Giving Microeconomics a Human Face Public Policy professor Manisha Shah’s research bridges a worldwide gap between health, economics and education

By Stan Paul

At age 16, Manisha Shah went to the Andes Mountains of Ecuador — her first chance to dig into “real development work.” The task after a year of fundraising and training? Building latrines in rural communities. Soon after arrival, however, she realized that everyone there “already knew how” to build latrines.

What they actually needed was financing and supplies. “That is what we helped facilitate — paying for and transporting supplies to this faraway town in the middle of the mountains.”

The experience in Ecuador was transformative for Shah, now an associate professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin. It enhanced a developing global view nurtured as a child during family visits to see her grandparents in India, where she saw “poverty all around her.”

Her youthful travels helped put Shah on the path to her career in academia and research around the world — from Mexico to India, Tanzania to Indonesia — and eventually to the Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“Never in a million years would I have predicted that I would be a tenured professor at UCLA,” Shah said. “I feel so lucky to be doing what I love at one of the best universities in the world.”

Getting There

Today, Shah focuses her teaching and research on the intersection of applied microeconomics, health and development. She is supported by organizations that include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the World Bank.

An example of her work is a recent study, “Investing in Human Capital Production: Evidence from India,” that fills a substantial gap in development literature related to whether early-life investments encourage more educational investments later on, whether low-skill wages in rural India increase school dropouts, and whether rural schools produce gains in consumption later in life. The results have widespread implications for family and individual well-being, economic growth and national competitiveness for the country of over a billion people.

Her research affiliations and teaching might suggest otherwise, but Shah’s path was not exactly a straight one. “I don’t think I had a direct route. In fact, it was very indirect,” said Shah, who sought work abroad after earning undergraduate degrees in economics and development
at Berkeley.

“I quickly learned how difficult it is to find a job that will actually pay you to do international work,” she said.

She wound up in a one-year program at the London School of Economics where her master’s thesis in development economics examined HIV/AIDS issues in India and how NGOs were working to fill gaps in countries that were slow to react to potential epidemics.

“This was 1996-97. Getting HIV in a developing country was a death sentence, and so many countries were doing little to publicly acknowledge they even had an HIV problem,” Shah said.

Next was Mexico, and work at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. Shah is fluent in Spanish, and at the time thought she was “done with school and would never come back,” having achieved her goal of working in international development. “I loved the job.”

But there was a catch.

“I knew I wanted to keep doing this type of work, but I also started to realize that the people calling the shots, raising the money, directing things, all had Ph.D.s,” Shah said. So she spent a year doing the math — literally, taking the calculus, statistics and real analysis coursework she needed for a doctoral program at UC Berkeley. “There was almost no literature in economics on HIV/AIDS,” Shah said of her ongoing interest in the intersection of HIV and economics. “I learned that most interventions in development related to HIV/AIDS often targeted sex workers, as they tend to have higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS than the general adult population in most developing countries.”

Shah’s eyes were opened when she learned how many women in developing countries are employed in the sex sector. She saw the implications for public health and noted a lack of serious empirical study, which “began an important area of research for me.”

She recently co-edited the “Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Prostitution,” in which more than 40 researchers from around the world compiled and interpreted valuable economic data and research that may help lawmakers and government officials set policy guidelines concerning prostitution worldwide.

“A number of factors, including the proliferation of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, especially in developing nations, have created the need to look at prostitution through an economic lens,” she said.

And yes, like the teenager who traveled to Ecuador decades ago, Shah is still interested in sanitation, a core issue at the intersection of human health and economics
in developing countries.

Research and Public Policy

Shah refers to herself as an applied microeconomist interested in development economics, health and education. “Most of my research fits into those bins,” Shah said.

She has written papers on the long-term impacts of positive rainfall shocks as well as drought in India on human capital outcomes of young children and adolescents, and risk-taking behaviors in the wake of natural disasters, as well as the effects of cash transfer programs on criminal behavior in Indonesia. Behind each are human stories of how policies affect large populations.

