New reports from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation show that the local knowledge, partnerships and established trust that underlie Transformative Climate Community (TCC) partnerships have allowed them to identify changing needs and respond quickly during the pandemic. These responses were bolstered by government-funded community engagement plans that offer leadership opportunities that tackle community goals around climate action and resiliency. TCC was established by the California Legislature in 2016 to provide funds to the state’s most disadvantaged communities while simultaneously reducing pollution, strengthening the local economy and improving public health through community-based projects. Cap-and-trade dollars have funded the first three rounds of the program under the direction of the California Strategic Growth Council, and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s current budget proposal includes $420 million for TCC implementation and planning grants over three years. The latest round of reports by UCLA document the progress of TCC grants in four sites: Fresno, Ontario, Watts/South L.A. and Northeast Valley L.A. A fifth site, Stockton, will soon be added to UCLA’s TCC evaluation cohort. “We can learn a lot from these five living laboratories for holistic climate action,” said Professor JR DeShazo, principal investigator on the ongoing study and director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. “It’s impressive,” said Jason Karpman MURP ’16, project manager of UCLA’s TCC evaluation. “During a year when so much has come to a halt, these initiatives have continued to quickly adapt and meet the needs of residents.”
JR DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, was featured in an E&E News article about the success of clean electricity standards in California. The state requires that 60% of electricity come from eligible renewable energy resources, including solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and other sources, by the year 2030, with a transition to 100% renewable sources by 2045. California has already hit the first goal, DeShazo said, crediting the clean electricity standards with prodding the state’s utilities to procure more clean resources. The electricity standards have “probably been the single most important emission-reduction force in policy the state has adopted, more effective than cap and trade, and more effective than [our] energy efficiency or transportation initiatives,” said DeShazo, a professor of urban planning and public policy. Spectrum News also highlighted work from the Center for Innovation in a report on the need for California to prioritize issues of equity as it crafts its clean transportation goals.
Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California. In order to achieve the state’s goals of carbon neutrality by 2045 and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, decarbonizing this sector is essential. But such a transition is unlikely to occur rapidly without key policy intervention, according to a new study that included research from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.
A team of transportation and policy experts from the University of California released a report April 21 to the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) outlining policy options to significantly reduce transportation-related fossil fuel demand and emissions. Those policy options, when combined, could lead to a zero-carbon transportation system by 2045, while also improving equity, health and the economy. A second study, led by UC Santa Barbara, identifying strategies to reduce in-state petroleum production in parallel with reductions in demand, was released simultaneously.
The state funded the two studies through the 2019 Budget Act. The studies are designed to identify paths to slash transportation-related fossil fuel demand and emissions while also managing a strategic, responsible decline in transportation-related fossil fuel supply.
The University of California demand study was conducted by researchers from the UC Institute of Transportation Studies, a network with branches at UC Davis, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, and UCLA. The UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy coordinated the report’s policy management, and the UC Davis Center for Regional Change led the study’s equity and environmental justice research.
Bringing about a zero-carbon transportation future will be challenging but not impossible, the report states. Doing so requires urgent actions and a long-term perspective. Importantly, a major upfront investment in clean transportation through incentives and new charging and hydrogen infrastructure will soon pay off in net economic savings to the California economy, with net savings in the next decade growing to tens of billions of dollars per year by 2045.
The report recommends flexible policy approaches that can be adjusted over time as technologies evolve and more knowledge is gained.
“This report is the first to comprehensively evaluate a path to a carbon neutral transportation system for California by 2045,” said Dan Sperling, director of the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies. “We find that such pathways are possible but will rely on extensive changes to existing policies as well as introduction of some new policies. The study also prioritizes equity, health and workforce impacts of the transition to zero-carbon transportation.”
Researchers from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation led the study’s workforce analysis. Achieving carbon neutrality in California’s transportation sector could create over 7.3 million job-years of employment over the next 25 years, according to the researchers. These jobs would result from “greening” many existing occupations and creating new occupations.
“This presents the state with a golden opportunity to create not only new, high-quality jobs, but also ensure that many existing industries and occupations transition to better practices,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation and professor of public policy.
KEY POLICY STRATEGIES
Zero emission vehicles: Many of the report’s policy options are centered on a rapid transition to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), which is expected to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve local air pollution as the state’s electric grid is also decarbonized.
Light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles are responsible for 70% and 20% of the state’s transportation emissions, respectively. The report suggests a combination of enhanced mandates, incentives, and public charging and hydrogen infrastructure investments to speed the adoption of ZEVs. For medium and heavy-duty vehicles, key policy priorities include increasing the availability of charging stations for long-haul freights, electricity pricing reform to make depot charging more affordable, and priority lanes and curb access for zero-emission trucks, among other possibilities.
