LightWorks Blog

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

Algae Farming and Arizona Agricultural Laws

published February 15, 2012, 2:16 pm

Anticipating the growth and success of algae farming in Arizona, Tucson lawmaker Rep. Matt Heinz of Arizona District 29 has introduced two bills (HB 2225 and HB 2226), sponsored by Rep. Russ Jones of Arizona District 24, that will commercialize and tax alga-culture like any other farm-produced product and allow Arizona universities to continue research in biofuel technologies.

Photo Credit: ASU News

So, what is “alga-culture?” Alga-culture is essentially algae farming; it is the process of raising algae, a microscopic plant that creates biomass from photosynthetic processes, and then converting the biomass into hydrogen or biofuel. HB 2225 would redefine agricultural land use to include alga-culture for the sole purpose of research, development, and production of commercial biofuels on state trust land—land that is intended to benefit public schools and institutions. HB 2226 would widen the tax definitions of agricultural real property by including lands dedicated to alga-culture, making property that is used for raising algae taxable land. To clarify, the bills cover only the cultivation aspects of algae production, not the oil extracting processes associated with the production of biofuel.

Alga-culture does not yet have a strong presence in Arizona, but with the innovative and exciting research taking place at Arizona State University, University of Arizona, and a few new organizations like Gilbert-based Heliae, a company that produces algae-based jet fuel, there is a growing awareness of the potential energy solutions algae provide. HB 2225 and HB 2226 would better enable research endeavors for institutions like Arizona State University (ASU), home of the state-of-the-art AzCATI research facility, and University of Arizona (UA), who have already begun collaborating with ASU on the ARID Raceway algae test bed system. Find out more about the partnership and funding sources in a previous post we wrote on the ARID Raceway.  

Both of these bills provide a great opportunity for Arizona’s economy, education, and energy infrastructure. If these bills pass, alga-culture will be more attractive to farmers because production costs will be cheaper, and university research will be more appealing to potential investors.  Both Rep. Jones and UA researcher Peter Waller discussed that incorporating algae farming into the commercial agriculture industry would create both an alternate, renewable energy source and Arizona-based jobs. Milton Sommerfeld, an ASU researcher located at AzCATI and director of ASU’s Laboratory of Algae Research and Biotechnology (LARB), noted that alga-culture laws would open Arizona’s agricultural landscape, produce local jobs, and attract leading industry in related fields.

Sommerfeld said, Algae is a crop. You have the same types of problems and challenges as you do with other crops. You’ve got to have good seed material and good technology to be able to process it. You have to have a place where you can grow it.”

Sommerfeld noted that though he thinks it’s possible algae-based fuels could be available to purchase at gas stations in as little as 2022, the research and capabilities to commercialize it depend on the support and commitment of both government and industry.

While the bills have almost unanimous bipartisan support, one lawmaker, Rep. Frank Pratt of Arizona District 23 and chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, voted against HB 2225 on account of it being “premature.” He reasons that while algae farming may gain momentum as a potential future energy source, Arizona has not yet produced the alga-culture operations necessary to require a broadening of agricultural land use.

“We’re making a bill for an industry that does not exist,” he said.

However, the news has been rife in recent months with airplanes completing successful flights using fuel sources made at least in part with algae-based jet fuels. Here are just some of the airlines and their success stories: Continental (LA Times), United (CNN Money), American and Alaskan (Inhabitat). Sapphire Energy, Solazyme, Dynamic Fuels, Origin Oil, and Arizona’s own Heliae are just some of the companies that have developed partnerships to continue producing algae-based fuels.  It seems there is, in fact, a very real and growing algae-fuel industry that Arizona, given its climate and research capabilities, should be in the forefront of developing and utilizing.

Additionally, AzCATI has just expanded its alga-culture production facilities and is now the world’s largest algae test bed facility in any university or national lab. The Grand Opening will be held on Tuesday, February 21st, 2012 (RSVP required). Governor Jan Brewer, a supporter of algae research at AzCATI, will attend as a speaker and participant in the ribbon cutting ceremony. There will be additional speakers, facility tours, and the opportunity to speak with some of the researchers.

LightWorks will be present at the AzCATI Grand Opening ceremony. We will be live tweeting using the hashtag #AzCATI. Tune in on February 21st for updates!

