California Dream 2.0

Two female scientists making a "material" difference in clean energy

WIPThis is the second in a series of posts about leading women in the power, environmental science, advocacy, policy, and business sectors. Each entry stands on its own, and you can view the first post here.

Today, women earn roughly half of the bachelor’s degrees in the earth and biological sciences, but only about 20 percent of the degrees in physics and engineering. And as women’s careers continue to develop—through higher degrees and into professional positions—these numbers start small and only get smaller. Despite the tremendous educational and professional gains women have made in the past 50 years, progress has been uneven, and many scientific and engineering fields remain overwhelmingly male-dominated. The so-called “leaky pipeline” is a real issue. However, highly accomplished women in science and engineering do exist, and they are making huge differences in the way we make and manage clean energy.

I had the opportunity to sit down with two awe-inspiring female scientists who truly define “cutting edge” when it comes to the critical technologies we need to transition away from dirty fossil fuels. Dr. Stacey Bent, Professor of Engineering at Stanford University, and Dr. Angela Belcher, Professor of Biological Engineering at MIT, are both exploring the frontier of materials science, a critical area of study leading to advancements in renewable energy and energy storage.

Dr. Stacey Bent’s work has focused on the fundamental understanding of how different materials behave, or more specifically, how molecules react with certain surfaces.  As Dr. Bent noted, “this is essential to making semiconductor devices used in computer chips and solar panels for example.” And with her understanding of surface science and materials chemistry, she is pushing innovation forward and making these technologies more efficient at the same time.

Dr. Belcher's image credit: MIT

Dr. Angela Belcher, named TIME magazine’s Climate Change Hero in 2007, has pioneered a biomimicry technique which allows her to use the precision of nature as a blueprint for engineering inorganic materials. Lucky for the cleantech world, with this technique Dr. Belcher is creating an entirely new kind of battery, not by building it, but by growing it.

Both women were fueled at a young age by a passion for basic science- how molecules behave, the origins of life, basic chemistry and biology- and both attribute their movement into the clean energy world not just to their fundamental interest in applying science for the benefit of humanity, but in large part to their students. Dr. Belcher assured me that,

You can’t get an MIT student to do things they don’t want to do, and my students come to my lab so passionate about energy and clean technology.

Dr. Bent similarly finds inspiration from the “phenomenal interest at the student level to have an impact” on climate change.

Yet, with all the enthusiasm around these fields, according to Dr. Bent, she realized only after she had completed her own college education that, “I never once had a female professor.” When not spending time with her children and developing new materials for renewable energy devices or next generation microelectronics, she says she’s thought a lot about the question of women in science and engineering.

There has been a progression, but it’s been really slow. The ratio of women to men, particularly in non-biological fields, seems to be creeping up very slowly, especially the higher you go.

Now, between her own research group and roles as Director of the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy at Stanford University and Co-Director of a Department of Energy’s Energy Frontier Research Center, Dr. Bent says she takes her advising roles, whether formal or informal, very seriously. “Having good teachers is so key to a student’s trajectory,” and her motivation to solve problems is certainly contagious.

Dr. Belcher clearly agrees, and recalls that one of her proudest moments was the day two of her female graduate students showed her a petri dish with some spots in it. These were not just spots, she helpfully explained, but actually clones that contained a genetic sequence directly related to the output of a battery. This material could be engineered to optimize the performance of a battery, and by using biology to do so, they were also minimizing the energy intensity and toxicity of this process. Looking up at a picture on her office wall of those two grad students holding the battery, she recounted the story of watching President Obama give a speech on clean energy with their battery glowing in the background. “Second to when my boys were born, it was the best day of my life,” she explained.

Thanks to the brilliance, diligence, and sheer curiosity of scientists and engineers like Dr. Bent and Dr. Belcher, we are seeing major breakthroughs in cleantech. They offer important reminders that before a solar panel is mounted, a wind turbine erected, or a chic electric car  driven off the lot, someone can be found in a lab creating, experimenting, and innovating with all the basic materials these technologies require.

