Interviews Continue for Grand Challenges

By Maya Bruguera

The event our team has been looking forward to has now begun: interviews! This week our team of undergraduates got the opportunity to speak with some of UCLA’s finest academics: professors who have signed on to the Grand Challenge. These professors are not only some of UCLA’s brightest, but also the most invested in changing UCLA’s campus to make it more sustainable. Our interviews focused on eliciting how each professor’s research can be applied to improve urban sustainability, and more specifically, how it can be applied on the UCLA campus as a pilot to achieve the Grand Challenge goals of 100% alternative energy and local water by 2050 within the Los Angeles region. 

The first of our interviewees was Dr. Adrienne Lavine, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and director of the UCLA Modeling of Complex Thermal Systems Lab. Dr. Lavine is currently focusing on improving energy storage in solar thermal energy generation. Solar thermal typically generates energy by using an array of mirrors to reflect and focus sunlight on a central point. One challenge with solar thermal as an energy source is that during the night, energy can’t be harvested, yet we still need electricity during this time. To overcome this challenge, solar thermal plants store excess energy during the day using molten salts. The problem with this is that molten salts are an expensive form of energy storage. Dr. Lavine is currently researching an alternative to molten salts which will reduce the cost of solar thermal and increase the feasibility of its application.

Dr. Lavine chats with the Grand Challenges Action Research Team about her research on thermochemical energy storage.

Dr. Lavine chats with the Grand Challenges Action Research Team about her research on thermochemical energy storage.

This alternative is thermochemical storage, meaning the use of exothermic (heat releasing) and endothermic (heat absorbing) reactions to store energy. Specifically, Dr. Lavine is looking into the breaking and recombination of ammonia into and from nitrogen and hydrogen. Congratulations to Dr. Lavine for recently being selected to partner with the Department of Energy to further develop this reaction for its application to solar thermal energy storage!

The other fantastic professors we interviewed this week included Dr. Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a professor of urban planning and the Associate Dean of the UCLA School of Public Affairs, as well as Dr. Gaurav Sant, Assistant Professor and Rice Endowed Chair in Materials Science, and Dr. Laurent Pilon, Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.  

Stay tuned for more interviews with professors who are making leaps and bounds for urban sustainability!