Vehicle miles traveled: Even with widespread ZEV use, reducing overall vehicle miles traveled is necessary to reduce traffic congestion and emissions from vehicle manufacturing, and to enhance quality-of-life and land-use benefits related to traffic. The report suggests policies that encourage active, shared and micromobility transportation, telecommuting, and land-use changes that reduce people’s reliance on automobiles and enhance community connectivity.
Fuels: About 86% of transportation fuel is petroleum. Shifting toward low-carbon clean energy requires major investments in electricity and hydrogen. Low-carbon liquid fuels compatible with internal combustion engines will be needed to reduce emissions while the transition to ZEVs progresses, as well as in some specialized applications, like aviation. California can support the needed investments in clean fuels with mandated blending levels, new incentives and credits to stimulate investment in very low-carbon liquid fuels for aviation, shipping and legacy combustion engine vehicles.
Getting to zero: Some residual emissions remain in every scenario examined. The report states that at least 4 million to 5 million metric tons per year of negative emissions capacity (equal to 2.5% of current transportation emissions) is needed by 2045 to counteract those residual emissions. These could come from carbon capture and sequestration projects that pull carbon from the air to store it underground, as well as so-called sequestration by natural or working lands.
In addition to direct economic benefits beginning around 2030, the transportation decarbonization policies could also lead to health, equity and environmental justice, and workforce and labor benefits.
Health: Transportation is a major cause of local air pollution and contributes to climate change. Particulate matter harms lungs and hearts, while nitrogen oxide compounds contribute to ozone pollution and other health impacts. The report found that cleaner heavy-duty vehicles would significantly reduce pollution in many of the state’s most vulnerable communities. The health benefits of reducing local pollution will grow with the deployment of clean transportation technologies and could translate to more than $25 billion in savings in 2045.
Equity and environmental justice: Transportation in California carries a legacy of inequity and damage to disadvantaged communities. These communities often lack quality public transportation or viable transportation choices. Highways have been built with little consideration for displacement, and many communities of color have been divided by freeways, perpetuating historic segregation policies like redlining. The report identifies options that prioritize equity in transportation investments and policies.
- Continue to support electric vehicle incentives targeted to lower-income buyers and underserved communities, including used vehicles.
- Prioritize deploying electric heavy-duty vehicles in disadvantaged communities and magnet facilities such as commercial warehouses in those communities.
- Support transit and zero-emission services and charging stations in disadvantaged communities. This can help reduce vehicle miles traveled and increase accessibility while avoiding displacement.
- Avoid siting non-renewable fuel production facilities in disadvantaged communities, engage communities disproportionately affected by transportation sector emissions in decision-making concerning the siting of new infrastructure and investments associated with achieving carbon neutrality, and continue to carefully monitor and control local pollutants.
“We must confront the legacy of the lack of public and private investment where Black, indigenous and people of color live and work,” said Bernadette Austin, acting director of the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. “This report identifies ways to strategically invest in sustainable infrastructure while intentionally avoiding disruptive and damaging infrastructure in our most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.”
Workforce: The transition to a carbon-neutral transportation system will disrupt jobs in some sectors while creating new jobs in others, like clean vehicle manufacturing and electric and hydrogen fueling infrastructure. The report suggests that California prioritize the needs of impacted workers. In addition, wherever ZEV-related industry expansion creates quality jobs, state policy should focus on creating broadly accessible career pathways.
Economy: The transition to ZEVs is expected to generate savings for consumers and the economy well before 2045. Within the next decade, the cost of owning and operating ZEVs is projected to drop below that of a conventional gasoline or diesel vehicle. That is because battery, fuel cell and hydrogen costs will continue to decline; electricity costs will be much less than petroleum fuel costs; and maintenance costs of ZEVs will be less. These savings can be invested elsewhere by households and businesses.
