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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2011-04-15 11:25:00
  • Article ID: 575757

Like Superman, American University Will Get Its Energy from the Sun

  • Credit: Jeff Watts

    Two solar projects at American University, with more than 2,300 solar panels, create the largest use of solar technology in the District of Columbia.

Contact: Maralee Csellar, AU Communications, 202-885-5952 or csellar@american.edu

With a mandate for renewable energy in the District of Columbia in place, and a commitment to become carbon neutral by 2020, American University is installing one of the largest solar electricity systems in Washington, D.C. and the largest urban solar hot water system on the east coast.

More than 2,150 solar photovoltaic panels will be installed by July on six American University buildings resulting in the largest solar power system in the District of Columbia.

In addition, 174 solar thermal energy panels will be installed on four campus buildings by July, providing hot showers to more than 2,000 students living on campus and hot water to the university’s largest dining hall.

Combined these 2,300 solar panels create the largest use of solar technology in the Washington Metro area and showcase how AU is finding innovative ways to fight climate change.

“Not only is solar power the right thing to do, it will also reduce the university’s energy costs the day we flip the switches on the new systems, proving that solar can be clean and green,” says Chris O’Brien, director of sustainability at American University. “We are also working to explore other ways to develop even larger scale renewable energy sources in the Washington region, so stay tuned.”

Last spring, American University announced its plans to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions and become a carbon-neutral campus by 2020. AU is reducing energy consumption, using wind power for 100% of its purchased electricity, exploring large-scale renewable energy development in the DC area, and planning to mitigate university travel emissions by supporting carbon offset projects this year. Plans are underway to create renewable energy on campus by installing a wind turbine, designed by an AU professor, to be placed atop a parking garage, and will install a generator that runs on used cooking oil from the campus dining hall.

Electricity from the solar photovoltaic panels will avoid more than 557 tons of carbon per year, the equivalent of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from 57,500 gallons of gasoline annually, or nearly 1 million gallons over twenty years.

The new solar photovoltaic power system dramatically expands the university’s existing 27 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system installed on the LEED Gold certified School of International Service building. The new arrays will be installed and operating on three additional buildings on the AU campus—Katzen Arts Center, Mary Graydon Center, Bender Library—and three off-campus buildings—Washington College of Law, 3201 New Mexico Avenue and 4200 Wisconsin Avenue. The 505 kilowatt system will be installed by Standard Solar Inc. of Rockville, Md. and owned and operated by Washington Gas Energy Services Inc. Combined, AU will have more than 532 kilowatts of solar PV producing about 637 megawatt hours of electricity each year.

The solar thermal system converts sunlight into thermal energy, which is sent to a tank to provide solar heated water for showers and use by the AU community. The system will pump out 5,700,000 BTUs a day—609 megawatt hours of energy annually—equivalent to the amount of energy required to produce 20,795 cheeseburgers every year. According to the EPA, this solar hot water project is the largest in any city on the east coast. Skyline Innovations, a Washington, D.C.-based solar energy company, is providing the system.

As a result of a combination of federal and local incentives, these solar installations will actually reduce American University’s energy bills as soon as the systems are in operation. The projects are financed through power purchase agreements with Washington Gas Energy Services and Skyline Innovations, each of which owns and installs its respective system, and sells the resulting energy to American University through long term contracts for twenty and ten years respectively.

American University will officially kick-off these solar projects as the grand finale of its week-long Green Campus-Green Community Earth Week Celebration April 18 through Earth Day on April 22. Each day features a different theme: Monday to Energy & Climate, Tuesday to Transportation, Wednesday to Food and Water, Thursday to Public Service, and Friday will feature an Earth Day festival including the solar groundbreaking ceremony led by AU President Neil Kerwin at 12:30 p.m. in the amphitheatre on campus.

AU’s sustainability programs are earning increased recognition. American University earned a STARS gold rating in January from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System developed by representatives from colleges and universities, higher education associations, related nonprofit organizations, businesses, and government agencies. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) honored AU as one of the top colleges in its 2010–2011 College and University Green Power Challenge and Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges also included AU.

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Laser-Free Method of Ion Cooling Has Range of Potential Uses

Prof. Daniel Zajfman's universal ion trap cools to a tenth of a degree above absolute zero. The new method does not depend on the type or the weight of the ion and, thus, might be used to investigate the properties of large biological molecules or nanoparticles, among other things.

Tiny Lasers from a Gallery of Whispers

Whispering gallery mode resonators rely on a phenomenon similar to an effect observed in circular galleries, and the same phenomenon applies to light. When light is stored in ring-shaped or spherical active resonators, the waves superimpose in such a way that it can result in laser light. This week in APL Photonics, investigators report a new type of dye-doped WGM micro-laser that produces light with tunable wavelengths.

Copper Catalyst Yields High Efficiency CO2-to-Fuels Conversion

Berkeley Lab scientists have developed a new electrocatalyst that can directly convert carbon dioxide into multicarbon fuels and alcohols using record-low inputs of energy. The work is the latest in a round of studies coming out of Berkeley Lab tackling the challenge of a creating a clean chemical manufacturing system that can put carbon dioxide to good use.

Solar-to-Fuel System Recycles CO2 to Make Ethanol and Ethylene

Berkeley Lab scientists have harnessed the power of photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into fuels and alcohols at efficiencies far greater than plants. The achievement marks a significant advance in the effort to move toward sustainable sources of fuel.

New Evidence for Small, Short-Lived Drops of Early Universe Quark-Gluon Plasma?

