Davis Powers Up its Energy Research

With a set of major new initiatives and grants,
CITRIS campus UC Davis is taking its energy research to the next level.

by Jenn Shreve


Davis, one of the four CITRIS campuses, has long been known for the
depth and breadth of its research into alternative fuels and energy.
But three new initiatives—the Energy Efficiency Center, a major grant
for biofuel research, and the campus-wide Energy for the Future
Initiative—are adding more juice to these endeavors.

by the College of Engineering, the Energy for the Future Initiative is
an attempt to integrate and focus the campus’ energy research into a
single interdisciplinary research, education, and outreach program.
Fifteen new faculty members specializing in energy are being recruited
in a wide variety of departments across the campus, with the initial
focus on research into transportation systems energy, renewable energy
and energy at the molecular frontier.

Daniel Sperling: director of the Institute of Transportation Studies
and Associate Director of the Energy Efficiency Center at UC Davis.

energy could be the next major industrial revolution, following
information technology and biotechnology. We, that is, California, the
United States and the world are confronting a huge challenge and
opportunity. We need to do something about it. We need to replace oil
and reduce greenhouse gases. We need to find new ways of supplying
energy, which many at Davis are focused on, and need to use it more
efficiently—which is what the Energy Efficiency Center (EEC) is all
about," says Professor Daniel Sperling, who is the director of Davis's
Institute of Transportation Studies, Associate Director of the EEC, and
co-director of the campus Energy Initiative. "The campus has decided at
the highest levels that this is a top priority," he adds.

Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef, right, looks on, Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger congratulates UC Davis for being the winner in a
competitive grant process for an energy efficiency center. (Karin
Higgins/UC Davis photo)

Launched in April 2006 at a
ceremony attended by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the EEC is a
perfect example of the Energy Initiative in action. Its focus is on
developing business models around energy efficiency research in the
areas of transportation, buildings, and agriculture and food processing
in order to make energy efficiency central to our economy.

efficiency technologies are among the best and lowest-cost options for
reducing greenhouse gas emissions, for reducing exposure to fluctuating
energy costs, and even for increasing the value of investments in
alternative energies. Yet energy efficient technologies often face
difficulties in moving from research laboratories to the marketplace.
The Energy Efficiency Center is focused on helping researchers and
entrepreneurs successfully launch new ventures that promote energy
efficiency. In essence, our goal is to build sustainable businesses
around sustainable technologies," says the Center's director Andrew

Andrew Hargadon: director of the Energy Efficiency Center at UC Davis

a model developed at the Center for Entrepreneurship, which Hargadon
also directs, the EEC is pairing up business students and industry
partners with researchers through meetings and workshops. In some
cases, they might make researchers aware of marketplace needs, in order
to help them focus their research accordingly. In other cases, they
might make industry aware of a new technology that has a lot of
potential, effectively creating a new market.

example, the EEC recently facilitated a partnership between the
Innovative Mobility Research (IMR) group at UC’s California Partners
for Advanced Transit and Highways (PATH) program and the Bay Area
startup ParkingCarma™ to do a "smart parking" pilot program and
outreach workshop in Sacramento. Smart parking technology uses
information technology and sensor networks to let drivers know when
parking spots are available, thus reducing fuel and pollution caused by
drivers circling lots. Another initiative is aimed at developing
business models around an infrared food-processing technology developed
at Davis for efficiently blanching and drying fruits and nuts. Food
processing is a major consumer of energy in California.

EEC also plans to send engineering and science doctoral and
post-doctoral students and faculty through a targeted business
development curriculum, to give them the tools to build business models
and conduct market research around their own work. "We do see that a
lot of the doctoral-level students are interested in seeing their work
have a significant impact on society, which means getting it out into
the market for widespread adoption," says EEC program manager Benjamin

The EEC was launched with a $1 million grant
from the California Clean Energy Fund and a matching campus grant of
$1.3 million. PG&E Corp. has pledged $500,000 over five years, as

If the EEC is focused on technologies that reduce
energy consumption, the campus’ Bioenergy Research Group is tackling
the issue from the supply side, developing renewable fuels made from
biomass to power vehicles in the future in addition to other energy and
product uses. That research just got a lot more mileage thanks to a
recent $25 million grant over five years from Chevron. What is an oil
company doing funding research into the competition? Professor Bryan
Jenkins, co-chair of the UC Davis Bioenergy Research Group explains.

over the next few decades we are going to see an increasing tightening
of supplies of petroleum and conventional fuels and increasing
attention to environmental impacts of energy demand," says Jenkins.
"Chevron, along with many other companies, is interested in identifying
alterative supplies, including biofuels."

Like the EEC
and the Energy for the Future Initiative, Chevron's biofuels grant will
focus many of the campus’ existing strengths on energy research. "Much
of the work that has been done historically on agricultural crops is
now being directed at improving and identifying new crops and other
biomass sources for the production of bioenergy. Work of this type is
likely to be proposed under the Chevron grant," says Jenkins, adding
that continuing work in biomass production, processing, conversion, and
materials is also likely to be proposed under the grant.

points out that the campus' increased focus on energy does not merely
build upon Davis' well-established research areas, but also its
historic roots. "Davis is very much what we call engaged. It still
looks to its land grant roots of being an engaged university and trying
to be committed to doing research in the public interest; this
commitment to a major energy research initiative resonates at all
levels and in all ways," Sperling says.


For more information:

Energy for the Future Initiative

UC Davis Energy Efficiency Center

UC Davis Center for Entrepreneurship

UC Davis Institute for Transportation Studies

UC Davis Bioenergy Research Group

Chevron to Fund Major Biofuel Research Projects at UC Davis (UC Davis News, September 19, 2006)