ASU grant aims to transform global energy landscape

October 22, 2014

Changing the way the nation generates and consumes energy is at the heart of a multimillion dollar grant awarded to Arizona State University from the Department of Energy.

Under the grant, the university will develop an efficient and cost-effective carbon capture technology using an innovative electrochemical technique to separate carbon dioxide from other emissions originating from power plants. Dan Buttry and coworkers in the lab Download Full Image

In what could be an economically enabling breakthrough in the drive to reduce carbon emissions, ASU researchers will explore the real possibility of reducing energy and cost requirements by more than half.

Led by Dan Buttry, professor and chair of ASU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the grant is part of a special Department of Energy program designed to pursue high-risk, high-reward advances in alternative energy research.

“Through this type of venture we are working to advance research and spur economic development in the areas of renewable energy and energy security to create solutions that address society’s grand challenges,” said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, senior vice president for ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. “This innovative project is a collaborative effort of faculty at ASU from multiple disciplines, as well as collaborators from Proton OnSite and the University of Colorado, who are all developing a new carbon capture technology.”

Where solutions happen

Arizona State University has been building its portfolio in alternative energy research for several years, and currently includes among its capabilities a center for research into electrochemistry for renewable energy applications; several advanced programs on solar energy research; one of the leading testing and certification centers for solar energy; and research into solar-generated biofuels, including advanced work on algae-based biofuels.

The university's awarded grant of $2.9 million over two years follows an initial “seed” grant where the team demonstrated proof of concept of efficient and cost-effective carbon dioxide capture. ASU's project was selected through a merit-based process from thousands of concept papers and hundreds of full applications.

The projects are based in 24 states, with approximately 47 percent of the projects led by universities – all supported by the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program, which aims to develop clever and creative approaches to transform the global energy landscape while advancing America’s technology leadership.

Inspired by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, ARPA-E was created to support high-risk, high-reward research that can provide transformative new solutions for climate change and energy security.

“The potential of this project to advance solutions to the problem of excessive carbon dioxide in the environment is exciting, and we look forward to the team’s progress in this area,” said Gary Dirks, director of ASU LightWorks. “ASU is a place where the convergence of laboratory research and real-world application creates a unique environment where imaginative energy-related projects are fostered and encouraged.”

A new approach

The carbon capture program was initially supported by ASU LightWorks, which brings together the intellectual expertise across the university centered on leveraging the power of the sun to create solutions in the areas of renewable energy, including generating electricity, alternative fuels and preparing future energy leaders.

“We are extremely excited about this new grant from the Department of Energy ARPA-E program," said Buttry. "The effort is focused on a key issue in fossil fuel-based energy production – how to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions without consuming too much of the energy content of the fuel. We have recently developed a new approach to carbon dioxide capture that uses an electrochemical process with some design features similar to those in a fuel cell.”

Co-principal investigators on this project are Cody Friesen, School for Engineering of Matter, Transport & Energy one of ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schhols of Engineering; Vladimiro Mujica, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry; and Ellen Stechel, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and also deputy director of LightWorks. Buttry and Friesen previously worked on an ARPA-E project developing a radical new design for automotive batteries.

Mujica will use quantum chemical calculations to help understand the binding of carbon dioxide to the carrier compounds. Stechel is simulating the cell behavior, Friesen’s group is working on cell design, and Buttry’s on the chemistry and electrochemistry of the binding process.

Also collaborating on this grant are two researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder; Doug Gin, in chemistry, and Rich Noble, in chemical engineering, who are helping to make very thin membranes for the separation process. Katherine Ayers of Proton OnSite, CT, will be involved with cell design and engineering.

The only proven commercially viable technology for flue gas capture uses compounds called amines in the so-called monoethanolamine (MEA) process. Several plant scale demonstrations use this old technology, first patented in 1930. The MEA process has several drawbacks, particularly the energy required for thermal regeneration of the amine capture agent. As discussed in a recent Department of Energy report (DOE/NETL-2009/1366), for typical conditions, the energy required for this process consumes roughly 40 percent of total plant output, and increases the cost of electricity by 85 percent.

