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NUvention: Projects
2011 NUvention: Energy Projects

Behavior Change For Residential Energy Efficiency


The students’ challenge would be to design a program centered around this philosophy; supported by a robust social marketing campaign to ensure long-term viability; and include a mechanism for reporting reliable kWh/gas/water savings back to utilities. This program relies on participants’ behavior modification to drive reportable kWh savings. Its premise is that by de-cluttering one’s life of material possessions and re-organizing one’s priorities (ie: changing behaviors), one cannot only find fulfillment and happiness — but one becomes more energy efficient and by definition, lives a more sustainable lifestyle. The program could be called “Live Simply.” It would attract participants much the same way Lance Armstrong’s LiveStrong association attracted its members: by appealing to a fundamentally attractive premise, that life can be fulfilling and without the clutter, noise, and materialism of today’s society. ComEd is interested in funding such a program, to be managed by an outside entity possibly created by the students, beginning next summer. It would leverage social media to attract and share participants’ stories. And it could obtain utility usage info from its subscribers either via manual entry by these same participants, or by automated data sharing through an IT setup with ComEd, Nicor, city water utilities, etc.

Addressing The Gap Between Smart Grid Technology And End Consumers


A problem that nearly every US utility has faced in smart grid roll outs has been the gap between customers’ understanding of electricity and energy usage and the benefits that smart grid technology enable. While utilities have been focused on the technology behind smart grid, many utilities have spent little time and effort addressing consumer understanding and acceptance of smart grid. The result has been significant backlash from end customers as smart meters have been deployed – complaints about meter accuracy, bill amounts and understanding of time-of-use pricing. Utilities have been challenged in justifying their past and future investments in smart grid technology.
As a result, there is a significant opportunity for someone to develop an education, outreach and marketing approach to bridge the gap between consumer understanding and the benefits of smart grid. Developing such a solution would aid utilities across the nation in successful deploying and gaining consumer acceptance of smart grid technologies.

Computational Materials Innovation

Professor Chris Wolverton
Materials Science and Engineering

As computers increase exponentially in speed while dropping in cost, and scientific modeling software grows more sophisticated, it is becoming possible to design new materials and molecules (for solar cells, batteries, drugs, and more) entirely on the computer. Instead of manually investigating hundreds, thousands, or even millions of possibilities in the laboratory a la Edison’s search for a lightbulb filament, researchers can computationally study candidate materials—saving time and money, and avoiding any chemical hazards—so that laboratory investigations are reserved for only the most promising candidates. Further, computational tools are often able to make insights that experiments cannot, due to the real-world physical limitations of microscopes, furnaces, lasers, etc. that do not hinder computer models. Computational methods have already been used to study hundreds of candidate materials for hydrogen production catalysis, hydrogen storage, batteries, and thermoelectrics, and to successfully predict ultrafast-charging batteries, among many other energy applications.

Urban Sustainability Scans

Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT)

CNT has 31 years of experience consulting with local and regional governments and planning bodies. We have many tools and expertise, including greenhouse gas calculators, land-use mapping, and alternative storm water management methods. CNT has recently been producing urban sustainability scans for a major foundation as part of its sustainable cities program. How can CNT package and market our sustainability scans as a product?

Information Systems For Designing The Electric Car Charging Station Infrastructure
Professor Diego Klabjan
Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences
Mass production electric vehicles (EVs) will be coming on the market en masse during the next few years. Their adoption will depend on the availability of charging stations. A few cities have started deploying such stations and many more are in the planning stage. The decision makers, being city governments, utilities, or private entities such as mall and fast-food restaurant operators, are in need of information systems that will assist them in deploying such an infrastructure, including (1) EV demand consideration, (2) the actual location of stations, (3) the implied service time on car owners, and (4) power grid implications. All of these aspects should be addressed through analytical methodologies. The proposed system can drastically reduce labor needs and enables easy what-if analyses.

Next-Generation Lithium-Ion Batteries

Professor Harold Kung
Chemical and Biological Engineering

Fossil fuels, apart from being abundant and (artificially) cheap, are also excellent energy storage media. Displacing fossil fuels thus necessitates the development of highly efficient storage alternatives. Rechargeable batteries are strong contenders for this needed role, but they currently lack the energy density or cost to be competitive. For example, it takes 1000 pounds of lithium-ion batteries to power a Tesla Roadster for a range of 220 miles; just 10 pounds of gasoline (plus the weight of an engine) provide the same amount of power. Professor Kung has developed a material for one of the two key components of batteries—the anode—that promises to increase the energy density of lithium-ion batteries by a factor of 10 compared with current commercial units.

Printed Polymer Photovoltaics

Alex Martinson
Argonne National Laboratory

This project seeks to develop high efficiency thin film photovoltaics from layers of interwoven low-cost and unconventional materials. The thin film PV material has the potential to meet or exceed the efficiency of current commercial PV systems while also reducing the cost of materials and processing, and would also help to reach DOE’s goal of providing low cost power from photovoltaics on a national scale.

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