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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/

A Guide to Turn the L.A. River Green UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation creates a toolkit to help communities navigate paths to improving the river’s greenbelt

By George Foulsham

If you’re looking for an example of what communities can do to take advantage of the land that adjoins the Los Angeles River, look no further than Marsh Park — 3.9 acres of greenway in the Elysian Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles, not far from downtown.

The park features trees, green infrastructure, play and fitness equipment, a walking path, picnic tables and an open-air pavilion, all built around a large industrial building that houses a company that takes modular shipping containers and turns them into residences for the homeless.

The park also serves as a gateway to the L.A. River and is one of the case studies used by researchers from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation in preparing a new Los Angeles River Greenway Guide. The guide is now available online.

“The L.A. River Greenway Guide consists of 14 case studies that highlight different parks, pathways, access points and bridges that have been constructed along the river,” J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation, said. “What we have tried to do is to identify successful examples of improvements in the river greenway and then identify the challenges and the obstacles that those improvements faced so that other communities can learn from their successes, challenges and, sometimes, their failures.”

Marsh Park is one of the 14 case studies used by Luskin researchers to create the L.A. River Greenway Guide. Photo by Andrew Pasillas

The guide highlights four types of projects: bridges across the river, pathways along the river, community access points that connect communities to the river, and parks next to the river. It looks at the history of various efforts, identifies the challenges faced in each of those projects and spells out how those obstacles were overcome, leading to successful riverside gateways.

One example of useful information provided by the guide is a section on overcoming the hurdles associated with ownership and governance issues, with hints on how to deal with easement, maintenance and permit questions.

The guide will be unveiled at a free event, “A Night at the L.A. River,” on Saturday, Sept. 10, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Frog Spot, 2825 Benedict St., in Los Angeles. It is co-sponsored by the Luskin Center for Innovation and the Friends of the Los Angeles River. The event will include a panel discussion on the “L.A. River Greenway Through Public-Private Partnership,” featuring Michael Affeldt of the L.A. mayor’s office.

The L.A. River, which starts in the Simi Hills and meanders 51 miles to the Port of Long Beach, has been called one of Los Angeles’ most ill-used natural treasures but also a neglected eyesore that looks more like a deserted freeway than a river.

In recent decades, concerted efforts have sought to revitalize and repurpose the river and its adjoining greenbelt. Graduate student researchers and scholars at the Luskin Center, part of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, are working with stakeholders, communities and organizations in an attempt to create a new future for the river and its environs.

The Luskin students, guided by DeShazo, deputy director Colleen Callahan and project manager Kelsey Jessup, produced the toolkit after receiving feedback at a workshop hosted by the Luskin Center earlier this year. Participants included staff, advocates and leaders from the communities, as well as nonprofits, government agencies, elected officials, policymakers, business and business associations, and academics, researchers and students.

The Luskin students have met with representatives from the communities that border the L.A. River, seeking their input and concerns. The new guide reflects the Luskin team’s research and recommendations.

“We think about the L.A. River greenway as an opportunity to enhance a 51-mile stretch adjacent to the L.A. River,” said Andrew Pasillas, a Luskin researcher who graduated in June with a master’s degree in urban planning. “In choosing a range of focus for the guide, we first held a lower L.A. River workshop which over 100 community residents and organizations attended. We heard from them what would be most beneficial in their efforts to develop projects, talking about these specific development processes and where they stumbled in the past.”

According to DeShazo, the researchers studied examples of successful projects — often near the northern part of the river — and “we thought about how those opportunities could be realized in the lower parts of the river where there are fewer river amenities and the greenway is more incomplete.”

The guide, Jessup said, is also a nod to what has already been accomplished.

“The Luskin Center’s Greenway Guide aims to do two important things,” Jessup said. “The first is to document the incredible work that has already happened along the river. Organizations have been implementing projects along all 51 miles and there is no real way for anyone to learn about all the projects, the details and the incredible work that has happened.

“Our second goal,” she added, “is to provide a resource for community members, government agencies and anyone who wants to do a project — to better understand the challenges that come with doing a project along the river and to come up with solutions to overcome those challenges.”

The researchers studied the history of the river — why it was ignored for so many years and what helped transform the region’s approach from what had been nothing more than a flood-control mechanism.