Buttry predicts their innovative approach as having an overall efficiency far better than existing efforts.

ASU's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry ranks 6th worldwide for research impact (gauged by the average cites per paper across the department for the decade ending in the 2011 International Year of Chemistry), and in the top eight nationally for research publications in the journals Science and Nature. The department’s strong record in interdisciplinary research is also evidenced by its 31st national ranking by the National Science Foundation in total and federally financed higher education research and development expenditures in chemistry.

Jenny Green

Clinical associate professor, School of Molecular Sciences


Family matters and ghosts in John Perovich’s new play “shallow grave”

October 22, 2014

With its Victorian architecture and small town charm, Tarrytown, New York, forms the perfect backdrop for Washington Irving’s spooky tale, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Incidentally, Tarrytown is also the setting of new play by graduate playwriting student John Perovich. “shallow grave” is opening this weekend as part of the ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre’s studio series for developing work.

Perovich says his play is first and foremost a family drama, but it does feature a ghost. shallow grave Photo courtesy of Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Download Full Image

“Within a realistic frame, there are moments where we break away and do something quite different. I’ve been actively encouraging that and experimenting with that in rehearsal,” said the show’s director, Bill Partlan, a professor of acting and directing in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. “I think John is really playing around with our level of reality over the course of the piece.”

“shallow grave” takes place on the day of a funeral, but the circumstances surrounding the death of the recently departed remain somewhat foggy. The newly widowed Maggie, the main character, faces an onslaught of questioning relatives, including her two children, who are dealing with smaller dramas of their own in addition to the death of their father.

“John Perovich is the genuine article,” said Lance Gharavi, assistant director of theatre in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. “Not only has he created a tightly knit work of drama well-suited to the Halloween season — with ghosts, séances, sex, death, and the scent of autumn leaves — he has done so outside typical genre clichés. “shallow grave” is a very human drama — which means it’s also filled with laughter and absurdity. I’m most acutely struck by how effectively John speaks the secret language of the human heart.”

Partlan and Perovich have spent the past months working closely together to revise and polish the play through the workshop format of the studio series. “shallow grave” will be Perovich’s first full-length play to be produced on stage with actors and designers; he says he has been at every rehearsal and estimates that he’s probably done close to ten drafts of the work.

For Partlan, who spent years working with playwrights developing new work at the O’Neil Center in Connecticut, this format comes as second nature.

“I really do think [producing new work] is one of Bill’s specialties,” said Perovich. “He’s able to serve the play by always keeping in mind the it’s still being written.”

But Partlan isn’t the only one who has influenced the work over time. Perovich says he has received excellent feedback from everyone involved in this production of “shallow grave,” including actors, costume designers, tech designers and set designers.

“Theatre is a collaborative form,” said Perovich. “A single playwright might not be able to see everything that needs to be clarified in a piece. But when you get all of these different perspectives involved, you can start to strengthen the play to get it ready for, hopefully, a fully produced production.”

Perovich, now in his second year of the three-year MFA playwriting program, says “shallow grave” is easily the most refined play he has written to date.

“There’s really a sense of commitment and purpose from everybody involved,” said Partlan. “And that’s partly because John is so open and yet knows what he’s written. That’s very important in developing a new play. “

The final step of this collaboration will happen during the final performances, where audience members will be encouraged to stay and give feedback after the show.

“There are audiences out there who will enjoy being in at the ground floor, who will want to see something the first time it’s been shown,” said Partlan. “The audiences for this show will be the first to ever see it and then they’ll get to talk about it afterward. Those who want to take that risk, truly do get to be in on the creation of something new.”

Come join in on the process at one of the four performances of “shallow grave” in FAC 133 on ASU’s Tempe Campus:
Oct. 24 at 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 25 at 2 p.m.
Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m.

Ticket prices are
$10–General, ASU Faculty, Staff + Alumni; $5–Seniors, Students

Media Contact:
Katrina Montgomery
Editor Assistant