The next ‘solar’ generation

The next ‘solar’ generation

Engineering and technology faculty, students rev up work on energy, sustainability projects

Cal State L.A.’s greening efforts

The University is not just stepping up its efforts in sustainable research and technology. Students, faculty and staff are working to change the way they work and interact on campus to better protect the environment and cut costs. You can read about some of these efforts in “Cal State L.A. gains power, saves energy”.

Here’s a taste:

  • A recycling program launched last winter has resulted in the placement of 30 new recycling bins around campus and diverted 243 tons of recyclable materials from local landfills.
  • Solar panels are planned to be mounted on the rooftops of several other campus buildings, including Salazar Hall, Physical Education and Fine Arts by the end of next year as part of the CSU Statewide Photovoltaic (PV) Initiative.
  • More…
The students and the faculty member who worked on the solar panels for their senior design project sit for a photo.

Solar panel team members (back row: Professor David Blekhman, Jesse Morales, Jimmy Hoo; middle row Jacob Dayneko, Jeovany Aguilar, Edgar Avalos' front: Cesar Cardenas) on top of the Engineering and Technology building. The students worked throughout the year to install two solar panel grid systems, which will be used by the college for sustainability research and education projects.

Mention the word “solar” on campus, and it will likely evoke references to the national championship “Solar Eagle III” vehicle that put Cal State L.A. on the map for sustainability design.

The sleek, black and gold student-designed vehicle was the first to roll across the finish line in the Sunrayce Championship in 1997 and was even the prototype for a Hot WheelsTM model car. But, move over Solar Eagle III, because there is a new “solar” on campus today.

Two systems of 77 solar panels on the roof of the Engineering and Technology building are expected to give the Power, Energy and Transportation Program in the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology a jolt of energy. Faculty say that the panels, which were installed with help from students this spring, are one of many signs that the College is revving up its drive toward sustainability research, design and operation.

The panels are divided into two systems: a large, 56-panel grid to supply power for the campus and a smaller, 21-panel grid that will provide power for lab experiments and research including electrolysis for hydrogen and fuel cell development. The ultimate goal is to use solar and wind power to supply energy to the University’s 100 percent sustainable hydrogen fueling station — expected to break ground later this year.

“I think it’s great that the college is teaching in this field,” said junior Jeovany Aguilar, who was part of the seven-member student team that installed the panels for its senior design project. “You really need to know this stuff. I learned how to wire, how to design and how all the components work together.”

By providing students training and experience with alternative energy, power and transportation, faculty say, the College is responding to the demands of local and global industries and making a name for itself as a leader in these areas.

“Our students will have different types of expertise, and be able to solve problems in teams — necessary in industry,” said David Blekhman, a faculty member in the Department of Technology.

Blekhman, one of two new faculty members in the College helping to jumpstart new types of research projects, had a head start when he came to campus.

Senior design students colloborate and measure how much energy is being produced by the solar panels.

Solar panel team members Cesar Cardenas, Jesse Morales, Edgar Avalos, Jacob Dayneko, Jimmy Hoo and Jeovany Aguilar gauge the output of their panels on top of the Engineering and Technology building. There are two, 77-panel grid systems that will power lab experiments and research, as well as supply energy to a hydrogen fueling station.

His predecessor, Dr. Jim Ettaro, recognized by his colleagues as being an early advocate of alternative power, energy and transportation — or PET, as he called it — encouraged the University on this path. Ettaro’s untimely death in 2005, though, for a time, slowed progress on his pet projects, technology professor Virgil Seaman added.

“Dr. Ettaro advocated for new technologies and research and we are now starting to achieve a lot of his goals, and we will continue to go further toward energy research and expand the program,” Seaman said.

Students and faculty, for instance, are studying and researching everything from the electric motor to running cars and buses on hydrogen fuel cells. They have created biofuels and raced for the first time a CSULA Formula prototype car. And some have teamed with the campus facilities staff to monitor the University’s energy use, and are looking at ways to process municipal waste and produce fuel cell energy.

“It sounds like we are very, very busy,” Blekhman said, laughing. “We are.”
A portion of these projects, Blekhman notes, is funded through a Department of Energy grant to develop a hydrogen fuel cell education program. The hydrogen fueling station is supported by a number of partners, including the California Air Resource Board, private trust, the Department of Energy, and the Automobile Club of Southern California.

“It’s not a one man show,” Blekhman said. “To get things going and to get things done requires a team. That highlights the interdisciplinary nature of sustainability — we all need to work together to find solutions.”