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Congressional tour spotlights ASU’s 'green' efforts

September 24, 2009

Arizona State University’s commitment to sustainability education and innovation has attracted the interest of leaders across the nation. This past week, U.S. Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ) and Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota were briefed on ASU’s broad renewable energy portfolio and its alignment with several national initiatives to meet today’s significant energy challenges.

“Our primary goal with ASU’s renewable energy research is to create jobs, develop more secure and sustainable sources of energy, and ultimately help drive our local and national economy,” says Neal Woodbury, deputy director of ASU’s Biodesign Institute.

Mitchell invited Herseth Sandlin, a member of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, to join him on the tour led by Woodbury to see the latest energy research being conducted at ASU and the enormous potential for new technology and green jobs in Arizona. Clive Betts, a member of the British Parliament, also accompanied them.

"It is important that we showcase the exciting work that's being done at ASU and in Arizona as we work to become a leader in clean energy and green jobs," Mitchell says. "I'm glad Congresswoman Herseth Sandlin was able to join me on this tour. She is one of the House's leaders on alternative energy and renewable fuels and saw firsthand the innovative research and development being done here in Arizona."

The congressional duo’s tour highlighted ASU's research and development of photosynthetic microbial-based biofuels, solar energy, carbon reduction, as well as participation in local efforts such as the Green Phoenix initiative and the ongoing global dialogue regarding climate change.

The tour showcased ASU’s multidisciplinary, integrated approach toward harnessing its diverse intellectual and technical resources to create effective energy solutions. For example, ASU recently received $15 million in federal stimulus funding to develop next-generation solar technologies in a project led by chemistry and biochemistry professor Devens Gust.

During a roundtable discussion, led by Gary Dirks, director of the new ASU LightWorks initiative, Mitchell and Sandlin learned firsthand how ASU research is tackling societal energy challenges. Faculty and researchers from ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability, Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, Decision Theater, Flexible Display Center, Center for Science Policy and Outcomes who participated in the briefing included: Sayfe Kiaei, Nalini Chhetri, George Basile and Christiana Honsberg.

In this briefing, Mitchell and Herseth Sandlin heard about ASU's support for the proposed DOE energy research hubs, which could lead to new innovations to improve energy efficiencies in technologies important to Arizona and the Nation such as photovoltaics, creating fuel from solar energy, and energy efficient buildings.

"My time at ASU was informative and truly fascinating," says Herseth Sandlin. "Clearly, the research in solar and photovoltaics holds tremendous potential to unlock these renewable energy sources for the future. I look forward to working with Harry Mitchell to make the right investments at the federal level to achieve energy independence and to create high-paying jobs over time."

With Arizona’s abundant year round sunshine, there is momentum to exploit the vast, untapped potential of the state to become a leader in solar energy technology. “Through innovation, we’d like to help the U.S. develop the next Intel for solar photovoltaic technology,” says Christiana Honsberg, a professor in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering. “New technologies have the potential to be greener and more efficient than current silicon-based solar panels.”

ASU also has the honor of being one of few select universities to gather public input on the current discussion on climate change. On September 26, ASU will be one of five locations across the United States participating in a groundbreaking global citizen consultation, the World Wide Views on Global Warming.

“For the first time, people’s voices will heard during the current world debate on climate change,” says Nalini Chhetri, a researcher and lecturer in the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, the organizer of the citizen’s forum at ASU.

World Wide Views citizens’ forums will be held simultaneously in more than 40 countries throughout the world. The resulting citizen recommendations will be sent directly to their state and country's representatives to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15), to be held December 7-18, 2009, in Copenhagen, where decisions will be made for the period after the Kyoto Protocol expires.