Pictured: Associate Professor Diana Huffaker
Pictured: Associate Professor Diana Huffaker

Stimulus funds help start program to create clean-tech leaders

By Alison Hewitt. Originally published in UCLA Today.

Pictured: Associate Professor Diana Huffaker

As the country presses forward in developing green energy and Los Angeles strives to become a hub of clean technology, UCLA Associate Professor Diana Huffaker noticed there was one thing still missing: a program to train the future leaders of environmental industry in L.A.

So she created it — and, working with about 20 other professors, won support for it: $3 million in stimulus funding via a highly competitive grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Integrative Graduate Education Research Traineeship (IGERT) award.

The Clean Energy for Green Industry Fellowship, designed to develop leaders in environmental energy, could start as soon as the upcoming winter quarter. It will grant Ph.D. students a $33,000 stipend for pursuing coursework in the science, business and policies of clean technology.

“Over the course of the five-year program, we’ll graduate 33 Ph.D.s with expertise in energy storage, energy harvesting and energy conservation,” Huffaker said. “They’ll be in existing Ph.D. programs, such as chemistry or engineering, and for our fellowship they’ll take a series of five classes, including lab research and policy. The program is the first of its kind in the L.A. basin.”

The fellowship will be the only program in Los Angeles to teach the science and business of clean technology with a goal of boosting the clean-tech economy and creating green-collar jobs, she said.

Not just green jobs: green careers

While researching renewable energy isn’t new, noted Roberto Peccei, UCLA’s vice chancellor of research, the IGERT fellowship takes a unique approach.

“To think of it as a career path for students and to build a teaching program around it is pretty novel, and I think that’s one of the reasons that NSF decided to fund it,” Peccei said. “It’s part of a bigger panorama on the clean-energy front at UCLA, and it’s part of our effort to push forward the idea that L.A. will be the center of clean technology.”

UCLA recently joined the city, two other universities and several local agencies in creating CleanTech Los Angeles, an effort to make the city the global capital of clean technology. The partnership intends to turn the city into a center of green technology, green jobs and green manufacturing, with a research and manufacturing corridor near downtown Los Angeles. The IGERT fellowships will help UCLA fulfill its role in the partnership, Huffaker said.

Huffaker, an electrical engineering professor with a background in engineering physics and nanotechnology, arrived at UCLA about two years ago.

“When I hit the ground, it seemed like there was a lot of good research in clean technology, but it needed an anchor,” she said. “An educational program seemed like the right start.”

Associate Professor Magali Delmas.Her own clean-energy specialty is energy harvesting, focusing on collecting waste heat with thermal photo-voltaics — like solar panels for heat instead of sunlight. But Huffaker’s gift was in reaching out to other disciplines, said Associate Professor Magali Delmas, a management professor with the Institute of the Environment (IOE) who studies how green products are marketed and what works.

“She had this vision, which is so unique, about bringing policy and management to the program,” said Delmas, who is working with an IOE colleague, Economics and Public Policy Professor Matthew Kahn, to develop the curriculum for one of the IGERT fellowship’s five classes.

“It’s important that the students understand that just because we can find wonderful new technologies, that doesn’t mean that it will make money or that anyone will even adopt it,” Delmas said. “We’ll talk about what gets adopted, what the incentives are, how government policies affect it. Understanding the economic and social aspects of innovation will make the students stronger in their careers.”

Green economics, policy, science and business

Students will also learn about some of Los Angeles’ unique policy issues, Huffaker said. In addition to Delmas and Kahn’s class on the economics and politics of climate change and environmentalism, IGERT fellows will take four other classes.

Two classes will be combined in a three-part lecture series team taught by three professors. The first section will focus on energy harvesting, such as via solar cells, heat recovery and wind energy. Next, the students will learn about energy storage, such as in bio fuel-cells and super-capacitors. Finally, the lectures will turn to conservation methods, such as architectural designs that can save energy in buildings, and car designs that can save fuel. These two-classes-in-one will be complimented by a third: a lab course at a new clean energy test facility to be built at UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute, supported by NSF funding and matching dollars from UCLA, where students can experiment with energy collection and storage.

UCLA Anderson School of Management will teach the final class, looking at small-company development and intellectual property law, giving students the basis to start a business or sell an idea to a business, Huffaker said.

“Whether they go into policy, business, law or science, they’ll want this background,” she said. “It’s important to understand how to take your research to market.”

Associate Professor Laurent Pilon.Associate Professor Laurent Pilon, who teaches in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and researches ways to turn heat into energy and algae into fuel, will help develop curriculum for the fellowship’s lab course.

Pilon noted that in addition to the IGERT award for this training fellowship, UCLA’s UCLA Henry Samueli Schoolof Engineering and Applied Sciencerecently received Department of Energy funding to host an Energy Frontier Research Center, which willuse nanoscale materials to convertsolar energy into electricity, store electrical energy, andcapture and separategreenhouse gases.

“We have a lot of faculty doing energy and environmental research at UCLA, but in a way, there was no formal way for us to interact, no funding, no support,” he said. “From the IGERT grant and this center, it will federate us by groups of interest and help us work together. There’s synergy.”