A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3On April 5th, SERC hosted the first meeting of its new Advisory Board. The formation of the board represents an important milestone for our center. The board is a dynamic group with deep experience in the clean energy sector, and they are well positioned to help us enhance our ability to achieve our mission of promoting clean and renewable energy.

If renewable energy is to make a difference in addressing the major environmental problems of our times, it must continue to move from the margins into the mainstream. During the board meeting, the SERC team reported on the recently completed RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan, which confirms that Humboldt County is well positioned to play a leading role in this effort. As senior research engineer Jim Zoellick reports in this issue, the strategic plan includes an analysis of the potential to dramatically scale up the use of renewable energy in Humboldt County.

The results are interesting and promising. They indicate that Humboldt County can meet 75% or more of its electricity needs and a substantial percentage of its transportation and heating requirements by 2030 using renewable energy at only a modest increase in cost. Meeting these targets would result in reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that are on the order of 35% to 45% relative to the expected business-as-usual trajectory.

If successful, an effort to achieve these goals would have significance that goes well beyond Humboldt County. Back in 2009, President Obama set a target of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 83% by 2050 (relative to 2005 baseline emissions).  For the country to have a chance to meet that target, some regions need to lead the way by achieving substantial reductions much earlier. The challenge is a big one, and Humboldt County has the renewable energy resource base, prior track record, and environmental ethic to play a leadership role. The RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan provides a vision and a roadmap that we can use to move forward. And, as Jim explains, some next step activities are already underway in the form of a CEC funded project involving collaboration between SERC, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, and the Blue Lake Rancheria.

The board also heard about SERC’s education and outreach work. Over the past year, SERC’s clean energy education programs have reached over 1,000 students and community members. In addition to activities in schools and university classes, SERC provides mentorship to students working to reduce the environmental impact of energy use on the Humboldt State campus through projects funded by the Humboldt Energy Independence Fund (HEIF).  In this issue, senior research engineer Richard Engel writes about our work to support HEIF projects, one of the latest efforts in SERC’s longstanding tradition of training and mentoring students.

The board was very interested in SERC’s international project portfolio, including our work in support of quality assurance for off-grid lighting in Africa and Asia.  In this newsletter, research engineer Kristen Radecsky recounts the recent successful technical training workshop that she helped lead for the Solar Lighting Laboratory at TERI University in New Delhi, India. This work is part of a broader effort associated with the Lighting Asia and Lighting Africa initiatives to develop a network of laboratories which can evaluate the quality and performance of off-grid lighting and energy systems that provide critical energy services to people in rural areas of Africa, Asia, and elsewhere.

Also in this issue, Richard reports about a new international project related to the use of solar powered mini-grids for rural electrification in India. The effort involves collaboration with partners including E3 and Black & Veatch.

I will close by extending a special thanks to our Advisory Board for taking the time to serve on our behalf. It was a pleasure having them here at SERC, and I look forward to more productive sessions over the coming years. Goodbye until next time.

Hydrogen Education Pursues National Audience

In January, SERC submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation to expand our work in hydrogen education with the goal of reaching a national audience. Working with proposal partners at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Michigan Technological University in Houghton, MI, and San Francisco State University, we proposed to create a new “Teaching Energy Concepts with Hydrogen” (TECH2) project. This project would build on our recently completed (see January 2012 post) three year Hydrogen Energy in Engineering Education (H2E3) curriculum in which we worked with California universities in both the CSU and UC systems. The proposed TECH2 project would reach nearly 5,000 freshman engineering students across the country.


HyTEC Manual Cover

Investigating Alternative Energy: Hydrogen & Fuel Cells was published by project partner Lab-Aids, Inc. in March 2011.

We are excited to announce that the Hydrogen Technology and Energy Curriculum (HyTEC) project’s high school chemistry module titled, Investigating Alternative Energy: Hydrogen & Fuel Cells was published by project partner Lab-Aids, Inc. in March 2011 (see the cover, below). The module is comprised of six activities and introduces students to hydrogen and fuel cells in the context of energy for transportation.

The publication of the module is the culmination of six years of hard work between SERC and Lawrence Hall of Science (LHS). There have been many meetings, teacher training workshops, and iterations with Barbara Nagle and her colleagues at LHS. It’s rewarding to see our curriculum published and available to high school students across the country.

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H2 Education Project Goes Public

H2E3 Instructional Video

Still from an instructional video for the H2E3 curriculum.

Our Hydrogen Energy in Engineering Education (H2E3) project continues to grow as it enters its third year. This semester we brought hydrogen-related curriculum to five engineering and environmental science courses at Humboldt State, including new activities for a probability and statistics class, an upper- division renewable energy course, and a new thermodynamics class for non-engineering students.