Shah’s research on HIV and the sex industry has wide-ranging implications for the health and well-being of not only adults but also vulnerable young people caught up in prostitution around the world.

“These days most of my work is either related to children or adolescents,” Shah said. “I often joke that my switch to research about children perfectly coincides with my becoming a mother. I remember researching questions about child development when I was pregnant and being surprised about how little we know about many important issues related to child cognitive/health and development.”

Shah is the principal investigator of a randomized controlled trial in Tanzania attempting to understand how to improve sexual and reproductive health outcomes for teenage girls. “I am really excited about this work,” said Shah, who was also recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant to better understand education outcomes for children in rural India.

After teaching stints at the University of Melbourne, Princeton University and UC Irvine, she joined the Luskin faculty in 2013. Today, she teaches microeconomics, development economics and serves as a faculty adviser for the Applied Policy Project (APP), a challenging yearlong requirement for master of public policy students at Luskin.

“Ironically, I learned in grad school that I actually enjoy teaching, and I was sort of good at it,” she said of her classroom duties. Her research topics are heavy, which could lead to frustration about things that should be happening but don’t. “But spend some time with our students and it will put you in a good mood,” she said.

“Our students make me optimistic, and that optimism can be infectious. I love how our students care so deeply about issues that matter to them.”

 

Food for Thought — and Sustainability The first class of UCLA Food Studies scholars receives certificates at Luskin School celebration

By Stan Paul

Five master’s and Ph.D. students from across the UCLA campus are the first graduates of the Food Studies Certificate program administered through the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

The students — all completing their graduate programs at UCLA this year — were awarded their certificates by Wendy Slusser, associate vice provost from UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative, at a celebration and networking event held May 24, 2017, at the Luskin School.

The certificate program, open to all UCLA graduate students, stems from the University of California’s systemwide Global Food Initiative started in 2014 by UC President Janet Napolitano, as well as work already under way at UCLA, recognizing the vital importance of food security, equity and sustainability as a persistent and growing global concern.

Among the evening’s guests was Evan Kleiman, host of the KCRW radio program “Good Food.” The chef, author and radio show host has been a continuing “supporter of all things food studies on campus,” said Alexis Oberlander, department of urban planning graduate advisor and project manager for the Food Studies Certificate program based at Luskin.

The first class began taking courses in fall 2016 starting with a food studies colloquium stressing the cross-disciplinary nature of the growing field ranging from cultural anthropology, geography, law, urban planning, sociology and public health to technology, cell biology and environmental science to name a few. Some of the courses offered through the program focus on food policy and systems, nutrition, cultural aspects of food, maternal and child nutrition, literature, global health, the city as well as family nutrition locally and abroad.

This year’s certificate recipients include Jocelyn Harrison, Nandini Inmula and Meghan O’Connel, all completing their master of public health (MPH) degrees; Yan Wang, completing his Ph.D. in biostatistics; and, Tyler Watson, completing his doctoral program in environmental health sciences.

“All five students were interested in food studies before joining the certificate program, but they all agree that the certificate excels at connecting people from different disciplines,” Oberlander said. She explained that the program helped the students step outside their comfort zones and learn about the interdisciplinary nature of food studies. “That’s what this program is all about. I hope we can continue growing from that point,” said Oberlander, who also helped develop the program at Luskin.

The ceremony also included recognition of 14 new students who have been accepted into the 2017-18 program from across campus. Among the incoming group is Karen Diaz, a master of urban planning and master of public health (MURP/MPH) student who also served as the Food Studies project assistant.

“As a MURP/MPH student, the food studies certificate program is a no-brainer,” said Diaz, who was a community organizer and garden school educator in New Mexico before coming to graduate school at UCLA. “When I began to apply to graduate schools, I was looking for programs that would allow me to specialize in my niche interests of the built environment and communal health in communities of color with a focus on environmental and food justice.”

