Global Institute of Sustainability News

Sustainability scientist honored for 4 decades of seminal research in urban climatology

October 16, 2012

Anthony J. Brazel, ASU professor emeritus and senior sustainability scientist, has received the Helmet E. Landsberg Award for 2013 from the American Meteorological Society’s Board on the Urban Environment. The AMS is this country’s primary professional society for atmospheric scientists.

“Tony’s recognition by the American Meteorological Society highlights the prominent recognition his work has garnered across a spectrum of geophysical disciplines,” said Randall Cerveny, ASU President’s Professor and climatologist in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “His research papers, with topics that include everything from Phoenix urban dust storms to the intricacies of urban climate energy fluxes, are some of the most highly regarded works by geographical climatologists.”

“Brazel’s work in urban climatology – particularly in desert urban climatology – over the last four decades has, quite literally, shaped the fundamental concepts and themes for current research into this increasingly vital and important scientific and social topic,” observes Luc Anselin, Regents’ Professor and School of Geographical Sciences director.

Brazel will receive the Landsberg Award at the society’s national meeting, which takes place in Austin, Texas, Jan. 6-10, 2013.

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ASU hosts third Arizona Solar Summit

October 16, 2012

ASU SkySong, in conjunction with ASU Lightworks and ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development, hosted Arizona Solar Summit III: Game Changers. The summit focused on highlighting the game-changing efforts of Arizona’s statewide solar industry.

More than 250 people throughout Arizona participated in Summit III, which began Oct. 5 with a pre-summit tour of Tucson’s top solar sites and projects and culminated with a two-day event hosted at ASU SkySong.

The four working groups that were formed out of the first summit will continue their efforts in the areas of Supply Chain, Building Arizona’s Solar Narrative, Policy and Finance, and Research and Development. The working groups are critical to the success of furthering Arizona’s solar future. Members of the solar community are encouraged to visit to stay engaged with the working groups and to see latest updates on Summit IV.

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GlobalResolve founders travel to Ghana, install sustainable latrine

October 11, 2012

A team of faculty from ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) traveled to Ghana in May to install an innovative pit latrine that purifies human waste and generates electricity.

Mark Henderson, professor in the engineering department at CTI, and Brad Rogers, associate professor in the department of engineering technology at CTI, are co-principal investigators on the project and collaborated with Caitlyn Butler, a civil engineering professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Butler developed the primary design and implementation of the microbial fuel cell latrine while Henderson and Rogers supported the global sustainability efforts of the project. The project was funded by a $100,000 grant from the Grand Challenges Exploration program supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The pit latrine was developed as a response from many rural African communities who experience problems with waterborne diseases because of poor sanitation facilities. In the process, principal investigators designed a system in which liquids are used to generate electricity while solids can be used as compost for farming.

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Software maps greenhouse gas emissions to building, street level for U.S. cities

October 10, 2012

Arizona State University researchers have developed a new software system capable of estimating greenhouse gas emissions across entire urban landscapes, all the way down to roads and individual buildings. Until now, scientists quantified carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at a much broader level.

Dubbed “Hestia” after the Greek goddess of the hearth and home, researchers presented the new system in an article published Oct. 9 in Environmental Science and Technology. Hestia combines extensive public database “data-mining” with traffic simulation and building-by-building energy-consumption modeling. Its high-resolution maps clearly identify CO2 emission sources in a way that policymakers can utilize and the public can understand.

“Cities have had little information with which to guide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions – and you can’t reduce what you can’t measure,” said Kevin Gurney, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, and senior scientist with the Global Institute of Sustainability. “With Hestia, we can provide cities with a complete, three-dimensional picture of where, when and how carbon dioxide emissions are occurring.”

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National group selects sustainability scientist as year's leading young Hispanic researcher

October 9, 2012

Arizona State University chemical engineer and sustainability scientist César Torres is the winner of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) 2012 Young Investigator Award. The honor recognizes his contributions to bioenergy research.

Torres is an assistant professor at the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. His research is conducted in the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at ASU’s Biodesign Institute.

“We look at microorganisms to find ways to convert either biomass or solar energy into electricity or fuels,” Torres explains.

Torres also recently began work with the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship: Solar Utilization Network, a program supported by the National Science Foundation that will train doctoral students in the solar-energy field.

