providing more legislative transparency, making information easily open to the public through social media, websites, etc. Leisa Brug encouraged students and citizens alike to attend solar task force meetings (agendas can be found here). Another student stated that if citizens aren’t happy with policies in place, they can create petitions and propose ballot measures.

Spreading the Word

One lingering questions was: “How can we push renewable energy further and get more people involved?” Students at the Town Hall responded that we should be looking into Germany for example, though Leisa Brug noted that a comparison between Arizona and Germany reveals vastly different prices for energy, which played a factor in their move to renewables. Many students agreed that with Arizona’s solar potential, we should essentially be the leader in solar production, installation, and incentives for renewable energy sources. We should all, as individuals, be involved with government officials and become a part of these new energy policies. Educating and encouraging others to join our efforts is the most powerful way to spread the word about renewable energy throughout all generations.

Reflections and Conclusion

Jen Fuller opened the panel with a statement detailing her experience at the 99th Annual Town Hall in the Grand Canyon last fall. She expressed shock at one oil representative’s lack of concern over the social and environmental impacts caused by some of the practices of oil industry. They were, as he stated, “not his problem.” She expressed dismay at this feeling of lack of responsibility.

Clark Miller noted that “there are between 10 and 100 times too few students in this room,” and that it was a problem. “This is your future,” he said, “and you need to own it.” Miller encouraged students to be involved and bring their expertise to ACC meetings, elections, campaigns, etc.

Leisa Brug concurred on civic engagement and education. She echoed Fuller and Miller when she noted that education on current energy issues is a social responsibility.

David Butterfield, Chairman of Hummingbird Urban Biomass, attended the event and discussed how his generation, and particularly the youth, was heavily involved in the politics of Vietnam. He said that the current energy situation is, in his opinion, “this generation’s Vietnam,” and he expressed concern over the ambivalence and indifference that seems to plague most of today’s youth in regard to the energy discussion.

As part of the “Youth Town Hall” discussions, follow up reports will be forthcoming from Arizona Town Hall. To learn more about Arizona Town Hall visit To learn more about the ASU Energy Club or to become a member visit

Co-Written by Tynnisha Hamilton and Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks

ASU Venture Catalyst Launches Rapid Startup School

published February 16, 2012, 11:26 am

Photo Credit: ASU

The entrepreneurial spirit thrives at ASU, but sometimes students find it rather frustrating when they lack the tools and resources to let their creativity and innovation shine. ASU Venture Catalyst aims to fix just that. The Catalyst is the all-in-one resource center for graduate students, alumni, and faculty at ASU who seek assistance in the planning and implementation of their venture. ASU is rapidly evolving into a gathering area for young entrepreneurs, and the Catalyst is leveraging this opportunity and providing inventors and innovators with the ultimate opportunity to get their venture off the ground.

Starting February 21st, ASU Venture Catalyst will be offering a part-time 8 week program for postdoctoral researchers, graduate students, alumni, and junior faculty who are interested in the creation of a new venture.

This program, Rapid Startup School, is “The pracademic school for understanding entrepreneurship that’s not really a school.”

The program is taught by faculty from partner organizations and works like a hybrid class, where online modules are used to complement the program modules and accelerate the learning process. The program is designed so that participants can continue to learn and work on their projects and ideas outside of class.

During the 7 to 8 weeks that this program will be taking place, there will be a 2-3 hour session once or twice a week. The program starts with an introductory session, followed by 12 modules, and a one-on-one meeting that will be held at the conclusion of the program.

During the program, participants will learn the essentials of entrepreneurship and new business creation. They receive extensive training in:

  • Innovation
  • Commercialization
  • Business finance
  • Intellectual property, patents, trademarks, and copywriting laws
  • Market feasibility
  • Market research
  • …and more

Rapid Startup School is an excellent way for potential entrepreneurs to get their foot in the door and learn more about how to create a successful business. ASU Venture Catalyst has helped many students, faculty, and alumni to network and better understand and develop their business ideas. Participating in this program will allow participants to improve the probability of their and their businesses success.

More information on the dates and topics as well as RSVP info can be found here:

Written by Tynnisha Hamilton, ASU LightWorks