Written by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks

LightSpeed Solutions is Setting Out to Change the Way the World Views Energy

published February 13, 2012, 10:21 am

For quite some time, people from all over the country—industry leaders, experts in the field, students, researchers, protestors, and every day citizens—have had one goal in mind. A few years ago, this goal seemed light years away, but now its arms length away.

What do they want? Sunlight to Fuels.

When do they want it? In the next 10-15 years.

LightSpeed Solutions is a team dedicated to discovering a more sustainable future and includes researchers, scientists, engineers, and experts in the field at various universities and laboratories. They come from a wide range of backgrounds and expertise, including electro-chemistry, mass transport, economics, policy, systems engineering, heat, photo-catalysis, and much more. Major partners include Arizona State University, Princeton University, Yale University, Sandia National Laboratories, and the University of Minnesota.

Leading the team is Gary Dirks, director of LightSpeed Solutions. With a doctorate in chemistry and extensive experience in the energy field, Gary is leading his team to a clean and successful future. In addition to guiding the LightSpeed Solutions team, Gary also is the director of ASU LightWorks, a multidisciplinary effort to leverage ASU's unique strenPhoto Credit: LightSpeed Solutionsgths, particularly in renewable energy fields including artificial photosynthesis, biofuels, and next-generation photovoltaics.

Creating fuels from the power of the sun is not simple task, that’s why LightSpeed Solutions is comprised of people with a passion for moving our world into energy independence and creating a brighter future for generations to come.

Using carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight, the team hopes to produce clean transportation fuel and commercialize it, in hopes that it will be able to compete with fossil fuels. They took the basic concept of photosynthesis and applied it to fuels, generating a cleaner fuel that can power the world in the years to come. This revolutionary science is a breakthrough in the energy industry, and as this team continues to convert their passion in sustainability into fuel for the future, more doors will be opened and solutions found.

Download this PDF to learn more about LightSpeed Solutions:

Contact Information for LightSpeed Solutions:


Contact Page:


Written by Tynnisha Hamilton, ASU LightWorks

An Interview with Mark Sholin, Founder and CEO of Arbsource

published February 8, 2012, 2:55 pm

Wastewater treatment in the US has become an issue for many businesses, big and small. Mark Sholin, the founder and CEO of Arbsource, created a solution to that problem. As part of the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative, Arbsource was created to relieve the burden of wastewater treatment and create a more sustainable, cost-friendly way to go about it.

 Photo Credit: Arbsource

Just recently, Arbsource was named one of the top 12 clean tech companies to watch in 2012 by ZDNet. They are constantly growing and building new partnerships. In an interview with Mark Sholin, he gives us a more in depth look at Arbsource. Our questions and his responses are below:

What grants/investments have you received since the start of Arbsource?

Arbsource has won competitive grant awards from the Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative, Cleantech Open, Idea2Product Global Competition, NCIIA, and Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge. Other development dollars granted to ASU by the Office of Naval Research also contribute to our R&D. We are still pre-revenue, so leveraging non-dilutive sources of capital is a high priority as we continue scaling our reactors. In the spirit of this strategy, we have other grant/competition submissions pending over the next few months on the order of $500,000 combined capital and have high hopes for success.

How does the ARBCell Biotechnology compare to other wastewater treatment systems?

The ARBCell is being developed to meet the same treatment speeds and quality as conventional methods, but at half the operations cost. We can achieve this by using a special class of bacteria, called Anode Respiring Bacteria (ARB for short), that work in conjunction with our unique reactor design to deliver identical treatment while using up to 70% less energy and producing up to 80% fewer solid sludge byproducts. Additionally, we create hydrogen gas as a value added byproduct that sees wide use in many industries.

 Photo Credit: Arbsource

How would you describe the team at Arbsource?

Our management team is comparatively young for most cleantech ventures, but we are passionate about our cause and have already collected relevant technical and market perspectives from prior work experience. We’re bolstered by a highly knowledgeable and experienced advisory board in both business strategy and technology development. Researchers at the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, housed within the Biodesign Institute, are the brains behind the development of our ARBCell prototypes, giving us an extra layer of credibility among potential customers and investors.

How would you like to see your company expand?

