Microgrid Feasibility Study for UCSC

The Schatz Center is working with GHD, an international engineering firm, to conduct a microgrid feasibility study for the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). The study is focused on a former semi-conductor manufacturing facility that was acquired by UCSC and is being converted to offices and research lab space. UCSC wants to install a microgrid with renewable energy generating capacity of 2 to 4 Megawatts, allowing the facility to island and operate independently of the Pacific Gas & Electric grid as well as parallel with and provide support to PG&E’s grid in Santa Cruz. Another important objective is to use the microgrid as a teaching and learning laboratory by including both commercially mature and emerging/experimental technologies as well as advanced supervisory control and data acquisition systems.

The study includes:

  • evaluating microgrid technologies,
  • assessing space requirements for generation and storage technologies,
  • developing a design load profile for full occupancy,
  • selection of recommended technologies,
  • developing a site plan and one line diagram,
  • estimating construction costs,
  • evaluating interconnection requirements/constraints,
  • developing an implementation plan including potential funding sources,
  • identifying educational curriculum opportunities, and
  • evaluating how to connect the facility with the adjacent UCSC Coastal Sciences Campus to create one large microgrid that could support both of these facilities.

This project is currently active and scheduled to be completed by the end of 2017. The project is funded by the UC Regents.

Biomass Utilization Feasibility Study for the Karuk Tribe of California

The Schatz Center is assisting the Karuk Community Development Corporation (KCDC) with a biomass utilization feasibility study. The Karuk Tribe of California (KTOC) has aboriginal territory encompassing the Klamath River and Salmon River watersheds in Northern California. These lands are heavily forested and have been adversely impacted by postcolonial land use practices like timber production and wildfire suppression. Large, destructive wildfires have become an annual occurrence in and around Karuk territory, and there is widespread agreement among land managers that forest practices in the region need to change. The KTOC is leading this change through eco-cultural revitalization efforts that involve putting beneficial fire back on the land and restoration of traditional oak woodlands. Within this context, there is a role for utilization of biomass residuals that are removed through mechanical treatment. The Schatz Center is evaluating economic development opportunities for the KCDC to utilize forest residuals.

The overall goal of the project is to determine the feasibility of using local, renewable biomass resources that are available to the KTOC to generate power, heat, or products, while creating jobs, fostering environmental stewardship, and providing benefits to the Tribe’s economy. The objectives of this project are to determine the resource availability, identify technologies that could be implemented, and calculate the financial viability of potential projects.

This project is currently active and is funded by US Department of Interior Indian Affairs Energy and Mineral Development Program. We expect to complete the project by the second quarter of 2018.

Improving a Biochar Production System in Mendocino County

by Kyle Palmer and Mark Severy

For the past three years, the Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc. (RFFI) has produced biochar from small-diameter tanoak trees collected from thinning operations in Mendocino County’s Usal Forest. The Usal Forest ecosystem was disrupted by industrial logging operations throughout the 20th century. Tanoak’s rapid regrowth dominated canopy light, and interfered with redwood repopulation. RFFI is selectively removing tanoak to create the natural space that redwood needs to flourish, and converting the tanoak into biochar to help fund their restoration work.

Biochar, a blackened, solid biomass produced at temperatures above 500°C in the absence of oxygen, is used primarily as a soil amendment to increase water holding capacity, reduce nutrient leaching, and improve conditions for microbial life. (Learn more about biochar on the Waste to Wisdom site.)

RFFI’s biochar production operation has balanced on the edge of technical and economic feasibility due to the high moisture content of the tanoak feedstock and the labor costs required to operate the machine. In 2016, the Schatz Energy Research Center addressed moisture content by installing a biomass drying system that uses waste heat from the biochar machine. This year, the Schatz Center is working to reduce labor hours while improving safety and productivity, by automating key processes on the machine.

A SEM photo shows the porosity of biochar


The highly porous structure of biochar is shown through scanning electron microscopy (SEM) at 600x magnification. This SEM image was taken by Murielle Manka and Marty Reed, using the Humboldt State CNRS Core Research Facility’s FEI Quanta 250 ESEM. The Quanta was obtained in 2012 via a Major Research Instrumentation grant from the National Science Foundation.

