2023 Impact Grants
Sustainable Ammonia Synthesis for Zero-Carbon Fertilizers and Fuels
This project aims to decarbonize the production of ammonia (NH3) via new catalyst materials and mediators that combine either solar photons or renewably sourced electricity (e.g., solar and wind) with water and nitrogen. The identification of new catalysts and mediated processes through high-throughput screening along with their integration into new reactor architectures made with additive manufacturing will distinguish Caltech in its proposed research efforts. Through technoeconomic and lifecycle analyses that are tightly integrated with the proposed efforts, this project will create a pathway to sustainable ammonia synthesis that will impact not only fertilizer production but the storage of renewable energy in a chemical carrier.
As uncertainty and volatility increases due to renewable generations, either the grid capacity or renewable curtailment must increase, or both. This will greatly increase the cost of 24/7 carbon neutrality; e.g., the cost of just the curtailment is estimated at ~$2.7B annually by 2032. In this project, we will develop technologies that can reduce both the required energy infrastructure and the renewable curtailment.
The key to our solution is the careful exploitation of flexibility in distributed energy resources, such as building loads, large-scale EV charging, and batteries, to adapt to random fluctuations in renewable generations, CO2 intensity and electricity prices. By equipping workplace energy systems with real-time monitoring, communication, computing and control capabilities, we aim to drastically reduce the capital and operating costs of 24/7 carbon neutrality.
We will adopt a layered architecture which is not only more scalable, more importantly, it allows each layer to be designed independently, deployed asynchronously, and evolve rapidly, making a complex system more robust to technological changes. It will enable a much more diverse ecosystem of entrepreneurs and much faster creation and deployment of innovations, ultimately creating a more dynamic and open industry landscape.
2023 Explorer Grants
This proposal describes an effort to use isotopic structures of large organic molecules, in particular lignin (the structural component of wood) and plastic, to constrain the atomistic mechanisms and rates of their degradation by microbes, fungi and ultraviolet-photolysis, in both laboratory models and the environment.
This project investigates the neural mechanisms mediating odor-guided foraging in blowflies, aiming to develop the tools required to study the role of blow flies as alternative pollinators in the face of collapsing bee populations.
Immobilization of Heavy Metals from Fluid Flows by Manganese Oxide Generating Biofilms
PI: Jared Leadbetter
Research Team: Hannah Way
Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences and Division of Engineering and Applied Science
Water Resources Initiative and Ecology and Biosphere Engineering Initiative
Reactor-based studies will be employed to examine the impact of biologically produced manganese oxides on immobilizing toxic metals from fluid flows, as assessed using ICP-MS analyses of the metal contents of inflows, outflows, and the oxides themselves.
This proposal aims to generate a low-cost camera array and robust machine vision/learning pipeline for remote, automated tracking of natural insect populations at the landscape scale.
We will develop methods for obtaining and using sulfur isotopic analysis for source attribution of sulfate.
We propose to build and calibrate a bio-isotopic model of carbon flow in the bovine rumen, calibrated with novel carbon isotope measurements of organic acids, that will help us understand mechanistically why feeding Asparagopsis to cattle so dramatically reduces their methane output.