Clean Tech Leaders

Oct 15, 2009

By UCLA Samueli Newsroom

Stimulus funds help educate next generation of clean-tech leaders

So she created it — and, working with about 20 other professors, won support for it: $3 million in stimulus funding via a highly competitive grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Integrative Graduate Education Research Traineeship (IGERT) award.

The Clean Energy for Green Industry Fellowship, designed to develop leaders in environmental energy, could start as soon as the upcoming winter quarter. It will grant Ph.D. students a $33,000 stipend for pursuing coursework in the science, business and policies of clean technology.

“Over the course of the five-year program, we’ll graduate 33 Ph.D.s with expertise in energy storage, energy harvesting and energy conservation,” Huffaker said. “They’ll be in existing Ph.D. programs, such as chemistry or engineering, and for our fellowship they’ll take a series of five classes, including lab research and policy. The program is the first of its kind in the L.A. basin.”

The fellowship will be the only program in Los Angeles to teach the science and business of clean technology with a goal of boosting the clean-tech economy and creating green-collar jobs, she said.

UCLA recently joined the city, two other universities and several local agencies in creating CleanTech Los Angeles, an effort to make the city the global capital of clean technology. The partnership intends to turn the city into a center of green technology, green jobs and green manufacturing, with a research and manufacturing corridor near downtown Los Angeles.

The IGERT fellowships will help UCLA fulfill its role in the partnership, Huffaker said.

Huffaker, an electrical engineering professor with a background in engineering physics and nanotechnology, arrived at UCLA two years ago.

Her own clean-energy specialty is energy harvesting, focusing on collecting waste heat with thermal
photo-voltaics — like solar panels for heat instead of sunlight. But Huffaker’s gift was in reaching out to other disciplines, said Magali Delmas, a management professor with the Institute of the Environment (IOE) who studies how green products are marketed and what works.

“She had this vision, which is so unique, about bringing policy and management to the program,” said Delmas, who is working with an IOE colleague, economics and public policy professor Matthew Kahn, to develop the curriculum for one of the IGERT fellowship’s five classes.

“It’s important that the students understand that just because we can find wonderful new technologies, that doesn’t mean that it will make money or that anyone will even adopt it,” Delmas said. “We’ll talk about what gets adopted, what the incentives are, how government policies affect it. Understanding the economic and social aspects of innovation will make the students stronger in their careers.”

Students will also learn about some of Los Angeles’ unique policy issues, Huffaker said. In addition to Delmas and Kahn’s class on the economics and politics of climate change and environmentalism, IGERT fellows will take four other classes.

Two classes will be combined in a three-part lecture series team taught by three professors. The first section will focus on energy harvesting, via solar cells, heat recovery and wind energy. Next, the students will learn about energy storage, such as in bio fuel-cells and super-capacitors. Finally, the lectures will turn to conservation methods, including architectural designs that can save energy in buildings, and car designs that can save fuel. These two-classes-in-one will be complemented by a third: a lab course at a new clean energy test facility to be built at UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), supported by NSF funding and matching dollars from UCLA, where students can experiment with energy collection and storage.

UCLA Anderson School of Management will teach the final class, looking at small-company development and intellectual property law, giving students the basis to start a business or sell an idea to a business, Huffaker said.

Mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Laurent Pilon, who researches ways to turn heat into energy and algae into fuel, will help develop curriculum for the fellowship’s lab course.

Pilon noted that in addition to the IGERT award for this training fellowship, UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science recently received Department of Energy funding to host an Energy Frontier Research Center, which will use nanoscale materials to convert solar energy into electricity, store electrical energy, and capture and separate greenhouse gases.

Story reprinted from Fall 2009 UCLA Engineer magazine.

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