On Nov. 29, 2015, the University of California announced its intention to join the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group of investors led by Bill Gates, committed to investing in technological research and development aimed at combating climate change and finding new efficient, clean methods to meet energy needs. The energy coalition believes the current pace of investment, research and technology development is not fast enough to combat global warming and hopes the transition to clean, renewable energy can occur at a quicker pace.
The UC is the only institutional investor in the coalition and will be joining 27 private investors from 10 different countries. The UC and its Office of the Chief Investment Officer pledged $1 billion to the coalition over the course of the next five years and an additional $250 million to green energy projects and research within the UC system.
“The University of California, with its 10 campuses and three national energy labs, is home to some of the best climate scientists in the world and as a public research institution we take the imperative to solve global climate change very seriously. With access to the private capital represented by investors in the Breakthrough Energy Coalition we can more effectively integrate our public research pipeline to deliver new technology and insights that will revolutionize the way the world thinks about and uses energy,” said UC President Janet Napolitano.
The UC has a long-standing commitment to clean energy. In November 2013, the UC announced their Carbon Neutrality Initiative which commits the UC’s 10 campuses to become carbon-neutral, making it the first major university system in the United States to do so. The UC system is on track to become carbon-neutral by 2025 and recently released an executive summary on their 10 scalable solutions for carbon neutrality and climate stability. The solutions include getting the maximum usage out of available technologies and utilizing strict regulations to reduce methane and black carbon emissions, regenerating destroyed or damaged ecosystems by restoring soil organic carbons and fostering a culture of taking action on climate issues.
Professors and researchers are currently developing several projects to combat and understand climate change and to develop alternative energy sources. One such researcher is chemical science professor Christopher Bardeen who is working to make solar panels more efficient as most of the costs related to solar energy stem from installment and not the panels’ production. This would save on the amount of space needed to install panels and it would save on the price of installments.
Bardeen is hoping to expand the range of light that a solar panel can receive by finding a way to utilize low-energy infrared photons, which current solar panels cannot capture, and ultraviolet light, which currently has too much energy to be turned into electricity. “The idea behind my research is that solar energy is still difficult to install, relatively expensive, although it is now competitive with fossil fuels. But the idea is to have it be adopted within the next 10 years which is what people think is necessary to avoid the worst effects of global warming,” said Bardeen.
Chemical and Environmental Engineering Professor Charles Wyman is working on converting cellulosic biomass into energy sources. He has dedicated his research to converting low-cost, non-edible renewable and abundant biomass into energy and fuel. His studies focus on energy conversion into ethanol and other types of energy that can be blended with gasoline, diesel and jet fuels.
“Our goal is to advance the knowledge and technologies for breaking down cellulosic biomass into fuel precursors to help significantly reduce their costs, thereby making production of sustainable biofuels economically competitive,” said Wyman.