Sun Devils spark innovation in building sustainability

ASU students will compete in final North American round of global Schneider Go Green competition

May 31, 2023

​Each year, Schneider Electric, an energy solutions and digital automation company, hosts a student competition to elevate new ideas in sustainability called Schneider Go Green. In 2023, the competition tasked applicants to conceptualize an idea that would revolutionize circularity and energy efficiency for buildings.

Hussain Bhavnagarwala, a student earning his master’s degree in mechanical engineering at the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, heard about the competition from mechanical and aerospace engineering Professor Patrick Phelan while enrolled in a course studying materials’ heat transfer properties. Bhavnagarwala’s studies inspired him to develop an idea surrounding the transfer of heat to improve sustainability in building materials. Split screen of a building at night and during the day. The Sun Devil Sparks aim to boost buildings’ energy efficiency by conceptualizing a wall panel that will absorb heat during the day and release it at night, cooling indoor spaces with less energy consumption. Graphic by Hayley Hilborn and Erika Gronek, ASU/Midjourney Download Full Image

“Heat transfer is one of my favorite subjects,” Bhavnagarwala said. “My father, being a heating, ventilation and air conditioning engineer himself, works a lot in this area, and I tend to have a lot of discussions with him on ‘green’ buildings. Energy efficiency is very closely related to heat transfer, so this motivated me to take up this competition with a keen interest.”

When looking to sign up for the competition online, Bhavnagarwala found an ASU team – the Sun Devil Sparks – was already registered. The team had been created by Deanna Chaney, an ASU Online undergraduate student based in Tennessee. Chaney is earning her bachelor’s degree in sustainability with a focus on energy, materials and technology in the School of Sustainability, part of the College of Global Futures.

Chaney decided to enroll in the competition since this year’s challenge focuses on innovating sustainable energy solutions for urban spaces, which she said is right up her “academic alley.”

Bhavnagarwala joined the team on the competition website. The two later recruited two teammates: Tosin Clement, a graduate student studying business analytics at the University of Louisville, and Sai Saketh Narabathula, an ASU student pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.

The idea

The first phase of the competition required teams to submit a 10-slide presentation conceptualizing their idea.

When thinking of ways to improve the sustainability of buildings, the team started by identifying one of the biggest energy expenders in the home: air conditioners. During the day, air conditioning units consume large quantities of energy to cool buildings, but this function is less necessary at night when temperatures cool.

However, the insulation in most buildings retains heat even after the sun sets, making interiors hot and necessitating continued climate control. The students worked to reduce this avoidable energy consumption by developing a wall panel that works as both a heat conductor and an insulator. The panel will operate as an insulator during the day and, at the flip of a switch, become a conductor at night to expel the retained heat outside of the building.

This kind of material, a substance that absorbs and releases heat energy when it changes phases, is referred to as a phase change material, or PCM. PCMs are already being researched for different applications such as use in car batteries to maintain ideal operating temperature.

The team’s idea and presentation earned them a spot in the competition’s North American finals, where they will travel to Schneider Electric’s North American headquarters in Tennessee to present their idea to judges.

Diagram demonstrating how the student's wall panels will reduce energy consumption by releasing heat at night.

A diagram showing how the students’ idea, which they have dubbed the Struct-Spire, will work to keep spaces cooler. Graphic courtesy Sun Devil Sparks 

The road ahead

To further explicate this idea and ensure thorough presentations from the students, Schneider assigned mentors to each team to point out challenges that must be addressed to make their ideas into commercially viable products.

The Sun Devil Sparks met with three mentors from Schneider: Chris Campbell, a system architect; Marissa Ainsworth, a sustainability and decarbonization strategy leader; and Saeid Golshaeian, the director of Schneider’s industrial automation business unit. After incorporating their mentors’ feedback, the team is reimagining their presentation for the finals in June.

Chaney is investigating the variety of sustainability goals the team can target with their idea. She will also demonstrate how much energy the wall panels will save by investigating other products with similar functions. The team’s mentors also encouraged them to address the circularity of their product to establish ways it can be produced and disposed of sustainably.

Bhavnagarwala is researching the necessary technical properties that will guide the design, such as the most effective material to use and how thick the panel must be, to establish production parameters.

Narabathula is learning to work with Blender, a 3D computer graphics software tool, to develop an animated simulation of the wall panel for the team’s presentation.