To reach Gov. Gavin Newsom’s net-zero emission vehicle goal by 2035, officials should put equity goals at the forefront of the state’s strategy or risk falling short of benchmarks and worsening community disparities, according to new research by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. The report highlights challenges and opportunities amid California’s push to cut carbon emissions and local air pollution. The study comes as state lawmakers consider Newsom’s 2021-22 budget proposal, which includes $1.5 billion toward zero-emission vehicle efforts. “As California transitions to a zero-emission transportation system, it needs a robust and multifaceted agenda for equity-centered clean transportation policies,” said JR DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. “Pursuing this agenda of recommendations elevates and builds equity into the next generation of California’s clean transportation policies.” The study, commissioned by the Los Angeles Business Council, underscores that previous clean transportation policies did not equally benefit all Californians. Low-income communities hit hardest by pollution have been largely left behind in the green transition, and disparities threaten to impact communities of all income levels through climate change. The greatest hurdle to meeting environmental goals appears to be directing clean vehicles to moderate- and low-income drivers who are more likely to own older, emissions-heavy vehicles. Researchers recommend lowering the purchase price of new and used zero-emission vehicles, subsidizing vehicle financing, and reducing the cost of charging infrastructure and the electricity or fuel itself. A key recommendation is for zero-emission fleets to be deployed first to disadvantaged communities.
By Christine Wei-li Lee
A group of UCLA engineers has become the first university team to win the grand prize in the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE global competition. By mitigating the carbon footprint of concrete, the team’s invention could eventually be a major step in the global battle against climate change.
The UCLA CarbonBuilt team, led by Gaurav Sant, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, won $7.5 million in the competition’s track for technologies related to coal-fired power generation.
The winning technology is a first-of-its-kind, eco-friendly approach for taking carbon dioxide emissions directly from power plants and other industrial facilities — emissions that would otherwise go into the atmosphere — and infusing them into a new type of concrete invented by the team. As it hardens and gains strength, the specially formulated concrete permanently absorbs and traps the greenhouse gas.
Through extensive research at UCLA and testing at the Integrated Test Center, a facility outside of Gillette, Wyoming, the researchers demonstrated that their process reduced the carbon footprint of concrete by more than 50% while producing concrete that was just as strong and durable as the traditional material.
Each CarbonBuilt concrete block stores about three-quarters of a pound of carbon dioxide — a significant amount considering an estimated 1 trillion concrete blocks will be produced annually by the year 2027.
Sant joined the UCLA faculty in 2010. He and a group of staff scientists, postdoctoral scholars and doctoral students began the research that led to the award in 2014. A team from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, led by Director JR DeShazo, supported the venture with public policy and economic guidance.
“Congratulations to the UCLA team and especially Gaurav for this significant achievement,” DeShazo said.
Sant directs the UCLA Institute for Carbon Management and also holds a faculty appointment in the UCLA Engineering materials science and engineering department.
“As a third-generation civil engineer, I have been fascinated with the role that construction has played in solving societal challenges,” he said. “To have spent the past decade developing a solution to mitigate the carbon footprint of concrete with a phenomenal team, and to have won the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE doing something I’m passionate about, is an ultimate dream come true.”
Sponsored by NRG Energy and Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition was launched in September 2015 to find ways to beneficially use carbon dioxide emissions. The nonprofit XPRIZE Foundation challenged a global community of problem-solvers to develop technologies for turning carbon dioxide from coal and natural gas power plant emissions into valuable products. A Canadian team called CarbonCure won the competition’s other track, for natural gas-based power generation.
UCLA’s entry was one of 47 submissions from 38 teams in seven countries. CarbonBuilt, formerly known as CO2Concrete, was named one of the 10 finalists in October 2017.
Sant said the original inspiration for the winning technology came from an unlikely source: seashells.
“Seashells are made of calcium carbonate, which is nature’s original cementation agent,” he said. “We were really motivated by the idea of how seashells were held together. And that’s how we really set about to turn carbon dioxide into concrete.”
Challenged by experts in academia and industry who said it couldn’t be done, Sant and his team spent the next seven years on a mission to prove them wrong.
First, the UCLA researchers developed a new formula for cement, which is the binding agent in concrete. They used hydrated lime, or portlandite, which can absorb carbon dioxide quickly, to replace traditional calcium silicate cement, known as ordinary portland cement. Then, the team created a method in which carbon dioxide taken directly from flue gas is quickly absorbed by portlandite as the concrete hardens.
In addition to absorbing carbon dioxide into the concrete, CarbonBuilt’s Reversa process reduces the amount of ordinary portland cement needed to produce concrete by between 60% and 90%. The process also occurs at ordinary temperatures and pressures. As a result, CarbonBuilt concrete has a much smaller carbon footprint than conventional concrete. That could go a long way toward reducing the world’s greenhouse gas output, since the production of traditional cement used in concrete is the cause of nearly 9% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.
Another compelling advantage of the new technology is that it is cost-effective. Unlike other carbon-mitigation technologies that require an expensive setup to capture the carbon dioxide emissions or purify them, the CarbonBuilt process allows for carbon dioxide in power and industrial plants’ flue gas to be utilized directly and converted at its source without those extra steps.