In July and August, research engineers Kyle Palmer, Andy Eggink and student research assistant Murielle Manka evaluated baseline labor hours, biochar production rate, and biochar quality produced with the existing system. Throughout these tests, real-time data were collected for gas flow, composition, and electric power demand to help develop the control schemes. Monitoring and automation equipment are currently being installed and performance improvements will be validated in the coming months.

The preliminary results from this study were presented in early September by Murielle Manka and Schatz Director Arne Jacobson at the Agricultural Research Institute’s (ARI) principal investigator’s meeting in Sacramento. Validation test results analyzed this autumn will quantify benefits of the automation system, including any reductions in labor, increases in throughput, and changes in biochar quality.

This material is based upon work supported by California State University Agricultural Research Institute and a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy under the Biomass Research and Development Initiative program: Award Number DE-EE0006297.


Murielle Manka and Arne Jacobson present biochar testing results


Murielle Manka and Arne Jacobson at the September 2017 ARI meeting in Sacramento


Blue Lake Rancheria receives FEMA’s 2017 Whole Community Preparedness Award

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced on September 28 that the Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe (BLR) has been chosen to receive the 2017 John D. Solomon Whole Community Preparedness Award for proactive efforts to address emergency preparedness challenges. Arla Ramsey, Vice Chair of the Rancheria, lauded the tribe’s many collaborators in sustainability and disaster preparedness: “Our partnerships have been critical in our preparedness efforts, such as with the Schatz Energy Research Center, who led our low-carbon, community microgrid project and enabled our emergency power platform.”

This award is given in recognition of the high earthquake risk faced by Humboldt County, and the BLR’s efforts to prepare for disaster events and ensuing power loss: “… BLR has transformed the Blue Lake Casino and Event Center into an official public shelter with help from the American Red Cross. BLR also installed a back-up green power micro grid should the regular power grid fail. Using a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, BLR developed a Regional Resilience Training & Innovation Center (RTIC) that offers pre-disaster training and exercises to tribes, local governments, and agencies. The tribe has also distributed 72-hour disaster supply backpacks to residents and employees, and in 2017 held a Resiliency Preparedness Fair for the general public. BLR’s actions have been a model for other tribes and communities, and BLR officials assist other tribes and agencies with their emergency preparedness needs.” Click here to read the full award statement from FEMA…

Congratulations to the Rancheria for this much-deserved recognition of their commitment to emergency preparedness through disaster response training and sustainable, distributed energy generation!

BlueTechValley: opportunities for innovators in energy, water & agriculture

BlueTechValley is seeking entrepreneurs and businesses engaged in energy, water and agricultural innovations. Regional hubs throughout California connect local projects with statewide services including technology evaluation, proof-of-concept validation, training and education, incubator and advisory services, and networking opportunities. Humboldt State University hosts the far Northern California project hub of BlueTechValley.

For more information about submitting a project for consideration, visit btvnc.org or contact the Humboldt Hub Managing Director, Lonny Grafman.

Sustainable Futures Speaker Series: Amy & Daniel Cordalis on October 5

Join us on Thursday, October 5 at 5:30 pm in Founders Hall 118, for a presentation by Amy & Daniel Cordalis on “Breathing life back into the Klamath River.”

Amy & Daniel Cordalis stand against a brick wall, holding hands

Amy & Daniel Cordalis

Amy Cordalis is General Counsel for the Yurok Tribe. She comes from a long line of Yurok Indians from the village of Requa at the mouth of the Klamath River, who have fought for Yurok rights: her great-uncle’s Supreme Court case, Mattz v. Arnett, confirmed the Yurok Reservation as Indian Country and set the stage for the Tribe’s federally reserved fishing and water rights. Cordalis received her undergraduate from the University of Oregon and her JD from the University of Denver College of Law. Before returning home to work for the Yurok Tribe in 2014, Cordalis worked for the Native American Rights Fund and Berkey Williams LLP on a wide range of Indian law issues.

