US Navy supports ASU's development of algae-based biofuels

May 27, 2014

The similarities between the U.S. Navy and civilian cities and industry may not be readily apparent, said Dennis McGinn, U.S. Navy Assistant Secretary for Energy, Installations and Environment, but in the realm of energy use and reliability, there are often parallel problems to be solved. Where there are overlapping issues, such as cost, sustainability, efficiency and energy security, McGinn said the Navy is interested in working with research institutions and industry to improve the energy outlook for all.

“We are thinking about energy in three different ways: first in technology terms; biofuels, wind and solar energy storage, power grid systems and more,” McGinn said during a visit to Arizona State University. “But it takes two other critical elements to achieve our energy goals: partnerships and culture. This is why we’re interested in forging and strengthening relationships with outstanding organizations like ASU.” U.S. Navy Assistant Secretary Dennis McGinn at AzCATI Download Full Image

While the Department of the Navy broadly funds energy research, another key aspect is its considerable influence in setting purchasing standards for their operations. The Navy is using its authority under the Defense Production Act, which allows the Navy, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to invest in industries that are determined critical to national security; in this case, biofuels. McGinn said that the Navy has already invested millions in projects with the DOE and USDA in order to bring down the cost of producing biofuel.

“The Navy wants to buy anywhere between 10 and 50 percent biofuel blends for our ships,” he said. “We want it to be a cost-competitive program. We are working specifically with the USDA to bring down biofuel costs to $3.50 a gallon or less at the commercial scale of 170 million gallons a year by 2016.”

As part of his visit to ASU, McGinn toured the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI) at the Polytechnic campus in Mesa. As the largest university-based algae facility on the globe, AzCATI leads the DOE-funded national algae testbed, the Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3). The Navy has interest in the work done by AzCATI and ATP3, especially if the cost of creating algae biofuels can shrink to compete with traditional fuel markets, McGinn said.

“The Department of the Navy is very interested in developing alternative transportation fuel to power our fleets,” he said. “Algae biofuel represents great potential in that it is sustainable and scalable. That’s why we’re interested in working with ASU and the industry to advance this technology."

The use of U.S.-made, renewable fuels may not only assist the Navy in becoming more sustainable and independent, but it may also help the nation achieve even better national and economic security.

“Globally, there is a continuing overreliance on fossil fuel. And while we are very appreciative and view it as a blessing to our country to have this current oil and gas boom, in the national security business we get paid to look over the long-term horizon,” said McGinn. “When we look 15 or 20 years out into the future, we see significant potential for great competition, and even conflict, related to increasing world demand for petroleum.”

ASU professor awarded engineering research prize for hydrology work

May 27, 2014

Arizona State University associate professor Enrique Vivoni has been named a recipient of the 2014 Walter L. Huber Civil Engineering Research Prize by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The honor is awarded to recognize notable achievements in research related to civil engineering, and is generally given to younger members (under the age of 40).

The ASCE cited Vivoni for his “contributions to the understanding of ecohydrologic processes in semi-arid areas, including the moderating role of vegetation and interactions among water, energy and carbon cycling, and to the development of high-resolution hydrologic models, including the use of parallel computing systems.” The selection committee particularly noted his focus on the impacts of climate change on ecosystems in arid and semi-arid regions. portrait of ASU professor Enrique Vivoni Download Full Image

Vivoni holds a joint appointment in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. He is internationally recognized in the fields of distributed hydrologic modeling; ecohydrology of semi-arid regions; North American monsoon studies; and integration of engineering tools for advancing hydrologic science.

In his research contributions to civil and environmental engineering in the hydrology and water resources specialization, Vivoni has distinguished himself in integrating scientific and engineering tools for understanding and forecasting watershed processes and their spatiotemporal distributions.

Over the past year, he has made some significant advances. He has demonstrated the role of terrestrial plants on topographic, radiation and hydrological properties in aspect-delimited ecosystems; developed participatory modeling workshops in Mexico that address infrastructure and climate change impacts on water supply in rural settings; and identified the role of urban irrigation on soil moisture dynamics and its management implications in Phoenix.

“It is truly an honor to receive this particular award since it has been previously bestowed on investigators in hydrology and water resources who transformed the discipline during the 20th century,” says Vivoni. “To follow in the footsteps of Peter Eagleson (1963), Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe (1975) and Rafael Bras (1993), among others, is both an honor and a responsibility which I hope to live up to during my career.”

Instituted in 1949, the prize has been awarded to five individuals per year since 1958. Vivoni will accept the award at the Environmental and Water Resource Institute (EWRI) Congress in Portland, Oregon, June 1-5. He is one of five winners in 2014, but the only one receiving his award at EWRI’s conference.

Nikki Cassis

marketing and communications director, School of Earth and Space Exploration