“Revitalizing the river has been challenging because there has been a long history of isolating it from the public,” Pasillas said. “Stretching back to the early 1930s and ’40s, there was a series of devastating floods that led to the thought process that we have to place concrete on the river itself to protect people.”

“There’s been a disconnect between the people of Los Angeles and the river,” Jessup said. “A lot of people don’t even know there is a river, and if they do, they think it’s this concrete channel that is in the way and dividing communities.

“But there’s been a shift over the past few decades and a lot of communities are seeing the river as a resource and an opportunity, especially along the greenway, for health, transportation, environmental and economic benefits,” she added. “The Luskin Center started this guide because we saw an opportunity to complement some of the other efforts that are being made to help connect the community to the river.”

According to the researchers, the guide is an example of how the Luskin Center can help communities in Los Angeles and throughout Southern California overcome obstacles.

“We hope that this guide can serve to empower communities by bringing forth the voices of river-adjacent communities that have never been heard before,” Jessup said. “The idea of a complete river greenway is the equitable distribution of different project types for different communities and residents to enjoy.”

UCLA and the Luskin Center chose to take on the guide because of the university’s expertise in urban planning.

“We bring together skills — whether it be ecology, park design or financing expertise — needed to help bring these projects to fruition,” DeShazo said. “We are very committed to engaging with Los Angeles and the communities that make up Los Angeles and working with them to make sure their vision of their section of the greenway is realized.”

The L.A. River Greenway Guide was made possible by donations from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, the Bohnett Foundation and the California Endowment.

Bicycle paths are just one of the many recreational opportunities along the L.A. River. Photo by Andrew Pasillas

Bicycle paths are just one of the many recreational opportunities along the L.A. River. Photo by Andrew Pasillas

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.

Luskin Center sets out to make L.A. a greener place to live, work The Luskin Center for Innovation has set a goal to produce research that will help Los Angeles become more environmentally sustainable

By Cynthia Lee

Green power. Solar energy incentives. Renewable energy. Smart water systems. Planning for climate change. Clean tech in L.A. For the next three years, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation has set an ambitious goal to produce research that will help Los Angeles and state and federal agencies reach the Holy Grail of environmental sustainability.

Five Luskin scholars are working on initiatives that could change how residents, businesses, industries and government meet the challenge of living more sustainably. The Luskin center is carrying out a mission that was broadly outlined by Chancellor Gene Block in his inaugural address on May 13, 2008: to marshal the university’s intellectual resources campuswide and work toward intense civic engagement to solve vexing local and regional problems. “I believe that UCLA can have its greatest impact by focusing its expertise from across the campus to comprehensively address problems that plague Los Angeles,” the chancellor told an audience in Royce Hall.

With an agenda packed with six hefty research initiatives, the center is diving into that task under the leadership of its new director, J.R. DeShazo, an environmental economist and associate professor of public policy who also heads the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. DeShazo took the reins in October when the center moved from the Chancellor’s Office to the School of Public Affairs, a move that took advantage of the school’s outward orientation. “It’s focused on policy solutions, so this is a natural place for us to grow,” DeShazo said. “But even though the center is located here, we’re very cross-disciplinary. We have researchers from chemistry, public health, engineering, the Anderson management school, the Institute of the Environment (IoE) and public policy.”

The five scholars working on the six initiatives are DeShazo; Yoram Cohen, an engineering professor and director of the Water Technology Research Center; Magali Delmas, professor of management and the IoE; Hilary Godwin, professor of environmental health sciences; and Matt Kahn, professor of economics in the departments of Economics and Public Policy and IoE. “We started off by identifying problems that our community is facing and that it can’t solve,” DeShazo said. Then, they asked two questions: “Does UCLA have the research capacity to address this deficit? And can we find a civic partner who can make use of this new knowledge?” Proposals were prioritized by a 16-member advisory board with a broad representation of business and nonprofit executives, elected officials and a media expert. Among the high-profile board members are State Senators Carol Liu and Fran Pavley; Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board; Los Angeles Council President Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel; Assemblymember Mike Feuer; John Mack, chairman of the Police Commission; and William Ouchi, professor of the Anderson School and chairman of the Riordan Programs.