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Creative teaching approaches put spotlight on sustainability scientist

October 8, 2012

tseager_headshotBased on his work to develop and implement innovative approaches to teaching engineering, ASU faculty member and sustainability scientist Thomas Seager has been selected to participate in the National Academy of Engineering’s Frontiers of Engineering Education Symposium. Seager joins Jeffrey LaBelle from ASU’s School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering and Aviral Shrivastava from ASU’s School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering.

More than 70 university and college engineering faculty from across the country will gather for the event Oct. 14-17 in Irvine, Calif., to share ideas, research findings, and teaching methods.

“It is absolutely critical that U.S. engineering educators learn how to become more effective in the classroom, utilizing technology and pedagogy in creative ways in order to produce more innovative graduates who have the ability to address the complex problems of the 21st century,” said symposium chair Larry Shuman.

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The Atlantic Cities features ASU researcher's work on U.S. economic growth

October 2, 2012

The Atlantic Cities recently published an article by Richard Florida featuring Sustainability Scientist and research professor José Lobo’s work on charting U.S. metro economic growth.

Florida, co-founder of The Atlantic Cities and expert in U.S. urbanization says “the United States economy grew substantially more slowly than initially estimated between April and June of this year, a torpid 1.3 percent.” This economic downturn began during the Great Recession but has lasted so long, experts say the nation is facing a “lost decade” of economic growth.

Lobo analyzed the growth and decline of metros across the country, identifying how the Great Recession affected economic growth. “Which metros have grown and which have faltered over the past decade? How has the geography of growth changed since the onset of the Great Recession?” Florida writes.

Lobo then used data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis to chart the economic growth of more than 350 metropolitan areas during 2001 to 2010 and during the post-crisis period, 2008 to 2010. Zara Matheson of the Martin Prosperity Institute mapped the results.

The Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale area made the top-ten list of large metros (more than 1 million people) who had the best economic growth over the past decade (2001-2010). However, during 2008 through 2010, Sun Belt metros like Phoenix were hit the hardest during the Great Recession, leading Florida to ask: “Are there metros that defy the boom-bust pattern, where growth has remained relatively consistent before and after the crisis?”

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Sustainability Scientists to explore large-scale deployment of biomass energy crops

October 2, 2012

Arizona State University researchers will embark on a novel renewable energy project with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through its Water Sustainability and Climate program (WSC).

NSF is providing $1.5 million to ASU to identify suitable locations across the United States where perennial biomass energy crops (e.g., miscanthus and switchgrass) could be grown sustainably. The five-year interdisciplinary project will integrate physical, agricultural and economic elements, embedded within a high-performance computing (HPC) framework, to identify geographically sustainable “hot-spots,” areas best-suited for expansion of perennial bioenergy crops.

“This effort brings together researchers from diverse backgrounds to explore critically important questions related to domestic energy security and large-scale climate change,” said Matei Georgescu, assistant professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and Sustainability Scientist in the Global Institute of Sustainability. Georgescu is the principal investigator of the project.

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ASU's Biodesign Institute scientists use heat to refine renewable biofuel production

October 2, 2012

Perhaps inspired by Arizona’s blazing summers, Arizona State University scientists have developed a new method that relies on heat to improve the yield and lower the costs of high-energy biofuels production, making renewable energy production more of an everyday reality.

ASU Biodesign Institute researcher Roy Curtiss, a microbiologist who uses genetic engineering of bacteria to develop new vaccines, has adapted a similar approach to make better biofuel-producing cyanobacteria.

“We keep trying to reach ever deeper into our genetic bag of tricks and optimize bacterial metabolic engineering to develop an economically viable, truly green route for biofuel production,” said Roy Curtiss, director of the Biodesign Institute’s Centers for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology and Microbial Genetic Engineering as well as professor in the School of Life Sciences.

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ASU engineer will use Fulbright award to share expertise in renewable energy

October 2, 2012

Arizona State University chemical engineer Jean Andino will share her expertise in renewable energy development with research colleagues and students in Panama with the support of a prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar award.

Andino is on the faculty of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.  Her teaching and research focuses on atmospheric chemistry, chemical kinetics, and air pollution sensing and control. In the energy area, her work at ASU involves seeking ways to convert carbon dioxide into fuels.

Andino plans to spend a semester at Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá  with the Centro de Investigación e Innovación Eléctrica, Mecánica y de la Industria, as well as with the Facultad de Ingeniería Mecánica,  where she will consult on air quality and energy issues, give seminars and teach a short course.