Diaz, who also is a teaching assistant for the UCLA course “Good Food for Everyone — Health Sustainability and Culture,” said she was inspired to analyze power structures, and how they benefited certain people and excluded others in her community of southeast Los Angeles. “I was inspired to apply as a dual applicant to better understand these power dynamics and to better help leverage resources in my own community,” she said.

More information about the Food Studies Certificate program can be found online.

 

Save Every Drop While We Still Can International water expert Brian Richter joins California government officials for a panel at UCLA Luskin that stresses urgent need to conserve in an increasingly drought-plagued world

By Aaron Julian

“Every Californian should think about water the same way they think about electricity — you just don’t waste it.”

This sentiment expressed by Debbie Franco of the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research is typical of the conservation advice offered by a panel of water experts during a Feb. 22, 2017, presentation at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Spearheading the discussion was Brian Richter, an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia and author of the book “Chasing Water.” Richter outlined the historical relationship between humanity and water. He also explained his ideas to formulate a “water market” that would monetarily encourage responsible water usage on the personal, industrial and governmental levels.

“Disruption needs to happen more on the governmental level,” said Richter about the best approach to lessen overuse and foster more cooperation between city, local and state governments regarding an ongoing world water crisis. An example of intergovernmental partnerships is San Diego’s annual $60-million investment to encourage smarter water use by farmers in the Imperial Irrigation District in return for access to a third of the city’s water supply.

The Luskin Center for Innovation’s Greg Pierce led a question and answer session with the panelists regarding water conservation policy. Photo by Les Dunseith

Water is especially important for California governments and residents in light of the historic drought affecting the region. During a question and answer session led by the Luskin Center for Innovation’s Greg Pierce MA U.P. ’11 UP PhD ’15, panelists discussed how to keep momentum toward sustainable water systems despite recent downpours estimated at about 19 total inches of rain — equal to about 27 billion gallons of water.

Franco argued that the solution to the water issue needs to go beyond collaborative government — it has to become a way of life.

“One of the key elements that we are missing in California are folks that understand water,” she said. “We need people to feel like they are water managers in their own home. That’s an important first step toward a thriving and active participation in local government.”

She said such participation helps propel effective action at all levels. Richter added that “77 percent of all Americans have absolutely no idea where their water comes from.”

He noted a core argument of his book, that in order to have a fully active and informed citizenry, the science and policy communities need to fully understand water themselves.

Panelist Liz Crosson from the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office told the large crowd that attended the session that Los Angeles has instituted a Save the Drop campaign in partnership with the mayor’s fund, working to reach a 20 percent reduction from the 103 gallon per day of water usage per capita in the city. Even if successful, that mark is well short of Australia’s average of 50 gallons per day as noted by Richter in his book and lecture.

The city’s plan involves combating water illiteracy in combination with incentives and restrictions on water use. The city has also updated its rate structure to be more compatible with different socioeconomic brackets.

Still, Crosson warned, “Here in L.A., just because it is raining does not mean our water supply is in much better shape. We are trying to change that, but that’s a long time coming. This is now about a Californian way of life.”

Panelist Angela George of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works said she believes the most effective methodology would be a campaign to instill in children the techniques and habits of water conservation. “It is important to get into our schools and educate where our water comes from — a local perspective.”

Amid a crowd that included UCLA Luskin students and faculty as well as interested members of the community, passions sometimes ran high, with some questioning whether current efforts and ideas are sufficient to truly improve water conservation.

Panelists noted the importance of individuals working closely with local government in order to push for reforms they want to see.

“You have to find out how to mobilize the political wherewithal,” Franco said. “Show up and know what’s going on, and keep telling what you want.”

The lecture and panel discussion were put together by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation in partnership with Island Press as part of a speaker series known as Luskin Innovators.

A Multimillion-Dollar Boost to Tackle Transportation Challenges Grant will support UCLA Luskin’s Institute of Transportation Studies as part of a research collaboration in a new regional center

By Stan Paul

Thanks to a multimillion-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, faculty, staff researchers, and students affiliated with the UCLA Luskin Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) will be part of a new regional transportation center that will tackle some of the most important transportation issues facing America.

