Resnick Fellows Reflect on ISMES VI
In July 2017, we had the opportunity to attend the Sixth International School for Materials for Energy and Sustainability (ISMES VI), along with other graduate students and postdoctoral scholars from around the world. ISMES was first started in Erice, Italy and this year, it was held on our very own campus at Caltech.
The summer school spanned over a week and featured more than twenty lectures by world experts in materials and energy systems. The topics covered were wide-ranging. In the first two lectures, we were given a broad overview of the complex interconnectedness of water, food, energy, climate, sustainability and materials. The next few lectures delved into specific technologies including photovoltaics, thermal energy storage and management, wind power, nuclear energy, biofuels, and batteries. We learned the latest research, challenges and future outlook for the various technologies. Talks on technoeconomic analysis of renewable energies and the optimization of distributed energy resources provided additional perspective.
Stanford University Professor Yi Cui’s talk went through the importance of lithium as a major component for making batteries. He pointed out a few solutions for making next generation batteries such as building double-walled and yolk-shell structures to prevent cracking in large volume expansion, making 1D nanowire structures for better electron and ion transport, and creating pomegranate-like Si particles for high tap densities. He also covered the global reserve of lithium and sustainability of lithium production, proposing ocean desalination for Lithium extraction as a potential solution. We were very inspired by Professor Cui’s talk. The solutions he described made us think outside the box and look at sustainablity issues from a broader perspective.
Professor Steven Low from Caltech gave a fantastic talk on using optimization for better electricity power management. Incorporating renewable energies (wind and solar) into the power grid can help develop more sustainable electricity generation processes. However, the uncertainties that are associated with renewables cannot be ignored. In places where infrastructure for renewables is incompatible with the local electric grid, the whole energy system will be destabilized. Therefore, distributed control of networked distributed energy resources (DERs) comes into play as a potential solution. Professor Low used Caltech’s EV charging as an example demonstrating Caltech’s current DER research. The performance of Caltech’s Adaptive Charging Network exceeds the industry standard and its model has proven successful at other installations. Professor Low pointed out however, that although this model is effective, there could be an issue posed by consumer behavior and this setup might be best suited for workplace installations.
In addition to the talks, another highlight of the school was the group exercise we had towards the end of the week. We broke into small teams and each team was assigned a location in the world and tasked with creating a program that would allow 20,000 people to live sustainably based on the natural resources available in the assigned region. This was a chance for us to let our creativity run wild, as well as to apply what we learned from the lectures and our previous knowledge. Our teams had a fruitful time working together, bouncing ideas off one another, discussing the best possible way to harness energy and maintain a constant food supply for the population.
Over the course of the week, we gained a better understanding of the current and future energy landscape. The discussions and interactions we had during the school left us thinking about how our research connects to the bigger picture of sustainability. We were grateful to be able to participate in this school and recommend that others take advantage of this unique learning opportunity.