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Meet Climate & Energy Challenge Past Interns: 2008

Energy Technology

James Burgess, 2009, Mathematics


Internship:
Princeton Phycological Energy Project

Organization:
Princeton University

Advisers:
Tom Kreutz, Steve Pacala, and Charles Dismukes

"The purpose of this project was to investigate and analyze a novel biofuel production system. I worked with a team of undergraduates, graduates, and professors to determine, both analytically and experimentally, the feasibility of such a system and its potential effects on the nation’s energy supply and total Carbon emissions."

"Like any alternative energy research, our project was motivated by a hope to see low-cost, non-polluting, domestically produced energy sources in the near future. Biofuels have long been held as a solution to our energy woes, but are plagued by a variety of their own troubles. While corn and other crops are traditionally considered as biofuel feedstock, algae offer a promising future as an alternative feedstock. Algae provide a simple solution to the food competition problem. Namely, algae do not compete for growing space with food crops. Algae are grown primarily in oceanic environments or man-made aquatic environments, neither of which will use available agricultural space. At the same time, algae have productivity rates (growth rates) that can exceed terrestrial plants’ productivity rates by up to ten-fold. In other words, given the same amount of sunlight, algae can produce ten times as much biomass (and therefore ten times as much fuel) as a typical terrestrial crop like corn or Elephant Grass."

"In order to quantify the potential economic and climate benefits of adopting an algae-based energy production scheme, our team modeled a full-length production system and calculated costs along each step of the system. The basic system was divided into several key components: namely, Algae Growth, Algae Harvest, Conversion to Biogas, Biogas Cleanup, and Pipeline Connections. Each of these modules was thoroughly researched using available scientific literature and industrial contacts. Our model demonstrated two primary results. The first significant results were that an algae-based natural gas system would be almost entirely dependent on the price of sewage sludge. In our model, we assumed that a tipping fee is provided for the removal of sewage sludge. This tipping fee was the most significant added value in our system and vastly outweighed the value of the actual fuel generated or any Carbon credits accrued. As a result, our system was economic only while scaled to the size of the sewage waste market. This market, while large, would only allow an energy generation system equivalent to about 1% of the U.S. energy market. Our second primary result was the inherent uneconomical nature of the system. Using relatively conservative assumptions, we determined that the costs of gathering and transporting algal biomass far outweighed the biomass’ value as a fuel source. As mentioned before, the system only proved economical when a major adjunct service (sewage removal) was provided as well." (See presentation.)


Joonas Govenius, 2010, Physics


Internship:
Modeling Neutral Beam Heating in Fusion Reactors

Organization:
Advanced Energy Systems (AES), Helsinki University of Technology, Finland

Adviser:
Taina Kurki-Suonio

"Nuclear fission plants provide a stable and powerful source of energy, capable of producing large amounts of electricity compared to the size of the facility. However, fission plants suffer from the side effect of producing dangerous and extremely long-lasting radioactive waste in the process as well as posing a small risk of an uncontrolled reaction leading to an explosion. Nuclear fusion reactors are meant to remedy these most troublesome issues of current nuclear plants. When isotopes of hydrogen are combined to produce helium in fusion reactors, only small amounts of radioactive material is produced as the reactor components become activated. Furthermore, only small amounts of hydrogen are in the reactor at any given time so even an uncontrolled fusion chain reaction would not produce energy at dangerous rates."

"The specific aim of my project was to model the so-called Neutral Beam Injectors (NBI) used in tokamak fusion reactors for heating up the hydrogen plasma. During the project I wrote a piece of software that reads in parameters describing an NBI system and produces a random sample of ionized particles from the neutral particle beam. Initially I spent a significant amount of time reading scientific papers about the topic in order to familiarize myself with plasma physics and, in particular, to find a good method for calculating the ionization rates inside the plasma. During the rest of the summer my time was taken almost entirely by implementation of the algorithm in Fortran code, and by data collection of the geometric parameters of the NBI system used in various tokamaks, such as ITER, JET, and AUG.

Overall, the internship was a great experience. The end result of the project was a simple but well-tested and functional module that can be used to create initialization data for programs that simulate what happens to the particles once they are ionized. I also enjoyed the atmosphere and excitement about fusion at the lab, so the experience certainly made me give more serious though to the possibility of returning to Finland to study fusion after graduating from Princeton." (See presentation.)

