Sponsored Research

Agency: National Science Foundation (NSF)

Division: Electrical, Communications, and Cyber Systems

Title: Sustainable Energy Pathways Through Education and Technology (SEPTET)

Amount: $1.7M

Investigators: Olga Larova (PI, Engineering), Co-PI’s: Sang Han (Engineering), Andrea Polli (Fine Arts), Ganesh Balakrishnan (Engineering), Nick Flor (Business)


The NSF Sustainable Energy Pathways (SEP) Program will support the research project of Prof. Olga Lavrova and her collaborators at the University of New Mexico. The objective of the project is to combine fundamental research on energy harvesting with creating visualization tools for raising social awareness about energy usage. In this project, Prof. Lavrova and her collaborators will develop new multi-functional and broadband energy harvesters, utilizing novel material combinations and novel material growth techniques. First, the research will lead to a quantitatively new approach to energy harvesting. which can be used to offset the energy demands of the US population. Second, the team of investigators will incorporate energy harvesters into existing or newly developed urban and rural power infrastructure. The goal is to significantly reduce the amounts of energy being routinely consumed and/or wasted. Detailed numerical models for system-level operation will lead to long-term models of energy harvesters operation, economical feasibility and life-cycle analysis of energy harvesters in various environmental settings. Lastly, Prof. Lavrova and her collaborators will create a number of highly visual tools for the general public, which will increase public awareness of the energy and sustainability picture. An example of general public oriented visualization will be a real-time interactive behavioral energy application.

Social outcomes will stem directly from the visualization and education work described above, and will lead to changes in global behavior as relevant to energy consumption. Economic benefits will stem from both technical developments (new devices providing new economic models for $/W) as well as savings and generation avoided by implementing new infrastructures suggested in this project. Environmental benefits will stem from the direct reduction of generated power, thus leading to reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, by removing and/or simplifying certain elements from the current electrical infrastructure, environmental footprint will be reduced even further by removing the manufacturing environment impact associated with removed or reduced components. A broad educational and outreach campaign will ensure sustainable approach to workforce development, starting from young graduates to re-entry level of professionals, or veterans returning to civilian careers, hence providing an outcome of continuous workforce.

The transformational impact of this project, if successful, will be in bringing the fundamental fields of energy research from micro-W to MW scales into one common model. From such big picture, both researchers as well as electric utilities can assess current states of energy generation and consumption, and address improvements on a short-term and long-term scales.   The project will also lead to new societal understanding of energy generation and consumption, thus transforming behavior of energy consumer in a way as to provide sustainable lifestyle. Such approach will have an impact from a single-building to utility-wide to worldwide energy balance, hence transforming current worldwide approach to relieving energy crisis.