“We take our research ideas and develop real-world solutions that can be passed on to a civic partner with whom we can engage and support,” DeShazo said. “We let them carry through with the politics of policy reform as well as the implementation. We don’t get involved in advocacy.” An array of local green research DeShazo recently completed Luskin’s first initiative with his research on designing a solar energy program for L.A. that would minimize costs to ratepayers. His research – the basis of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s new energy policy – proposes a solar feed-in tariff that would help everyone from homeowners and nonprofits to commercial property owners buy solar panels and be able to sell their solar energy to utility companies for a small profit.

Other Luskin research initiatives involve creating smart water systems for Southern California with water reclamation, treatment and reuse (UCLA researcher Cohen will work in partnership with the Metropolitan Water District); helping local governments plan for climate change (DeShazo with the California Air Resources Board and the Southern California Association of Governments); and reducing toxic exposures to nanomaterials in California (Godwin with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.) In another initiative in partnership with the Mayor’s Office and the California Air Resources Board, researchers are compiling a database of jobs created by clean tech activities in L.A. County and will document best practices that other cities have used to attract and support clean tech development. Luskin’s Kahn is working with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District to pinpoint what determines how much electricity is used by residential and commercial consumers and how the district can market its major green energy programs to increase participation.

Finally, Delmas is looking into whether the Green Business Certification Program approved recently by the City Council will reduce the overall carbon footprint of small businesses. The program offers incentives and assistance to small business owners in L.A. to become more efficient and less wasteful in their everyday practices. Those businesses that meet certain “green” criteria will be certified as being environmentally friendly. Her partner in this venture is the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

UP Doctoral Students Receive Rishwain Social Justice Entrepreneurship Awards Two urban planning doctoral students were recognized for their outstanding contributions to community based social entrepreneurship

The Center for Community Partnerships has announced the winners of the first Rishwain Social Justice Entrepreneurship Award:   Urban Planning doctoral students Ava Bromberg and John Scott-Railton were recognized for their outstanding contributions to community based social entrepreneurship, serving the community in ground-breaking ways.

Ava Bromberg created a Mobile Planning Lab, a converted camper designed to take urban planning issues to low-income residents in South Los Angeles. Working with the Figueroa Corridor Coalition for Economic Justice and the United Neighbors in Defense against Displacement, she created the project “Visions for Vermont,” which helps to engage residents in land use plans by providing a mobile, neutral, and local setting for neighbors and city planners to go over models, maps and data, and to discuss the future development and growth of their communities. Her project has given a voice to residents to show city planners the concerns and comments of the neighborhood in order to create sustainable development.

Halfway across the world, in Dakar, Senegal, John Scott-Railton has been working to solve “collective action” problems in villages as they seek to deal with unseasonable rains and devastating floods that are related to climate change. Using inexpensive handheld technology, John has partnered with Senegalese universities, climate scientists and their students, non-profit organizations, and community members to apply sophisticated mapping techniques, hybridized surveys, and linked satellite mapping to the village level toward developing more effective, long-term parcel-based solutions. As Railton continues his fieldwork, he plans to redouble efforts to steer local officials towards a pilot program in which community members and the government share responsibility for mitigating flooding.

A ceremony was held in Royce Hall to honor the recipients for their social justice entrepreneurial work with opening remarks by Dean Franklin D. Gilliam Jr. of the School of Public Affairs and a keynote address by Professor Jonathan Greenblatt, Anderson School of Management.

For more details see the recent article at the website for the UCLA Newsroom.

UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation Releases Solar Feed-in Tariff Report Informing Renewable Energy Policy in Los Angeles The Luskin Center for Innovation at the UCLA School of Public Affairs unites the intellectual capital of UCLA with the Los Angeles Business Council to publish a report on an effective feed-in tariff system for the greater Los Angeles area

By Minne Ho

The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and the Los Angeles Business Council has publicly released the report, “Designing an Effective Feed-in Tariff for Greater Los Angeles.” The report was unveiled yesterday at the Los Angeles Business Council’s Sustainability Summit, attended by hundreds of the city’s elected officials and business, nonprofit, and civic leaders.

J.R. DeShazo, the director UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation, has long studied how governments can promote and help implement environmentally friendly energy policies. His recent research on solar energy incentive programs, conducted with Luskin Center research project manager Ryan Matulka and other colleagues at UCLA, has already become the basis for a new energy policy introduced by the city of Los Angeles.