“Universities are at the forefront of identifying solutions, researching critical emerging issues and ensuring improved access to opportunity for all Americans,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said in announcing more than $300 million in grants to 32 University Transportation Centers (UTCs) nationwide, selected from among 212 proposals submitted. “This competition supports the future transportation workforce by providing students with opportunities to take part in cutting-edge research with leading experts in the field.”

UCLA Luskin’s ITS will collaborate on this new center with USC and universities in four states — California, Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii — as well as the U.S. Pacific Island territories. The new Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center is one of ten new federal regional centers, and will focus on transportation issues facing the southwestern and Pacific regions of the U.S.

“We are thrilled to be a partner in this new university transportation research center, and by the opportunity it presents to our faculty and students to conduct needed research on the many transportation challenges facing our region,” said Brian Taylor UP PhD ’92, director of the UCLA ITS and a professor of Urban Planning at UCLA Luskin. Taylor noted that the new center will address new transportation technologies, improving mobility for vulnerable populations, improving transportation system resilience and protecting the environment, and managing mobility in high-growth urban areas.

“This new center will help the Institute of Transportation Studies continue to recruit the best and the brightest transportation students to UCLA for graduate study, and it will in addition support both faculty and students across the campus in conducting a wide range of research projects — from harnessing the benefits of cleaner technology-driven smart mobility, to better serving the mobility needs of the poor,” explained Taylor, who also leads the Luskin School’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.

The five-year, $14-million DOT grant will be matched by an additional $14 million from the California Department of Transportation and other sources to support a wide array of research, education and technology transfer programs at the consortium member universities. Taylor said the new center will bring at least $500,000 per year to UCLA, with more than half of that amount funding graduate student fellowships and research projects.

The new Pacific Southwest Region UTC will be directed by USC professor Genevieve Giuliano, who in winter and spring of 2016 was the Harvey Perloff Distinguished Visiting Professor of Urban Planning in the UCLA Luskin School. The other participating institutions in the consortium are Cal State Long Beach, UC Davis, UC Irvine, the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Northern Arizona University and Pima Community College.

 

Angelenos On Track to Meet 2017 Water Conservation Goals New study by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation reinforces importance of turf removal

Two years after Mayor Eric Garcetti signed Executive Directive 5 (ED 5), putting in place strong, emergency drought response measures for the City of Los Angeles, water customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) remain ahead of schedule in meeting citywide water conservation goals.

Water use by LADWP customers remains down approximately 20 percent from 2014 levels, meeting the goal for 2017 as set forth in ED 5 and the LA’s Sustainable City pLAn ahead of schedule. LADWP water officials attribute much of the success to Angelenos’ continued actions to reduce outdoor watering and replace water-thirsty turf with drought tolerant landscapes. Approximately 50 percent of residential water use in Los Angeles is attributed to uses outdoors and LADWP’s turf replacement rebate program has resulted in 37 million square feet of turf being removed in the City of Los Angeles, saving 1.6 billion gallons of water each year.  That’s enough water to supply 15,000 LA households each year. LADWP currently provides participating customers a rebate of $1.75 per square foot to rip out turf and replace it with California friendly landscaping. The rebate level has been maintained by LADWP even after the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) eliminated its additional $2.00 per square foot rebate in 2015.

A new study by UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation shows that $1.75 per square foot is a reasonable amount that pays off for both residential households who utilize the rebate and LADWP ratepayers.

The Luskin Center’s report, Turf Replacement Program Impacts on Households and Ratepayers: An Analysis for the City of Los Angeles, answers two questions: Under what conditions does participation in the turf replacement program provide financial benefits to households? And is the turf replacement program a reasonably cost effective investment for utilities and ratepayers?