Daniel Cordalis is a member of the Navajo Nation and a practicing attorney in natural resources and Indian law. Cordalis clerked for the Colorado Supreme Court and the Native American Rights Fund, and worked for the National Congress of American Indians in Washington D.C. and as an associate attorney for the Denver Earthjustice office. He received an undergraduate in geology from Rice University, a master’s in geography from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and his JD from the University of Colorado.

The Sustainable Futures Speaker Series is cosponsored by the Schatz Energy Research Center, the Environment & Community graduate program, and the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Humboldt State. For details on upcoming events or to request accessibility accommodations, email us at serc@humboldt.edu or call (707) 826-4345.

Sustainable Futures Speaker Series: Nick Goulette on September 28

Join us on Thursday, September 28 at 5:30 pm in Founders Hall 118, for a presentation by Nick Goulette on imagining and achieving the potential of community-based forestry in Northern California. As The Watershed Center’s executive director, Nick Goulette oversees programs focused on forestry, fire and fuels, watershed and fisheries, youth engagement, enterprise development, policy, and research.

Over the past thirteen years with the Watershed Center, Goulette has worked on a wide range of collaborative projects. He is the Chair of the Northern CA Prescribed Fire Council and a long-time member of the leadership team for the Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition. He also helped establish the CA Forest Biomass Working Group and the CA Statewide Wood Energy Team, and worked with the design and launch of the national Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network.

Goulette was born and raised in Maine and received a B.S. in Forestry from the University of Vermont with a concentration in Community-Based Forestry. He now lives with his wife Naomi on a homestead in Weaverville, California.

The Sustainable Futures Speaker Series is cosponsored by the Schatz Energy Research Center, the Environment & Community graduate program, and the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Humboldt State. For details on upcoming events or to request accessibility accommodations, email us at serc@humboldt.edu or call (707) 826-4345.

PV module performance over time: assessing 26 years at the HSU Telonicher Marine Lab

In 1990, the Schatz Center installed 192 ARCO M75 photovoltaic (PV) modules at the HSU Telonicher Marine Lab in Trinidad, California, 150 m off the Pacific Ocean. Current voltage (IV) tests were performed on each module prior to the array’s construction in 1990, again in 2001 and 2010, and most recently in 2016 after the array was decommissioned.

Read our report, which will appear in the June 2017 Proceedings of the 44th IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference…

Sustainable Futures Speaker Series: Debbie Page-Dumroese on August 31

Join us on Thursday, August 31 at 5:30 pm in Founders Hall 118, for a presentation by visiting soil scientist Debbie Page-Dumroese on the use of biochar to sequester carbon and improve soil resilience. Biochar is a porous, high-carbon material derived from exposing biomass to temperatures above 500°C in a low-oxygen environment. The resultant “char” is typically used as a soil amendment to increase water-holding capacity and nutrient retention.

Page-Dumroese has been a Research Soil Scientist with the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station for over three decades. Her work focuses on long-term soil productivity after harvest operation, sustainable harvesting, wood decomposition, and biochar. For the last ten years, she has been investigating the potential to reduce slash pile burns and limit wildfire risks by using onsite biochar conversion technologies.

Visiting Speaker Debbie Page-Dumroese

The Sustainable Futures Speaker Series is cosponsored by the Schatz Energy Research Center and HSU’s Environment & Community graduate program. For details on upcoming events or to request accessibility accommodations, email us at serc@humboldt.edu or call (707) 826-4345.

Waste to Wisdom Webinar: Wednesday, August 9

On Wednesday, August 9 at 10 am (Pacific), join SERC Research Engineer Mark Severy alongside Sevda Alanya, Richard Bergman, and Ted Bilek of the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory as they discuss results from a life cycle assessment and economic analysis of producing torrefied biomass from forest residues.

To register, visit the Waste to Wisdom site.

Cupped hands hold unprocessed and torrefied wood chips in comparison.

Unprocessed wood chips (front) and the same feedstock after torrefaction. Photo credit Kellie Brown.