Over the next year, we will be working diligently to build out our proof-of-concept pilots that will be placed in the processing facilities of different early customers to treat small portions of wastewater. From there, we expect to be ready to offer full-scale treatment systems in early 2013. Forging strong relationships with engineering design consultants specializing in commercial wastewater is key to nationwide deployment, some of which we have already contracted with. Recent connections we’ve made are also interested in pushing the ARBCell to countries outside the US, namely India.

Arbsource recently took second place in the Idea2Product (I2P) global startup competition based in Stockholm, Sweden. I2P has also made available a video, so you can watch Mark Sholin’s pitch to judges followed by a Q&A session.  

Get connected with this exciting and innovative new venture!

Written by Tynnisha Hamilton, ASU LightWorks

Cognitive Barriers and Energy Efficiency

published February 5, 2012, 10:26 pm

On Wednesday November 30, 2011, Dr. Elke U. Weber gave a talk at ASU’s Tempe campus entitled “Our Energy-Efficiency Paradox: Psychological Barriers to ‘No-Brainer’ Solutions.” Dr. Weber is the Founder and Co-Director of the Center for the Decision Sciences (CDS) and the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) and is Jerome A. Chazen Professor of International Business at Columbia University.

During the talk, Dr. Weber highlighted psychological reasons for the way we paradoxically hesitate to adopt more energy-efficient, sustainable, environmentally-friendly methods of living on a large scale when they seem to be “no-brainer” solutions to our culminating energy-related issues. Weber argued that by learning to recognize and thus identify these psychological issues, we will be able to overcome these cognitive limitations and adopt what she calls “win-win-win” solutions.

Weber started off by listing a variety of energy-related solutions that seemingly go undeveloped, are under-represented, and are underrated. Rather than trying to find solutions to each of these issues, she argues that they are related. They are symptomatic of a larger cognitive problem, and until the cognitive problem is addressed, the symptoms will continue to present themselves socially and culturally in a variety of ways.

Some of these issues are a marketing problem, stemming from language and negative perceptions of words. One example Weber used was the way surveys revealed that more surveyors are opposed to a “carbon tax” rather than a “carbon offset” even though descriptions provided to surveyors were identical to each other. The word “tax,” especially for an American group, carries a more negative connotation, and when it is used, it triggers a cognitive act of arguing against oneself in favor of the opposing side (in this case, no carbon tax).

Weber used the audience in an example of one psychological experiment. You can test yourself before continuing on in this post to see what results you produce. Read the instructions below before playing the video.

In this video is a group of students passing two basketballs back and forth; some are wearing black shirts and the others are wearing white shirts. Pay attention only to the students in white shirts. Count the number of times they pass the ball to each other, whether they bounce pass the ball or they pass it without bouncing it. You may now watch the video

When finished, continue below.

How many passes did you count? There should be 15. Did you see the gorilla?

This video showcases the “Selective Attention Test,” and is the result of a Harvard study done some years ago. Half of the responders in the Harvard study saw the gorilla. Similar results were produced in Weber’s audience. What this experiment reveals is that not only are we missing much of what goes on around us but that we also have no idea how much we are missing. This offers one explanation as to why these energy-efficiency no-brainer solutions go unutilized when they seem so blatantly obvious. As Weber noted in her talk, we are facing lots of invisible gorillas. You can read more about the Invisible Gorilla Experiment here.

Overall, it was a fascinating and insightful look at the psychology of environmental, sustainable, and energy-related issues and solutions. It allowed a new way of investigating the complexity of the “green mindset.”

Dr. Weber is part of an interdisciplinary group of decision scientists, economists, and psychologists who are exploring reasons why the brain has such a hard time being “green.” So far, their findings may be just as crucial or more so than technological advances to address energy-related issues and sustainability. You can read an in-depth account of their findings and opinions in this article featured in the New York Times: "Why Isn't the Brain Green?"


Written by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks

$710K Awarded to Arizona to Accelerate and Expand Growth of Solar

published January 31, 2012, 10:41 am

The State of Arizona has already been identified as one of the pioneers of the solar movement, and the state with the most potential for solar power.  Solar in Arizona has caught the attention of people nationwide, and each installation and dollar of funding brings Arizona closer to the summit of the solar industry. Jan Brewer recently announced that Arizona was going to receive $710,000 in grant money to accelerate and expand solar in the Valley.