In order to assess the economics of lawn replacement from the household perspective the report measures the impact of different rebate levels, turf replacement costs, climate zones (determined by different evapotranspiration rates across the city), and future expected water pricing on household financial benefits. The report calculates the payback periods for ratepayers based on varying levels of household participation in the turf replacement program and different levels of rebates. Rebates offered at $1.75 result in a payback period for typical households and ratepayers of approximately 10 years, comparable to other investments like solar.

“Angelenos are the water heroes of California — we’ve pulled up 37 million square feet of thirsty turf, more than two-thirds of the state’s target, and reduced our water use 20 percent,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti. “We have made amazing progress in the two years since I signed an executive directive to respond to our drought, and the study released Monday shows that our incentives are working. But we can always do more, and I’m proud of our Department of Water and Power for making sensible, effective improvements to our turf rebate program.”

“Turf replacement programs, when well designed, are an essential conservation tool for communities to become more drought and climate resilient,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.

To further the benefits of its turf rebate program, LADWP recently updated the program guidelines. The amended terms and conditions will continue to promote the installation of native and California Friendly low water-use plants while ensuring each project incorporates sustainable design elements that benefit the customer and help contribute to the City’s future water conservation goals.

Changes to the turf rebate program include:

No longer providing rebates for the installation of synthetic turf;

Increasing California Friendly plant coverage required from 40% to 50%;

Limiting the amount of rock, gravel, or decomposed granite to 25% of the total project;

Incorporating rainfall capture techniques in project designs;

No longer permitting the use of synthetic or chemically treated mulch;

And recommending the use of biodegradable (natural/organic) weed barriers (instead of synthetic weed barriers).

“These turf rebate guideline changes allow LADWP to push an already positive sustainability program for our environment to an even higher, healthier standard,” LADWP General Manager David Wright said.

The program changes will assist LADWP customers in better capturing, conserving, and reusing water to prevent runoff on their property and reduce water demand. In addition to these water-saving benefits, by requiring program participants to minimize the use of materials such as gravel, pavers, decomposed granite, and synthetic turf – materials that often create a “heat island” effect on properties by absorbing the sun’s heat – LADWP aims to lower surface and temperatures on properties. This added benefit may assist customers in limiting energy use by reducing the need for air conditioning.

To learn more about LADWP’s turf rebate and other water conservation programs, please visit myLADWP.com.

UCLA’s Carbon Upcycling Team Advances to Semifinals of Carbon XPRIZE Competition

By Stan Paul

An interdisciplinary team of UCLA researchers has advanced to the semifinal round of a global competition to reduce greenhouse gases through groundbreaking scientific and technological innovation.

The UCLA team, Carbon Upcycling — representing a campuswide collaboration of chemistry, biochemistry, materials science, economics, public policy and engineering (mechanical, civil and environmental) researchers — is among 27 teams moving one step closer to a share of the $20-million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE.

“Advancing to the next round of the Carbon XPRIZE confirms the potential of our carbon upcycling technology, and further motivates the team toward its end goal, that is the realization of a carbon-neutral cementation solution at scale,” said Gaurav Sant, one of five UCLA faculty members leading the 13-member team. Sant is an associate professor and Henry Samueli Fellow in Civil and Environmental Engineering at UCLA.

J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation and a professor of Public Policy in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, is one of the leaders of the project. “The XPRIZE competition not only inspires innovation, but also provides an opportunity to showcase the talent at UCLA and the incredible power of collaboration,” DeShazo said. “We look forward to the next stage of discovery and development.”

The competition, which was launched in 2015, “addresses global CO2 emissions by incentivizing innovative solutions to convert CO2 from a liability into an asset,” according to a Carbon XPRIZE press release announcing the selection of teams moving forward in the competition.

Carbon Upcycling uses CO2 emissions from power plants and turns them into a replacement material for cement called CO2NCRETE. Common concrete, which is produced in countries around the globe, is responsible for nearly 5 percent of emissions worldwide. The UCLA team is among six teams vying in both competition tracks: Track A — coal, and Track B — natural gas. Other semifinal teams from the United States, Canada, China, India, Switzerland and Scotland have focused on turning the climate-changing gas into products ranging from toothpaste to fish food.