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Extreme climate change linked to early animal evolution

October 2, 2012

An international team of scientists has uncovered new evidence linking early animal evolution to extreme climate change.

A dramatic rise in atmospheric oxygen levels has long been speculated as the trigger for early animal evolution. In the Sept. 27 issue of the journal Nature, researchers for the first time offer evidence of a causal link between trends in early biological diversity and shifts in Earth system processes.

The fossil record shows a marked increase in animal and algae fossils roughly 635 million years ago. Researchers, including sustainability scientist Ariel Anbar, believe that oceanic oxygen levels spiked suddenly at this time, in the wake of a severe glaciation, reaching the level necessary to allow animals to flourish. The new evidence pre-dates previous estimates of a life-sustaining oxygenation event by more than 50 million years.

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Business + University: Tomorrow’s Jobs Require Sustainability

Thought Leader Series

September 27, 2012

A Thought Leader Series Piece

By Hunter Lovins

Note: Hunter Lovins is a past Wrigley Lecture Series speaker at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and was a keynote speaker at the inaugural conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education held at ASU in 2006.

Business is probably the only institution on the planet that is nimble and well-managed enough to respond to the global sustainability crises facing humanity. Such challenges as the impacts of climate change, soaring resource prices, poverty, and loss of biodiversity are threats, but are also opportunities. The businesses that successfully respond will be big winners in the marketplace.

Business sustainability leaders already outperform their less sustainable peers. Over 40 studies from all the major management consulting houses, as well as from academic journals such as Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Review, show that the companies that are sustainability leaders have higher and faster growing stock value, better financial results, lower risks, and more engaged workforces than other companies.

Despite all this, we’re losing. The international Convention on Biological Diversity report, Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, highlights a sobering loss of species and habitats among the world’s ecosystems. Threats like the acidification of the oceans could, worst case, end life as we know it on earth. This has happened several times before on our planet with up to 90 percent of species going extinct. Meanwhile, both the International Energy Agency and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warn that unless global leaders implement more sustainable practices immediately we will, perhaps as early as 2017, lock in an unsurvivable amount of global warming.

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Study of 'forest killer' plant explores our vulnerability to rapid environmental change

September 26, 2012

It’s called mile-a-minute weed or “forest killer.”Mikania micrantha is an exotic, invasive species that spreads quickly, covering crops, smothering trees and rapidly altering the environment.

Researchers at Arizona State University are spearheading a four-year research project that will explore what factors cause people and the environment to be vulnerable to rapid environmental change, such as an invasion by Mikania.

Study findings likely will serve as a harbinger of the future as humans increasingly experience abrupt, extreme conditions associated with climate change, said Sharon J. Hall, the study’s co-principal investigator, sustainability scientist, and ASU School of Life Sciences associate professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“There are many communities that have to deal with and adapt to rapid change. Mikania is just one example,” Hall said. “We’re looking at how social and ecological forces in communities make them more resistant or vulnerable to rapid environmental change.”

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Sustainability Scientists research morality in food choices

September 26, 2012

Several researchers at Arizona State University are examining the ethical aspects of food production and consumption. They are helping consumers navigate the maze of moral choices involved in filling their plates and their bellies. And they are finding that being morally mindful can lead to better nutrition, as well.

Where does a chicken or an avocado start its life before making its way to the grocery store? Joan McGregor studies food production and the ethical concerns it raises. One of these, of course, is environmental sustainability.

“We all talk about water, we talk about energy, but we sort of forget that food is a huge consumer of resources,” says McGregor, who teaches philosophy in ASU’s School of Philosophical, Historical, and Religious Studies and is a sustainability scientist in ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability.

Researchers hope that targeting people’s morals rather than their rational thoughts will be an effective way to promote healthy and ethical choices.

“We need to connect people’s values to their food choices,” McGregor says. “That means people need to have access to certain kinds of information that ties food decisions to values about the environment, animals and social justice.”

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Sustainability scientist publishes new textbook: "Understanding Sustainable Cities"

September 21, 2012

David Pijawka, sustainability scientist and professor in the School of Sustainability and School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, and doctoral student Martin Gromulat have published a new textbook for undergraduate students exploring sustainable cities. The book, “Understanding Sustainable Cities: Concepts, Cases, and Solutions,” is the culmination of Pijawka’s experience teaching Sustainable Cities, an undergraduate course in the School of Sustainability.

“The key goal of this book is to help other colleges and universities introduce notions of sustainability and sustainable development to their students,” says Pijawka.