UPTON, NY--Particles emerging from even the lowest energy collisions of small deuterons with large heavy nuclei at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC)--a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility for nuclear physics research at DOE's Brookhaven National Laboratory--exhibit behavior scientists associate with the formation of a soup of quarks and gluons, the fundamental building blocks of nearly all visible matter.

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PNNL researchers have measured the forces that cause certain crystals to assemble, revealing competing factors that researchers might be able to control. The work has a variety of implications in both discovery and applied science. In addition to providing insights into the formation of minerals and semiconductor nanomaterials, it might also help scientists understand soil as it expands and contracts through wetting and drying cycles.

Discovery Could Reduce Nuclear Waste with Improved Method to Chemically Engineer Molecules

A new chemical principle discovered by scientists at Indiana University has the potential to revolutionize the creation of specially engineered molecules whose uses include the reduction of nuclear waste and the extraction of chemical pollutants from water and soil.

Biologist Reaches Into Electric Eel Tank, Comes Out with Equation to Measure Shocks

Vanderbilt University researcher Ken Catania stuck his arm into a tank with small electric eel 10 times -- the only way to get accurate measurements of the circuit created by animal, arm and water.

Fungi: Gene Activator Role Discovered

Specific modifications to fungi DNA may hold the secret to turning common plant degradation agents into biofuel producers.

New Study on Graphene-Wrapped Nanocrystals Makes Inroads Toward Next-Gen Fuel Cells

A new Berkeley Lab-led study provides insight into how an ultrathin coating can enhance the performance of graphene-wrapped nanocrystals for hydrogen storage applications.


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Wayne State Receives $1.2 Million NSF Grant to Develop Autonomous Battery Operating System

Researchers at Wayne State University led by Nathan Fisher, associate professor of computer science in the College of Engineering, received a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to address the need for effective, integrative battery operating systems that provide sustained and reliable power.

UAH leads effort that secures $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation

A partnership comprising nine universities in Alabama, including The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) as the lead institution, has been awarded a $20 million, five-year grant by the National Science Foundation's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

Sandia Labs Wins 5 Regional Technology Transfer Awards

Sandia National Laboratories won five awards from the 2017 Federal Laboratory Consortium for its work to develop and commercialize innovative technologies.

Tulane Receives Grant to Reduce Auto Emissions

Members of Tulane University's Shantz Lab will work with industrial scientists to assist in the development of next-generation materials designed to reduce harmful automotive emissions. The three-year old lab and its group of students have received a grant and equipment resources from SACHEM, Inc., a chemical science company.

Lab Leads New Effort in Materials Development

Lawrence Livermore National Lab will be part of a multi-lab effort to apply high-performance computing to US-based industry's discovery, design, and development of materials for severe environments under a new initiative announced by the Department of Energy (DOE) on Sept. 19.

ORNL Innovation Crossroads Program Opens Second Round of Energy Entrepreneurial Fellowships

Entrepreneurs are invited to apply for the second round of Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Innovation Crossroads program.

Los Alamos Recognized as Top Diversity Employer

For the second straight year, Los Alamos National Laboratory was recognized as a top diversity employer by LATINA Style and STEM Workforce Diversity magazine.

SLAC-Led Project Will Use Artificial Intelligence to Prevent or Minimize Electric Grid Failures

A project led by the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory will combine artificial intelligence with massive amounts of data and industry experience from a dozen U.S. partners to identify places where the electric grid is vulnerable to disruption, reinforce those spots in advance and recover faster when failures do occur.

Chaudhuri named Director of Manufacturing Science and Engineering at Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne National Laboratory announces the appointment of Santanu Chaudhuri, Ph.D., as the Director of the Laboratory's new Manufacturing Science and Engineering initiative, effective Sept. 14, 2017

Boise State Researchers Earn Grants to Manufacture Sensors for Nuclear Reactors, Space

National grants will be used to purchase advanced manufacturing equipment needed to build sensors suitable for extreme environments.


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Fungi: Gene Activator Role Discovered

Specific modifications to fungi DNA may hold the secret to turning common plant degradation agents into biofuel producers.

First Look at a Living Cell Membrane

Neutrons provide the solution to nanoscale examination of living cell membrane and confirm the existence of lipid rafts.

High Yield Biomass Conversion Strategy Ready for Commercialization

Researchers convert 80 percent of biomass into high-value products with strategy that's ready for commercialization.

Consequences of Drought Stress on Biofuels

Switchgrass cultivated during a year of severe drought inhibited microbial fermentation and resulting biofuel production.

Clay Minerals and Metal Oxides Change How Uranium Travels Through Sediments

Montmorillonite clays prevent uranium from precipitating from liquids, letting it travel with groundwater.

Tundra Loses Carbon with Rapid Permafrost Thaw

Seven-year-study shows plant growth does not sustainably balance carbon losses from solar warming and permafrost thaw.

Crystals Grow by Twisting, Aligning and Snapping Together

Van der Waals force, which that enables tiny crystals to grow, could be used to design new materials.

Vitamin B12 Fuels Microbial Growth

Scarce compound, vitamin B12, is key for cellular metabolism and may help shape microbial communities that affect environmental cycles and bioenergy production.

Carbon in Floodplain Unlikely to Cycle into the Atmosphere

Microbes leave a large fraction of carbon in anoxic sediments untouched, a key finding for understanding how watersheds influence Earth's ecosystem.

Bacterial Cell Wall Changes Produce More Fatty Molecules

New strategy greatly increases the production and secretion of biofuel building block lipids in bacteria able to grow at industrial scales.


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