According to the Carbon XPRIZE announcement, the semifinals will work as follows:

  • Teams will demonstrate their innovative technology at pilot scale at a location of their own choosing, using either real flue gas or simulated flue gas stream.
  • Over a 10-month period, teams must meet minimum requirements and will be scored on how much CO2 they convert and the net value of their products.
  • Following judging scheduled for November and December 2017, up to five teams in each track that score the highest will share a $2.5-million milestone purse and move onto the finals of the competition, demonstrating their technology at real-world power plants.

Read the full Carbon XPRIZE release online at:
http://carbon.xprize.org/press-release/27-teams-advancing-20m-nrg-cosia-carbon-xprize

For more information about the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, visit carbon.xprize.org

For more information about UCLA Carbon Upcycling team, please visit: http://www.co2upcycling.com/members/

Read the earlier UCLA story: http://luskin.ucla.edu/2016/03/14/carbon-upcycling-turning-co2-into-a-new-sustainable-co2ncrete/

UCLA Luskin Lends a Hand as #BruinsGiveBack Luskin staff members, alum help out at Wattles Farm as part of UCLA Volunteer Day

By Stan Paul

With a little help from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, a group of new Bruins has found a way to forge a new path — from day one.

As thousands of Class of 2020 UCLA students fanned out across Los Angeles to more than 50 sites, 45 freshmen volunteered at Wattles Farm — a lush oasis just off L.A.’s famous Hollywood Boulevard — where they helped clean up more than 4.2 acres of pathways at the community center.

Luskin staff helped coordinate the activities and served as UCLA Volunteer Day task captains at the community garden. The Luskin School has adopted the site and coordinated the volunteer effort at Wattles Farm for the last three years, according to Marisa Lemorande, director of alumni relations and director of social media at the Luskin School.

“This aligns well with the Luskin School’s commitment to service,” Lemorande said. She also donned a yellow task captain shirt and worked with the busload of Bruin student volunteers.

“I wanted to help out the community,” said freshman Tiffany Hoang, a biology major who worked with fellow freshman Susan Munguia, an applied mathematics major, filling a wheelbarrow with organic materials for use on the paths.

UCLA junior Leah Broukhim said the event was a great opportunity to connect with students and make sure that new students “get good feelings” for UCLA from the start.

Faculty, staff and Bruin upperclassmen also volunteered to pitch in and supervise some of the work — clearing paths of weeds and stubborn roots, and smoothing out the winding walkways. UCLA Luskin staff members Ricardo Quintero and Ari Gilliam and Public Policy alumna Amanda Daninger also were on hand as volunteer supervisors.

Toby Leaman, who serves as board president and co-head garden master at Wattles, said the farm has participated in UCLA Volunteer Day since it started. “We are so thankful,” Leaman said. “It has helped us so much. We are grateful for UCLA helping us out.”

Leaman, who has been with the community garden for 23 years, said that Wattles farms reaches out to the community by giving tours and hosting students and organizations to show adults and children how things are grown. The gardens include pumpkins, squash, coffee beans and various fruits, as well as herbs and a wide range of native plants.

Also stopping by was Los Angeles District 4 councilmember David E. Ryu, a UCLA alum. “This is a hidden gem,” Ryu said. “I love Wattles Farm.”

UCLA Carbon Upcycling Team Enters XPrize Interdisciplinary researchers, including UCLA Luskin faculty and students, will compete with teams from around the world vying for $20-million NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize

Carbon Upcycling, an interdisciplinary team from UCLA, has announced its official entry into the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE. Carbon Upcycling, headquartered in Los Angeles with 13 team members, is among a growing number of teams from around the world vying for a share of the $20-million prize purse.

The Carbon XPRIZE is a competition that challenges teams to develop breakthrough technologies that convert the most CO2 into one or more products with the highest net value. Co-sponsored by NRG and COSIA, the multi-year competition is designed to address CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, a leading contributor to climate change.