ASU President Michael Crow, a strong supporter and initiator of university sustainability, wrote the forward. The introductory chapters are written by Pijawka and Gromulat. The remaining chapters are authored by expert university faculty and affiliates. The book covers everything from water to transportation.

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Green Events: Give your guests a reason to be sustainable

September 19, 2012

Before the meal was selected or a table was set at the annual ASU Staff Appreciation Barbeque last spring, organizers decided a “green event” was the way to go. The ASU Staff Council wanted to reduce waste destined for the landfill and educate staffers about ASU’s sustainability practices.

Event planners reached out to Betty Lombardo, who facilitates Green Events at ASU and is manager of University Sustainability Practices.

“Betty gave us ideas, suggestions and processes that we had not previously considered regarding how to ‘green’ an event,” said Patricia Rosciano, co-chair of the Staff Appreciation Barbeque and assistant to the vice president of ASU’s Office of Human Resources.

According to Lombardo, Green Events benefit the university in numerous ways, including: the reduction of negative environmental impacts; expressing ASU’s sustainability values; being a leader for positive change; and building sustainability awareness among stakeholders.

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Sustainability Scientist investigates inaccurate hottest temperature record

September 18, 2012

An international team of meteorologists recently finished an in-depth investigation of what had been the world-record temperature extreme of 58 degrees Celsius (136.4 F), recorded on Sept. 13, 1922, in El Azizia, Libya. The group found that there were enough questions surrounding the measurement and how it was made that it was probably inaccurate, overturning the record 90 years to the day it was recorded.

“We found systematic errors in the 1922 reading,” said Randy Cerveny, an ASU President’s Professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “This change to the record books required significant sleuthing and a lot of forensic records work,” added Cerveny, who also is the Rapporteur of Climate and Weather Extremes for the WMO, the person responsible for keeping worldwide weather records.

Officially, the “new” world record temperature extreme is 56.7 C (134 F), recorded on July 10, 1913, at Greenland Ranch in Death Valley, Calif.

“In the heart of every meteorologist and climatologist beats the soul of a detective,” said Cerveny. In this case the weather detectives had to work around an unfolding revolution in Libya.

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ASU to lead first-ever national algae testbed with grant from DOE

September 18, 2012

The U.S. Department of Energy has selected the Arizona State University led Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3) for a $15M award for its Advancements in Sustainable Algal Production opportunity.

“This algae national testbed will provide high quality data and a network of sites that will speed the pace of innovation,” said Gary Dirks, director of ATP3 and ASU LightWorks, the university initiative that pulls light-inspired research at ASU under one strategic framework. “The network will support companies and research institutions as they work to meet the nation’s energy challenges.”

ATP3 will function as a testing facility for the algal research community supporting the operation of existing outdoor algae cultivation systems and allowing researchers access to real-world conditions for algal biomass production for biofuel.

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Mayors to discuss sustainability challenges facing cities

September 17, 2012

From left to right: Greg Stanton, Phoenix mayor; Scott Smith, Mesa mayor; and Mark Mitchell, Tempe mayor.

September 25, 2012
6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix leaders asked to share their vision for sustainable future

What are Arizona’s desert cities doing to become more livable – more sustainable – in planning for transportation, housing, energy, water usage and population growth?

The mayors of three of Arizona’s largest cities – Mesa, Phoenix and Tempe – will address sustainability challenges and opportunities for their cities during a panel discussion from 6 to 7:30 p.m., Sept. 25, at the Mesa Arts Center. They will be asked to describe their city’s unique challenges and explain their vision for a sustainable future.

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NSF funds to boost sustainability research, education

September 12, 2012

John-Sabo2As population in the Sunbelt grows, water supplies are spread thin. How does this affect native species? And how does this affect the people who move here?

Arizona State University has been awarded a four-year, $505,823 grant from the National Science Foundation to study freshwater sustainability in the face of population growth and climate change. North Carolina State University and the University of Georgia are also part of the project.

The research will take place across the Sunbelt, the area that spans the lower U.S. states including all of Arizona. These states are characterized by extended summers with brief and mild winters. This type of climate, called warm-temperate, is especially critical to studying water supplies.

“Cities across the sunbelt are growing rapidly,” says John Sabo, director of research development at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and lead scientist on the study. “We will need water for this growth, and allocating that water to humans may have consequences for native biodiversity, especially if supply is diminished by climate change.”

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