Babur Khwaja, 2009, Economics


Internship:
Marine Bioenergy

Organization:
Princeton University

Advisers:
Tom Kreutz, Charles Dismukes, and Steve Pacala

"In order to address the dual threats of climate change and energy security, I endeavored to develop a novel energy production system utilizing anaerobic biodigestion of the abundant, pelagic macroalgae, Sargassum Fluitans. I worked at Princeton, together with a team of undergraduates, to analyze this novel technology, focusing on conversion pathways and nutrient provision." (See presentation.)


Bilesh Ladva, 2011, Undecided


Internship:
Computer Simulation of a Plasma Spark Plug

Organization:
Princeton University

Adviser:
Szymon Suckewer

"A Plasma Spark plug (PSP), like conventional electric spark plugs, produces a source to ignite fuel. However unlike electric spark plugs, the source is essentially a different state of matter, with a larger surface area to ignite fuel. This increased surface area leads to a greater efficiency of an ordinary combustion engine, reducing the volume of fuel used. 

The summer project involved two main components; a practical training aspect with the electrical firing circuit-in order to get acquainted to the system. The second, more important component was to produce an effective computer simulation of the firing circuit. This was so that several configurations of circuits could be tested with speed and that anomalies could easily be evaluated and corrected within the circuit. PSP has the potential to be very useful in several different types of combustion engines, with the airplane engine being of particular interest. In addition, in a time of high fuel prices, the need for inventions like PSP can be very beneficial." (See presentation.)

Mark B. Smith, 2009, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


Internship:
Marine Bioenergy

Organization:
Princeton University

Advisers:
Tom Kreutz, Chuck Dismukes, and Steve Pacala

"In order to address the dual threats of climate change and energy security, I endeavored to develop a novel energy production system utilizing anaerobic biodigestion of the abundant, pelagic macroalgae, Sargassum Fluitans. I worked at Princeton, together with a team of undergraduates, to analyze this novel technology, focusing on conversion pathways and nutrient provision." (See presentation.)


Energy Policy

Richard Andrews, 2009, Economics


Internship:
Economic Development Intern on the Navajo Nation

Organization:
Navajo-Hopi Land Commission, Tuba City and Window Rock, AZ

Adviser:
Roman Bitsuie

"During the summer of 2008, I worked with the Tuba City Regional Business Development Office (TCRBDO) on the Navajo Nation. The office, which is part of the Navajo Nation Department of Economic Development, helps facilitate local businesses on the reservation. Specifically, the office helps individuals write business plans, apply for Navajo Nation small business loans, and navigate through the business site leasing process. Furthermore, the office assists in communities in planning economic development projects."

"I spent much of my time soliciting contracts for land surveys, environmental assessments, and archaeological assessments—all of which are required before a business site lease is approved. Also, I worked with community leaders in business site development, assisted clients working on getting loans and business site leases, and compiled a summary document of the economic development plans for each community under our jurisdiction."

"Through working with the TCRBDO, I learned a lot about the challenges to economic development on reservation. The lack of private property is probably the most significant hurdle, as individuals must navigate a complicated bureaucracy in order to start a business. This process can sometimes take up to 5 years. A lack of business-related education also impedes local Navajo from starting effective businesses, along with a lack of credit. The TCRBDO periodically holds business-related training sessions in order to counteract this problem. However, clearly more is needed. Also, a lack of infrastructure makes starting business a costly endeavor, as often the entrepreneur has to invest in the costs of infrastructure to a potential business site. Finally, poor leadership and a complicated bureaucracy work to slow economic development projects on the reservation."

"In terms of energy development, my office was working with one company in particular to bring a wind farm to the reservation. It was the most promising renewable energy project on the reservations with plans for it to be fully operational by 2012. However, after spending my first two weeks of the summer working with the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission, it became clear to us that solar-based renewable energy projects hold the most promise on the reservation (see Tom Yersak’s Internship Summary for more details)."

One of the coolest developments I was a part of was the transfer of control of the business site leasing process from the Navajo government to a local community—the Shonto Chapter. This transfer will greatly decrease the time needed to start a local business, freeing the people from a government apparatus that hinders growth. My office was closely assisting Shonto Chapter, in order to make the transition as smooth as possible. Apparently, this is the first time a local government has been in control of the leasing process among any native peoples in the United States, and I had the privilege of attending the ceremony where the Navajo Nation officially transferred power to Shonto."