Carbon Upcycling is composed of UCLA professors, students, and staff. The team has formed over the past year to explore new approaches for developing construction materials. Led by five distinguished professors including Gaurav Sant, associate professor and Henry Samueli Fellow in Civil and Environmental Engineering, and J.R. DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center and professor of Public Policy, Urban Planning and Environmental Engineering, the team has succeeded in developing a new technology which transforms waste carbon dioxide from power plants into a new building material that can replace cement, a material responsible for approximately 5 percent of worldwide CO2 emissions.

“We have proof of concept that we can do this,” DeShazo said. “But we need to begin the process of increasing the volume of material and then think about how to pilot it commercially. It’s one thing to prove these technologies in the laboratory. It’s another to take them out into the field and see how they work under real-world conditions.”

By removing CO2 from power plant smokestacks this technology reduces the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions and could be a game-changer for climate policy, DeShazo said.

For more information about team Carbon Upcycling, please visit http://www.co2upcycling.com/. High-resolution images, video and other team materials are available upon request.

For more information about the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, visit http://carbon.xprize.org.

Carbon Upcycling: Turning CO2 into a New, Sustainable CO2NCRETE Interdisciplinary research team at UCLA discovers a game-changing technology to capture and repurpose carbon dioxide

By George Foulsham

Imagine a world with little or no concrete. Would that even be possible? After all, concrete is everywhere — on our roads, our driveways, in our homes, bridges and buildings. For the past 200 years, it’s been the very foundation of much of our planet.

But the production of cement, which when mixed with water forms the binding agent in concrete, is also one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, about 5 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from concrete.

An even larger source of CO2 emissions is flue gas emitted from smokestacks at power plants around the world. Carbon emissions from those plants are the largest source of harmful global greenhouse gas in the world.

A team of interdisciplinary researchers at UCLA has been working on a unique solution that may help eliminate these sources of greenhouse gases. Their plan would be to create a closed-loop process: capturing carbon from power plant smokestacks and using it to create a new building material — CO2NCRETE — that would be fabricated using 3D printers. That’s “upcycling.”

“What this technology does is take something that we have viewed as a nuisance — carbon dioxide that’s emitted from smokestacks — and turn it into something valuable,” said J.R. DeShazo, professor of Public Policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

“I decided to get involved in this project because it could be a game-changer for climate policy,” DeShazo said. “This technology tackles global climate change, which is one of the biggest challenges that society faces now and will face over the next century.”

DeShazo has provided the public policy and economic guidance for this research. The scientific contributions have been led by Gaurav Sant, associate professor and Henry Samueli Fellow in Civil and Environmental Engineering; Richard Kaner, distinguished professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Materials Science and Engineering; Laurent Pilon, professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Bioengineering; and Matthieu Bauchy, assistant professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

This isn’t the first attempt to capture carbon emissions from power plants. It’s been done before, but the challenge has been what to do with the CO2 once it’s captured.

“We hope to not only capture more gas,” DeShazo said, “but we’re going to take that gas and, instead of storing it, which is the current approach, we’re going to try to use it to create a new kind of building material that will replace cement.”

“The approach we are trying to propose is you look at carbon dioxide as a resource — a resource you can reutilize,” Sant said. “While cement production results in carbon dioxide, just as the production of coal or the production of natural gas does, if we can reutilize CO2 to make a building material which would be a new kind of cement, that’s an opportunity.”

The researchers are excited about the possibility of reducing greenhouse gas in the U.S., especially in regions where coal-fired power plants are abundant. “But even more so is the promise to reduce the emissions in China and India,” DeShazo said. “China is currently the largest greenhouse gas producer in the world, and India will soon be No. 2, surpassing us.”

deshazo-gaurav

J.R. DeShazo, left, and Gaurav Sant. Photo by Roberto Gudino

Thus far, the new construction material has been produced only at a lab scale, using 3D printers to shape it into tiny cones. “We have proof of concept that we can do this,” DeShazo said. “But we need to begin the process of increasing the volume of material and then think about how to pilot it commercially. It’s one thing to prove these technologies in the laboratory. It’s another to take them out into the field and see how they work under real-world conditions.”