“It’s a transformative, eureka moment for UCLA and for science and engineering,” said Jayathi Murthy, the Ronald and Valerie Sugar Dean of UCLA Engineering. “Through sheer tenacity and determination, Gaurav and his team were able to turn a research project into an innovative technology that can solve a real societal problem and drive positive change in the world.”
To advance to the finals, the UCLA researchers demonstrated that their technology could consume 135 kilograms (about 297 pounds) of carbon dioxide in 24 hours. In 2017, the team had to meet certain technical requirements, subject to verification by an independent firm. Those results were then evaluated by a panel of expert judges from academia and industry who assessed the amount of carbon dioxide that was converted into CarbonBuilt concrete, as well as the engineering, environmental and economic value of the construction material.
Originally scheduled for February 2020, the competition’s final round was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2020, the UCLA team deployed to the Integrated Test Center to demonstrate its system on an industrial scale. The demonstration ran for four months and produced nearly 150 metric tons (more than 330,000 pounds) of CarbonBuilt concrete blocks. Some of the concrete blocks were donated to the Eastern Shoshone tribe for housing projects on the Wind River Reservation in Fort Washakie, Wyoming.
The funds from the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE award will support innovative carbon-mitigation research and technology development at UCLA Engineering. CarbonBuilt, which is a private company founded by Sant, has secured rights related to the project’s patent portfolio owned by UCLA to commercialize the technology.
Prior to winning the grand prize, the team has raised $10 million toward the development of the CarbonBuilt technology. In addition to a $500,000 award from the XPRIZE Foundation in 2018 for reaching the finals, Sant secured a $1.8 million grant in 2019 from the Department of Energy. (Additional testing to complete the DOE grant recently concluded at the National Carbon Capture Center in Wilsonville, Alabama.) And the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation contributed $1.5 million in 2017.
Many UCLA faculty members have contributed to the team’s success, including Center for Innovation Director DeShazo, a professor of public policy and of civil and environmental engineering; Dante Simonetti, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering; Laurent Pilon, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and of bioengineering; Richard Kaner, a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry and of materials science and engineering; and Mathieu Bauchy, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.
Additional team members include current and former UCLA Engineering project scientists Dale Prentice, Gabriel Falzone, Iman Mehdipour and Bu Wang; Hyukmin Kweon, a former UCLA postdoctoral scholar; Zhenhua Wei, a former doctoral student in civil and environmental engineering; Camly Tran, executive director of the Institute for Carbon Management; and seasoned industry advisers including Edward Muller, Stephen Raab and CarbonBuilt CEO Rahul Shendure.
New research by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation has identified how effective certain incentives can be in motivating people to use less energy in their homes.
Electricity providers often need to encourage customers to reduce consumption in order to prevent blackouts or to avoid having to activate additional power plants — often natural gas-powered plants that pollute the environment.
The researchers found that promotional messages about how customers could save money on their electricity bills or earn other financial rewards were effective at motivating them to use less energy.
For the study (PDF), which was funded by a grant from the California Energy Commission, the UCLA researchers assessed data from energy bills for more than 20,000 California households in territories served by Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.
The customers all participate in “demand response programs,” which encourage users to save energy at times of high stress on the electrical grid, like during heat waves; they all also used one of two smartphone apps — Chai Energy or OhmConnect — that help users manage their home energy consumption. Often, the apps offered cash incentives to participants for adjusting their thermostats during times when demand for energy was highest.
The study revealed that offering participants financial rewards, on top of the amount of money they’d save simply for using less energy, had a measurable effect on reducing their energy use — although the amount of the financial incentive made relatively little difference. Collectively, the 20,000 households in the study had received over $1 million in rewards over the previous two years through those incentive programs, in addition to the savings on their electricity bills from using the apps.
Encouraging flexibility in our energy system is especially important as the nation’s infrastructure continues to shift to clean energy. For instance, weather can be unpredictable and impact the amount of electricity generated by solar panels or wind turbines. Demand response programs can be effective at reducing energy use during these times to avoid blackouts.
“In more good news for the environment, our study found that demand response programs result in overall reduction in energy use — not merely a shift of consumption to other hours or days,” said JR DeShazo, the study’s principal investigator and the director of the Luskin Center for Innovation.
That finding is particularly significant because some observers had suspected that demand response programs merely encouraged energy customers to shift their electricity use to other times of day — for example, by waiting to run their dishwashers or clothes dryers during overnight hours, when overall energy demand was lower — but without actually reducing the amount of energy they consumed. But the UCLA report concluded that customers’ energy consumption did not increase in the hours or days surrounding a demand response event, suggesting that the approach resulted in actual reductions in consumption.