"Overall, I had an eye-opening, provocative summer. I learned a lot about the Navajo people and the challenges they face, while also enjoying the beauties of the American Southwest. The work may not have been the most stimulating, but I do believe that I did a small part to aid economic development on the reservation." (See presentation.)


Abby Poats, 2009, Politics


Internship:
Summer internship at the American Council On Renewable Energy

Organization:
American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE), Washington, DC

Adviser:
Brandon Keefe

"As an ACORE intern from June to September 2008, I had the opportunity to both provide valuable program support for full-time ACORE staff and conduct my own personal research."

"Specifically, I compiled a list of over 200 contacts in the energy/renewable energy/environmental practices of several law firms throughout the U.S. for recruitment for ACORE's American Bar Association (ABA) Teleconference Series, a monthly webinar convening energy lawyers, business experts and policymakers. In addition to research support for ACORE's new International Committee (currently with a specific focus on China) and some website development, I provided research support for ACORE's National Governors Association (NGA) 50 States project, which was presented to the NGA National Resources Committee in July 2008."

"Complimenting my semester abroad junior independent research on the Clean Development Mechanism in South Africa, my personal research included a critical summary of South Africa's renewable energy policies and technologies as well as an overview of the proposed International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the activities of other international institutions working in the field of renewable energy."

"Overall, my internship provided me with the ideal opportunity to better understand the interfaces between trade, finance, law and policy in renewable energy development, relationships which will become increasingly apparent and essential both in the U.S. and throughout the world in the years ahead." (See presentation.)


Benjamin Weisman, 2011, Woodrow Wilson School


Internship:
Energy Efficiency in Low Income Housing, Isles

Organization:
ISLES, Trenton, NJ; ENVIRON, Princeton, NJ

Adviser:
Robert Harris

"ISLES, a Trenton-based nonprofit community development organization, is looking to help the Trenton community and create employment opportunities by developing a program to audit and retrofit homes in the city. Low-income households use significantly more energy per square foot than high-income homes, almost completely due to waste and inefficiency."

"Much of my time was spent researching existing programs throughout New Jersey, the US, and the world, and attempting to find the role, which would best suit Isles. I also looked into cost effective strategies for retrofits, as well as advocacy for possible changes to current state policy. Isles' program will be very effective at addressing issues of climate change as well as urban poverty, through both lower energy bills and the creation of green-collar jobs." (See presentation.)


Tom Yersak, 2009, Mechanical Engineering


Internship:
Renewable Energy Development on the Navajo Nation

Organization:
Navajo-Hopi Land Commission, Tuba City and Window Rock, AZ

Adviser:
Roman Bitsuie

"I worked for the Navajo Hopi Land Commission Office with two Navajo Princeton Alums: Roman Bitsuie ’79 and Larry Nez ’81. NHLCO is charged with acquiring and developing “New Lands” for the benefit of Navajo relocatees affected by land disputes. The executive director of the NHLCO, Roman Bitsuie, is interested in developing large-scale solar projects on the New Lands to create new jobs and revenue for the Navajo Nation. With a 50% unemployment rate on the reservation, jobs and funds for assistance are the most valuable benefits the NHLCO can provide relocatees. Such projects are also very popular on the Reservation given the negative environmental impacts of several coal strip mines and power plants in the surrounding area."

"Everyday I was exposed to the issues involved with getting large-scale renewable energy projects off the ground. My internship focused mainly on the initial research for a land survey and an environmental impact statement (EIS) needed for approval of any large-scale construction project. I was also involved in the day-to-day operations of the office." (See presentation.)


Climate Science

Gregor Horstmeyer, 2010, Civil and Environmental Engineering


Internship:
Climatology at Stanford

Organization:
Stanford University, CA

Advisers:
Michael Mastrandrea and Stephen Schneider

"I spent this summer helping Professor Stephen Schneider of Stanford University in Stanford, California. Since Professor Schneider was often away traveling I spent the majority of my time working with Dr. Michael Mastrandrea.    Professor Schneider and Dr. Mastrandrea have been working together for several years studying issues surrounding climate change. The scope of my work focused on two projects that Dr. Mastrandrea had begun to work on: Future Greenhouse Gas Emissions Scenarios and Extreme Events in California."