“We can demonstrate a process where we take lime and combine it with carbon dioxide to produce a cement-like material,” Sant said. “The big challenge we foresee with this is we’re not just trying to develop a building material. We’re trying to develop a process solution, an integrated technology which goes right from CO2 to a finished product.

“3D printing has been done for some time in the biomedical world,” Sant said, “but when you do it in a biomedical setting, you’re interested in resolution. You’re interested in precision. In construction, all of these things are important but not at the same scale. There is a scale challenge, because rather than print something that’s 5 centimeters long, we want to be able to print a beam that’s 5 meters long. The size scalability is a really important part.”

Another challenge is convincing stakeholders that a cosmic shift like the researchers are proposing is beneficial — not just for the planet, but for them, too.

“This technology could change the economic incentives associated with these power plants in their operations and turn the smokestack flue gas into a resource countries can use, to build up their cities, extend their road systems,” DeShazo said. “It takes what was a problem and turns it into a benefit in products and services that are going to be very much needed and valued in places like India and China.”

DeShazo cited the interdisciplinary team of researchers as a reason for the success of the project. “What UCLA offers is a brilliant set of engineers, material scientists and economists who have been working on pieces of this problem for 10, 20, 30 years,” he said. “And we’re able to bring that team together to focus on each stage.”

According to Sant, UCLA is the perfect place to tackle sustainability challenges.

“As one of the leading universities in the world, we see ourselves as having a blue-sky approach,” Sant said. “We see ourselves wanting to develop technologies that might be considered fanciful at one point but become reality very quickly. So we see ourselves looking at a blue sky and saying, well then, let’s come up with ideas which will change the world.”

Susanna Hecht on Climate Change Professor Susan Hecht works to achieve the UC system`s goal of carbon neutrality by 2025

By Stan Paul 

For Urban Planning professor Susanna Hecht, the future of life on this planet as we know it is a matter of degrees — a scant few at that.

Hecht is part of a group of 50 University of California scholars and scientists addressing the 10-campus Carbon Neutrality Initiative proposed by UC President Janet Napolitano in 2013. Under this initiative, the University of California aspires to become carbon neutral by 2025. Recent California legislation also calls for a marked increase in the amount of renewable resources providing electricity in California by 2030.

Hecht and her UC colleagues, led by Veerabhadran Ramanathan (renowned climate scientist from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography), are among those who want to “bend the curve,” or the “hockey stick” graph as Hecht refers to it, on the rise in global temperatures caused by greenhouse gases. A mere two-degree change in average temperature will portend future disaster from drought to sea-level rise, and changing weather patterns that most of the globe is not prepared for, according to experts representing a wide range of disciplines.

Hecht said, “We are already in the middle of this…and a lot of records are being broken on a weekly basis.”

The group of UC scholars, from fields as diverse as ethics and environmental justice to climate science and religion, met in October at the University of California’s Summit on Pathways to Carbon and Climate Neutrality: California and the World, led by California Governor Jerry Brown. The purpose of the meeting was to focus on solutions that could guide the state but also to provide solutions that could be used worldwide. UC research and recommendations were also part of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris.

In addition to carbon (which has a long life in the atmosphere), Hecht points out the many other factors that contribute to temperature rise, such as methane and HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) released into the environment, as well as the “heat island” effect our built environment, roads and urban centers create.

As a “carbon sink,” the tropical rainforest absorbs millions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere, and Hecht points out that deforestation of the Amazon has dropped significantly in the last decade. This has had an impact, but the rainforest can’t do it alone, especially when deforestation continues in other parts of the world such as Indonesia.

Change will require not only scientific innovation but also social innovation that focuses on our relationship with forests, said the co-editor of “The Social Lives of Forests: Present and Future of Woodland Resurgence.”