The households with the greatest reduction in consumption during demand response events were those with solar panels, plug-in electric vehicles and automation devices — gadgets like smart thermostats that can automatically alter energy usage but can be overridden by the owner. For example, automation devices can delay charging an electric vehicle or turn down an air conditioner until an off-peak time.
“Automation devices make participating in demand response programs effortless, and ultimately rewarding,” said Kelly Trumbull, a co-author of the study and a Luskin Center for Innovation researcher. “They also help secure predictable and reliable energy savings.”
Demand response providers typically reward users based on their energy conservation relative to an energy consumption goal assigned by the utility. Researchers found that households reduce their energy use more when that consumption goal is more ambitious, assuming all other factors are constant.
“This finding underscores the importance of setting baselines and communicating them to customers,” DeShazo said. “If we are asked to do more, we often will.”
The study recommends actions utilities and third-party demand response providers — like the ones that market the energy management apps — can take to maximize both the environmental and economic benefits of residential demand response programs, including:
- Offering financial incentives and emphasizing the economic benefits to participants.
- Supporting the adoption of automation devices like smart thermostats.
- Inducing greater energy savings by setting ambitious conservation targets for customers.
Most Californians, depending on their electricity providers, are eligible to participate in existing demand response services.
JR DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, was featured in an Atlantic article about the aftermath of the energy crisis in Texas. State leaders failed to fully prepare for the recent storm, resulting in blackouts across the state that lasted for days. The collapse of the power grid resulted in the deaths of dozens of Texans, and many are pointing to the lapse in state leadership for the mismanagement of the crisis. While this crisis is likely not enough to flip Texas blue, experts predict that the disaster will inspire more Democrats to challenge the state’s ruling party. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott was responsible for appointing the three members of the state’s Public Utility Commission, which regulates the Texas grid. While Abbott is one step removed from the commission, “just like any other agency failure, the chief executive was responsible for the appointments,” said DeShazo, a professor of public policy and urban planning.
JR DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to the Southern California News Group about the rising demand for plastics during the COVID-19 pandemic after years of efforts to curb their use. People ordering takeout food and deliveries of groceries and other goods are “much more likely to increase the amount of plastic that’s in their personal waste stream,” said DeShazo, lead author of a report on the impact of single-use utensils and other plastic waste. As one example, he said, “In the good old days I would have taken my reusable bags to Trader Joe’s and I would have bought a mango and brought that mango home in that reusable bag. Now that mango arrives wrapped in plastic and then wrapped again in a paper bag” — producing twice the amount of waste as before. DeShazo urged consumers to step up sustainable practices by recycling what they can, particularly glass and aluminum.
The setting was virtual this time, but UCLA again figured prominently when the Los Angeles Business Council convened a who’s who of California elected officials and civic leaders for its annual Mayoral Summit on Housing, Transportation and Jobs, an event that UCLA has co-hosted for 18 of its 19 years. “This event is near and dear to our hearts,” Chancellor Gene Block said in welcoming remarks. “As a public institution with a deeply rooted service mission, we view it as our obligation to help address the vexing issues facing our city.” Academic research figured prominently in the daylong event presented in partnership with the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate and the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation directed by JR DeShazo, professor of public policy. He moderated a panel focusing on how to promote zero-emission vehicles in an equitable manner, noting that California’s policy investments have brought low-emission vehicles to 10% of sales, a notable accomplishment. “But we have failed miserably to make those policies beneficial to our low-income communities and communities of color,” DeShazo said. Richard Ziman, who is founding chair of the Los Angeles Business Council, opened the virtual summit, and Stuart Gabriel, professor of finance and director of the Ziman Center, led a session on economic recovery efforts. Jacqueline Waggoner, Miguel A. Santana and Michael Mahdesian of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Board of Advisors also spoke, as did public officials that included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.
JR DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, was featured in a Popular Science article about General Motors’ announcement that it plans to eliminate emissions from passenger vehicles by 2035. “This is a seismic event that is hard to overstate in its importance to America’s transition to zero-emission vehicles,” DeShazo said. The company hopes to expand its electric vehicle fleet to 30 all-electric models and have 40% of the entire fleet composed of battery-electric cars by 2025. According to DeShazo, these plans are the strongest thus far to come from a traditional American automaker. While international companies like Volvo and BMW have announced similar goals, the U.S. industry has lagged behind. GM’s statement is going to force other automakers to respond, which will stimulate competition in the industry, DeShazo explained. However, he added, the adoption of zero-emission vehicles must go hand in hand with investment in renewable energy sources in order to effectively combat climate change.