Photo Credit: Solar Energy Fact 

This funding, provided by the Department of Energy, was part of the SunShot Initiative, which was created with a goal of making solar a tough competitor of traditional forms of energy  by reducing costs and expanding its application.

A total of $12 million was awarded to 22 teams across the country, each of whom will be using the money to finance the growth of residential and commercial solar. The Arizona Governor’s Office of Energy Policy team was comprised of several partners, including ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS), the City of Phoenix, the City of Flagstaff, the City of Tucson, and SmartPower.  The State of Arizona plans on using this grant to identify and improve issues related to zoning, finance, and permits. The team has high hopes of improving solar power in the state and getting Arizona residents to support solar and realize the benefits from doing so.

Harvey Bryan, an architecture professor at Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU, believes that “This grant will help impact the cost and rate of uptake of solar installations in Arizona…We are focused on solving key challenges associated with the reduction of the non-module cost of installing solar energy systems such as: permitting, financing, interconnection, as well as planning and zoning.” Bryan also plays a role in ASU Lightworks, a multidisciplinary effort to leverage ASU's unique strengths, particularly in renewable energy fields including artificial photosynthesis, biofuels, and next-generation photovoltaics.

Over the past few years, Arizona has made a strong effort to push solar for both businesses and the community. Solar installations are on the rise and more and more residents are beginning to understand the impact that solar can have on our lives.

During a press conference, Governor Jan Brewer states that “Arizona is at the forefront of solar-energy development and expansion, and has even been dubbed the ‘Solar King’”. She goes on to say “This grant will be instrumental in making installation of solar panels faster, easier and less expensive for Arizona homeowners and businesses. As solar energy becomes more cost-efficient and widespread, Arizona is ready to capitalize on the quality jobs created by this promising industry.”

And a promising industry, it is. In 2011, Arizona ranked 3rd in the country for the amount of solar jobs, according to the National Solar Jobs Census. This is a five spot hike from the previous year, and this sun-wealthy state shows no signs of slowing down.

To learn more about the SunShot Initiative, visit the website.

Written by Tynnisha Hamilton, ASU LightWorks

Introducing the ASU Energy Club and the Discussion on Arizona's Energy Future

published January 24, 2012, 10:23 am

It’s a new semester, and with the homework assignments and amount of stress piling up, sometimes getting involved on campus can be a challenge. Plus, with the large amount of clubs and organizations on campus, it can be hard to choose which one is right for you. At the Club Carnival, you had the opportunity to take a closer look at several different clubs and organizations on campus, including the new ASU Energy Club.

Photo Credit: AZ Capitol Times

The Energy Club was created to give ASU students and the community an opportunity to become actively engaged in a variety of issues facing our generation including energy policy, technology, sustainability, social issues dealing with renewable energy, and more. This club allows students to discuss, interact, and engage in a variety of energy-related issues and provides them with an opportunity to contribute their thoughts, opinions, and actions to these dilemmas.

By joining the ASU Energy Club, students will be able to network with like-minded young people and create long lasting relationships throughout their college experience and beyond. This club will open doors into the industry and allow students to take on leadership roles, speak and possibly work alongside industry leaders, take an active role in finding solutions to these global problems, and much more.

One of the Energy Club’s visions is to introduce students to potential careers in the energy industry. Networking is extremely important in college, for undergrads, graduate students, and alumni alike —and it is one of the main focal points of the Energy Club. Another purpose of the club is to allow members to share with each other the latest advancements in energy research and gather students from different disciplinary backgrounds to shed light on these subjects and offer their input.

This club hopes to reach out to the students of Arizona State University and the greater community to address pressing issues that might otherwise go unnoticed. The Energy Club will be holding several events throughout the semester and year, including the upcoming panel discussion on “Arizona’s Energy Future.”

AZ Town Hall will be visiting ASU to strike up a conversation about what Arizona’s energy future will look like. The panel will discuss questions brought up by the ASU Energy Club and all students are welcome to come and join in on the discussion. This event will take place on Thursday, February 2nd at the Memorial Union Ventana Ball Room A & B. For more information, visit To RSVP online, visit

 If you haven’t already, join the Energy Club on these social networking sites to stay updated:




Written by Tynnisha Hamilton, ASU LightWorks

ASU and UA Team Up on ARID Raceway Algae Test Bed

published January 9, 2012, 10:20 am

Arizona State University (ASU) and the University of Arizona (UA) have joined forces through ASU’s AzCATI facilities to expand algae biofuel research through the ARID Raceway open test bed site located in Tucson. Under the support of the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts (NAABB), both universities are working to create better strategies for algal production, cultivation, and harvesting methods to better determine the commercial marketability of algal biofuel.