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HyTEC Update

H2E3 Fuel Cell / Electrolyzer Kit

H2E3 Fuel Cell / Electrolyzer Kit (Photo credit Kellie Jo Brown)

The Hydrogen Technology and Energy Curriculum (HyTEC) project has been underway since 2004, and after much hard work we are nearing a momentous milestone. In collaboration with SERC and the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley, LabAids, Inc. is about to begin offering a commercial version of our HyTEC curriculum. The cornerstone of the curriculum is a bench-top electrolyzer and fuel cell kit that high school students will work with in their chemistry or other physical science courses. With this bench-top kit, students will produce hydrogen via electrolysis and then use the hydrogen to power a small fuel cell and run a fan motor. Students will collect data while running the lab experiment and will use the data to estimate the energy conversion efficiency of the fuel cell.

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SERC Delivers Stack-Outside-the-Box to Smith College

Smith College Receives SOTB

Professor Denise McKay (2nd from left) and her Engineering 390 class with their new SOtB. (Photo credit SERC)

On October 9, SERC shipped its first-ever Stack-Outside-the-Box™ (SOtB™) to Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. This bench-top educational fuel cell system is initially being used by HSU and SERC alumna Denise McKay, now an assistant professor in the Picker Engineering Program at Smith, in her Engineering 390: Photovoltaic and Fuel Cell System Design class. The Picker Engineering Program is the nation’s first and only accredited engineering program for women.

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H2E3 Project Delivers Equipment and Lecture to UC Berkeley

H2E3 Delivery

(left to right) SERC’s Richard Engel and Peter Lehman and UC Berkeley’s Tim Lipman and Dan Kammen gather around the fuel cell test station during its delivery to UCB. (Photo by Eileen Cashman.)

On November 12, SERC’s Hydrogen Energy in Engineering Education (H2E3) project achieved a major milestone with the delivery of a fuel cell test station and a dozen benchtop fuel cell/electrolyzer kits to University of California, Berkeley. Director Peter Lehman, faculty research associate Eileen Cashman, and H2E3 project manager Richard Engel made the trek to UCB to hand off the newly completed equipment, all built in-house at SERC.

While at UCB, Peter and Richard demonstrated the test station and presented a well-received lecture on fuel cells to nearly 200 undergrad and grad students in a course on energy and society taught by Dr. Dan Kammen of UCB’s Energy and Resources Group.

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University Curriculum Project

H2E3 Fuel Cell / Electrolyzer Kit

H2E3 Fuel Cell / Electrolyzer Kit (Photo credit Kellie Jo Brown)

Since our last update, we have completed fabrication of two dozen benchtop fuel cell/electrolyzer kits and one of two fuel cell test stations to be built as part of the Hydrogen Energy in Engineering Education (H2E3) project (see pictures, below). The purpose of the DOE-funded H2E3 project is to bring hands-on hydrogen and fuel cell education into classrooms and labs across the University of California and California State University systems. University of California, Berkeley and several fuel cell companies are partnering with SERC on the project.

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Hydrogen Learning for Local Leaders

The H2E3 fuel cell/electrolyzer kits in ENGR 115

The H2E3 fuel cell/electrolyzer kits in ENGR 115 (Photo credit Kellie Jo Brown).

Part of SERC’s mission is to educate people about clean and renewable energy. To that end, SERC is working on a US Department of Energy funded project to inform local government leaders about the long-term benefits and near-term realities of hydrogen and fuel cell technology. SERC is partnered with the Technology Transition Corporation, who founded and manages the National Hydrogen Association, and the Public Technology Institute (PTI), which assists local government with technology development and implementation. To date, SERC has developed a curriculum and delivered it at PTI’s annual conference in San Diego, as well as via a webinar hosted by PTI. In the coming year we will make additional conference and webinar presentations while also developing and implementing a train-the-trainer component to the project. This will increase our effectiveness at getting the word out about hydrogen.

North Coast Teachers Learn HyTEC

HyTEC Manual Cover

Investigating Alternative Energy: Hydrogen & Fuel Cells was published by project partner Lab-Aids, Inc. in March 2011.

SERC had a busy summer working to get the Hydrogen Technology and Energy Curriculum (HyTEC) into high school classrooms. HyTEC is a 2-3 week curriculum developed over the last four years through a partnership between Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley (LHS) and SERC. HyTEC is designed to introduce high school chemistry and environmental science students to hydrogen energy and fuel cell concepts in the course of their regular classwork.

We led two 2-day teacher training workshops at Humboldt State University (HSU) for local teachers and participated in another 2-day teacher training at LHS in Berkeley for teachers from across the nation.

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