"We worked to make a report on future GHG emissions using probabilistic projections of the emissions and radiative forcing pathways. This could be used to help model future climate in California. The probabilistic projections for the report were based on both existing scholarly research and a new survey of expert opinion."

"The goal of the second project was to improve existing research on the end-user impacts of extreme events in California. The report focused on the assessment of present and future changes to end-users in the likelihood of events similar in magnitude to historical events. The report also looks at the likelihood of future extreme events and events more intense than those observed in the past.


Raleigh Martin, 2008, Civil and Environmental Engineering


Internship:
Urbanization impacts on summer rainfall in Beijing

Organization:
MIRTHE (Mid-Infrared Technologies for Health and the Environment) Center at Princeton University; and Institute for Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, China

Adviser:
James A. Smith

"The primary purpose of this project was to investigate the various effects of urbanization (the urban heat island, the urban canopy, and urban aerosols) on rainfall climatology, with a special focus on Beijing. A group of students, researchers, and faculty of the MIRTHE (Mid-Infrared Technologies for Health and the Environment) Center at Princeton University collaborated with scientists at the Institute for Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences on this project. Over the course of the summer of 2008, a multifaceted approach was taken to assess urban impacts on Beijing rainfall climatology. Components of the Beijing 2008 summer climatology project included air quality monitoring, meteorological data collection, atmospheric modeling, and review of Chinese-language literature. The administrative restrictions placed on Beijing air pollution as part of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics provided a unique setting for studying the effect of abrupt changes in air pollutant emissions on air quality and meteorology."

"The focus of my work was on the meteorological modeling (using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model) and on review of the Chinese language literature regarding urbanization effects on summer meteorology in Beijing. WRF model sensitivity analyses of severe summer rainfall events in Beijing indicated the important effects of spin-up time and domain/grid scheme on model results. Review of Chinese language literature found that strong orographic influences and the short-duration, localized nature of thunderstorms indeed makes modeling of summer rainfall very difficult. These findings about model sensitivity will hopefully inform future efforts to study the effects on urbanization on precipitation in Beijing." (See presentation.)


Aishwarya Sridhar, 2009, Electrical Engineering


Internship:
MIRTHE in Beijing - Quantum Cascade Lasers for Urban Air Quality Monitoring

Organization:
MIRTHE (Mid-Infrared Technologies for Health and the Environment) Center at Princeton University; and Institute for Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, China

Advisers:
Claire Gmachl, Gerard Wysocki, and James A. Smith

"The summer of 2008 promised to be a momentous period in history. In particular, the world watched with bated breath as China, the emerging power drew up elaborate plans for the Olympics in August. The sports extravaganza drew athletes, sports fans, tourists, businessmen – and scientists! When Beijing was named the host city, the idea of organizing a clean and green Olympics was a central theme. However several months preceding the Games, environmental concerns, specifically, air quality and pollution, came to the fore. The authorities adopted radical measures including shutting down or relocating polluting industrial units and taking several vehicles off the roads. For scientists this presented a unique and large-scale experimental platform to understand Beijing climatology.

"At the Mid-Infra Red Technologies for the Health and Environment (MIRTHE), an NSF Center at Princeton, researchers from Civil and Environmental Engineering and Electrical Engineering pooled together their expertise to study the regional environment. We partnered with the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences to carry out our studies. One aspect of the project included employing WRF-Chem, the Weather Research and Forecasting Model, to simulate weather patterns, while incorporating pollution data. I worked with the group on another component of the project that involved developing and deploying novel mid-infra-red spectroscopic equipment. The mid infra-red region of the spectrum is special because it contains strong absorption lines of several gaseous pollutants. The Quantum Cascade Laser Open Path System (QCLOPS) is an open path sensing system that analyzes the retro-reflected laser light to monitor ozone, ammonia, and carbon dioxide. The Nitric Oxide point sensor system is based on the principles of Faraday rotation spectroscopy resulting in sub-parts-per billion sensitivity. It was exciting learning about the instruments, while exploring techniques for studying and analyzing the data. Further, it was an enriching experience working in China, especially during the Olympics and provided a great insight into the culture, ethos, and systems of the nation.