Photo credit: Victoria Pelham (Cronkite News)

The Arid Raceway Integrated Design (ARID) is an open pond designed with inexpensive, removable covers and better mixing strategies to improve light penetration and overall control. New methods for controlling contamination, climate effects, and invasive species are also being tested. ARID researchers seek to improve many of the processes of using photobioreactors which are often composed of more costly materials and can have lower harvesting yields. The southwest temperatures provide a perfect climate for algal production because the temperatures can fluctuate as much as 15 degrees Centigrade in a single day. The ARID system uses an innovative design that drops water into ponds of different depths during the course of the day, so the land surrounding the ponds acts as an insulator, exchanging heat to control water temperatures. Since it is not yet apparent whether open or closed systems provide the best environment for commercial algae cultivation, it seems judicious to continue ongoing algal life cycle analyses and research projects.

The NAABB is a biofuels consortium of universities, private industry representatives, and government labs searching for ways to commercialize algae biofuel. It was formed in 2009 in order to acquire funding from the Department of Energy’s Office of Biomass Program specifically for researching algae biofuel commercialization. The NAABB framework consists of a research program contained within a sustainability model and analysis program in algal biology, cultivation, harvesting/lipid extraction, fuel conversion and chemical coproducts. Algal organisms range from unicellular microalgae to macroalgal seaweeds. Of the approximately 50,000 species of algae, little is known about their abilities to amass lipids, which is an essential component to biofuel production. Identifying those species with the highest lipid count has been one of the main goals of NAABB.

The consortium’s ultimate goal is to better understand the algal biofuels process in a sustainable way. In a continued effort to understand the economic and market impacts, environmental effects, and energy requirements, the consortium is developing a variety of models and analyses used for the algae biofuels process. Ample research across a large network of universities and labs has already produced promising results. ASU and UA hope to continue providing this same kind of productive research through the ARID partnership.

Written by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks

We're Back!

published January 4, 2012, 2:57 pm

It's been awhile since we've actively published any new material. At the end of 2011, we delved deeply into an e-construction project and completely revamped the ASU LightWorks website, which included our blog. We are now officially up and running. The site looks great, and we've made the final touches. You can expect much more from us in the coming weeks and onward. Thanks so much for your ongoing support. We look forward to all that 2012 has in store.

Blog Construction

ASU’s on a “QESST” for Advanced Solar Technologies

published November 16, 2011, 1:05 pm

QESST, or Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies, is an ASU-led initiative aiming to advance and support solar technology. This initiative is gaining momentum, with strong support from both the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.

During the first 5 years of operation, the Engineering Research Center(ERC) for QESST was awarded $18.5 million in funding for their operations.

They’ve partnered up with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of New Mexico, the University of Delaware, and the California Institute of Technology to form a chain of partnerships and collaborations throughout the country. Not only are universities getting involved, but energy companies, industry leaders, entrepreneurs, and other research centers are all trying to get involved as well. Christiana Honsberg, professor at the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering and also leader of QESST, hopes to further commercialize solar technologies through partnerships and expansion.

Honsberg said “An expanding global economy is bringing an unquenchable demand for more electrical power. It will become vital to progress throughout the 21st century to have the benefits of alternative energy sources that solar power can provide through photovoltaic technologies”.

Honsberg also is a director at ASU’s Solar Power Lab. She has dedicated a lot of her time and energy into the advancement and commercialization of solar energy technology. She also works to get students, both undergraduate and graduate, the opportunity to become a part of this growing industry and learn the important of clean energy.

The ERC’s education director, Jennifer Husman, explains that “QESST will provide students of all ages opportunities to be part of the future of solar energy engineering”. She goes on to say that “ASU and our partner institutions will help produce the next generation of sustainability-focused solar engineers.”

Learn More about QESST


Written by Tynnisha Hamilton, ASU LightWorks