On Monday, March 15, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced an ambitious program to move the city’s energy grid toward renewable energy sources over the next decade. Included in the plan is a provision — based in large part on the Luskin Center research — for a “feed-in tariff,” which would encourage residents to install solar energy systems that are connected to the city’s power grid.

The overall plan would require ratepayers to pay 2.7 cents more per kilowatt hour of electricity consumed, with 0.7 cents of that — a so-called carbon surcharge — going to the city’s Renewable Energy and Efficiency Trust, a lockbox that will specifically fund two types of programs: energy efficiency and the solar power feed-in tariff.

Under the feed-in tariff system, homeowners, farmers, cooperatives and businesses in Los Angeles that install solar panels on homes or other properties could sell solar energy to public utility suppliers. The price paid for this renewable energy would be set at an above-market level that covers the cost of the electricity produced, plus a reasonable profit. “A feed-in tariff initiated in this city has the potential to change the landscape of Los Angeles,” said DeShazo, who is also an associate professor of public policy at the UCLA School of Public Affairs. “If incentivized appropriately, the program could prompt individual property owners and businesses to install solar panels on unused spaces including commercial and industrial rooftops, parking lots, and residential buildings. Our projections show that the end result would be more jobs and a significant move to renewable energy with no net cost burden to the city.”

Feed-in tariffs for solar energy have been implemented in Germany and several other European countries, as well as domestically in cities in Florida and Vermont. The programs have moved these regions to the forefront of clean energy. And while these programs have necessitated slight increases in ratepayers’ monthly electricity bills, they have also generated thousands of new jobs. The mayor estimated that under the program announced Monday, 18,000 new jobs would be generated over the next 10 years. “For Los Angeles to be the cleanest, greenest city, we need participation from every Angeleno,” Villaraigosa said. “We know that dirty fossil fuels will only become more scarce and more expensive in the years to come. This helps move us toward renewable energy while at the same time creating new jobs.”

The new program had its genesis last year, when Villaraigosa announced a long-term, comprehensive solar plan intended to help meet the city’s future clean energy needs. The plan included a proposal for a solar feed-in tariff program administered by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. In September 2009, the Los Angeles Business Council created a Solar Working Group consisting of leaders in the private, environmental and educational sectors in Los Angeles County to investigate the promise of the feed-in tariff for Los Angeles and commissioned the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation to lead the investigation. In addition to DeShazo and Matulka, the working group also included Sean Hecht and Cara Horowitz from the UCLA School of Law’s Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment. The first phase of their research examined current models operating in Germany, Spain, Canada, Vermont and Florida to propose guidelines for a feed-in tariff design. The second phase looks at the potential participation rates in a large-scale solar feed-in tariff program in Los Angeles and its impact on clean energy in the Los Angeles basin.

The Luskin Center for Innovation at the UCLA School of Public Affairs unites the intellectual capital of UCLA with forward-looking civic leaders in Los Angeles to address urgent public issues and actively work toward solutions. The center’s current focus in on issues of environmental sustainability.

Experts outline scope of nationwide project on climate change Albert Carnesale, chancellor emeritus and professor of public policy at UCLA, chaired the Committee on America's Climate Choices to guide the nation's response to climate change

The country’s leading researchers on climate change came to Westwood recently to give the public a chance to learn and ask questions about the current science on climate change, options facing the United States and the work of the Committee on America’s Climate Choices, the group that sponsored the event Jan. 13 at the W Hotel.

The committee, which is chaired by Chancellor Emeritus and Professor of Public Policy Albert Carnesale, is leading a nationwide project launched by the National Academies and requested by Congress to provide policy-relevant advice, based on scientific evidence, to help guide the nation’s response to climate change. America’s Climate Choices involves four panels of experts in addition to the main committee, representing government, the private section and research institutions. They are evaluating strategies available to limit the magnitude of future climate change, to adapt to its impacts and advance climate change science, among other goals. The open session in Westwood was one of a series of town hall discussions held in Irvine; Boulder, CO; Washington, D.C.; and other cities.  A final report will be released sometime this summer.

Read the story at UCLA Today.