While the students have already gained insight into product development with their Schneider mentors’ input, further educational and career growth opportunities abound. 

During their visit to the Schneider headquarters in Tennessee, the students will tour the facility and have the opportunity to interview for internships at the company.

If the students are successful in the North American finals, they will advance to the international finals, traveling to Schneider’s global headquarters in Paris.

Though the experience alone is a career builder, Bhavnagarwala said the company’s track record of hiring the winning students and furthering their research idea is a motivator for the Sun Devil Sparks to give this competition their all.

The competition is a full-circle moment for Bhavnagarwala, who grew up next to a Schneider manufacturing facility in his hometown of Chennai, India. He said he would love to pursue employment with the company and possibly work in the location close to his roots.

Chaney, who is also a student in Barrett, The Honors College, said the competition is an opportunity for her to “gain real-life experience in working with a team on big, innovative ideas.”

“I want to establish connections with sustainability professionals in the field of energy and technology and possibly get my foot in the door for a future internship,” she said. “I want to better acquaint myself with skills and knowledge in the field of sustainability that I haven’t learned in my coursework before I graduate, and I think this project has done just that.”

Phelan, who also serves as the Fulton Schools assistant dean of graduate programs, expresses his excitement for the students’ spirit of innovation.

“The success of this diverse student team speaks volumes about the capabilities of our students to tackle engineering’s biggest problems,” he said. “The innovative concept from this team may help deliver on the promise of making buildings truly sustainable.”

Hayley Hilborn

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

ASU Thunderbird’s 100 Million Learners Global Initiative honored for excellence in inclusion, community building

May 31, 2023

The Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University was recently awarded the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA) 2023 Inclusion Award for Community Building for its Francis and Dionne Najafi 100 Million Learners Global Initiative.

“This prestigious recognition celebrates an initiative that bridged learners from all corners of the world with access to a world-class education and deepened a sense of connection within the community,” said Sanjeev Khagram, director general and dean of Thunderbird. “The Najafi 100 Million Learners Global Initiative's emphasis on technology, entrepreneurship and a global mindset also aligns with the skills APSIA aims to develop in students. The opportunity to showcase the synergies between Thunderbird and APSIA was one of the highlights of our year.” Dionne Najafi, Sanjeev Khagram and F. Francis Najafi posing for a photo underneath a 100 Million Learners banner. Left to right: Dionne Najafi, Sanjeev Khagram and F. Francis Najafi. The Najafis sponsor the 100 Million Learners Global Initiative through the ASU Thunderbird School of Global Management. Download Full Image

Earlier this month, APSIA announced its 2023 award recipients in the categories of Impact, Inclusion for Community Building, Innovation for Professional Development Programming, and Intersection for Linking Theory and Practice.

“We are incredibly proud to receive this honor for the Najafi 100 Million Learners Global Initiative, which endeavors to eliminate the barriers to equal access to education and lifelong learning, all while advancing APSIA's mission by promoting the development of 21st century skills in learners across the globe,” Khagram said. “By providing access to high-quality education at no cost, the Global Initiative can serve as a valuable partner and resource for APSIA member schools as they seek to prepare students for the complex challenges and opportunities of the globalized world."

The initiative offers online, global education in 40 different languages, at no cost to the learner. There are three learning pathways and courses — Foundational, Intermediate and Advanced — available to learners of all educational levels. Women will account for 70% of the 100 million learners the program plans to reach worldwide. 

Learners who enroll in the Foundational program can choose to work through the Global Entrepreneurship and Innovation Bootcamp course in any of the current 20 languages. There are plans to expand up to 40 languages or more.

Once learners complete the courses in the Intermediate and Advanced programs, they will have the opportunity to pursue lifelong learning options and alternative educational pathways through Thunderbird, ASU or the academic institution of their choice.

“Based on the skill sets learners will acquire through the 100 Million Learner Global Initiative, they will be ready to improve their lives by accessing better jobs, launching new enterprises, and further impacting their communities and beyond in a positive way,” Khagram said.

Other nominees included Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy; Hertie School; IE University School of Politics, Economics and Global Affairs; National Chengchi University College of International Affairs; Sciences Po Paris School of International Affairs; Texas A&M University Bush School of Government and Public Service; University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy; University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs; University of Texas at Austin LBJ School of Public Affairs; and the University of Trento School of International Studies.

Dasi Styles

Senior Media Relations Officer, Thunderbird School of Global Management