Both Dr. Bent and Dr. Belcher attribute their success to having followed their passions. Both also believe it is important to bring more women into the field because without more diversity in backgrounds and perspectives, as Dr. Bent put it, “we are surely missing out on important advances we could be making.”

This post originally appeared on EDF Voices 

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate | Leave a comment

Why Latinos are disproportionately affected by asthma …and what we can do

rp_DSC_0012-Version-3-200x30011.jpgPara leer en Español haga clic aquí

This post was co-authored by Rachel Shaffer  and Declan Kingland, National Health Programs Coordinator for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

Today in the United States, Latinos are three times more likely to die from asthma than other racial or ethnic groups. Latino children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than non-Latino whites, and nearly 1 in 10 Latino children under the age of 18 suffer from this chronic respiratory illness. Addressing the dangerous indoor and outdoor air pollution that is linked to asthma is critical for the health of Latino communities – and for all Americans.

Socioeconomics

Latinos are one of the poorest demographics in the United States, with roughly 1 in 4 Latinos living under the poverty level. Many Latinos also face challenges due to limited English-language proficiency, and in some cases, low levels of education. These issues can lead Latinos, particularly new immigrants, to low-paying jobs, often in the fields of agriculture, construction, and service.

Too often, these jobs expose workers to serious respiratory hazards from both indoor and outdoor air pollution, yet they frequently provide no healthcare benefits. For example, the toxic chemical formaldehyde, which is linked to asthma, can be found in glues, insulation, and wood products to which construction workers are disproportionately exposed. Asthma-related toxics can also be found in paints, cleaning products, carpets, and foam cushions. Read More »

Posted in Climate, Engaging Latinos | Leave a comment

Por qué los latinos son afectados de manera desproporcionada por el asma… y qué podemos hacer al respecto

rp_DSC_0012-Version-3-200x3001.jpgTo read this post in English, click here

Este blog fue escrito con coautores Rachel Shaffer de EDF y Declan Kingland, el Coordinador Nacional para programas de salud de la Liga de Ciudadanos Latinoamericanos Unidos (League of United Latin American Citizens, LULAC).

Hoy en día en los Estados Unidos, los latinos son el triple de propensos a morir de asma que otros grupos raciales o étnicos. Los niños latinos son 40% más proclives a morir de asma que los blancos no latinos y casi 1 de cada 10 niños latinos menores de 18 sufre de esta enfermedad respiratoria crónica.

Abordar la peligrosa contaminación del aire interior y exterior asociada con el asma es de importancia fundamental para la salud de las comunidades latinas – y para todos estadounidenses.

 

Socioeconomía

Los latinos son uno de los grupos poblacionales más pobres en los Estados Unidos, con casi 1 de cada 4 latinos por debajo del nivel de pobreza. Muchos latinos también enfrentan desafíos dado el escaso dominio del idioma inglés y, en algunos casos, los bajos niveles de educación. Estos problemas pueden conducir a los latinos, en especial a los inmigrantes nuevos, a empleos de salarios bajos, por lo general en las áreas de agricultura, construcción y servicios.

Dichos empleos suelen exponer a los trabajadores a serios peligros para la respiración tanto a causa de la contaminación del aire interior como exterior, incluso con frecuencia no brindan ningún beneficio de atención de la salud. Por ejemplo, la sustancia química tóxica formaldehído, que se asocia al asma, se puede encontrar en pegamentos, aislantes y productos de madera a los cuales los trabajadores de la construcción se exponen de manera desproporcionada. También se pueden hallar tóxicos relacionados con el asma en pinturas, productos de limpieza, alfombras y cojines de gomaespuma. Read More »

Posted in Climate, Engaging Latinos | 2 Responses

Earth Day 2014: Time for Latino Leadership on Climate Change

Jorge-MadridToday is Earth Day, and the tens of millions of U.S. Latinos who breathe in the country’s dirtiest air, and often live in communities threatened by climate change, have reason to reflect and act!

2012 was the hottest year on record for the continental U.S., and 2013 was tied for the fourth hottest globally. When extreme weather like heat waves and super storms, which are projected to increase with climate change, hit the country’s crops, agricultural workers are devastated, poor people of color are disproportionately displaced from their homes, and those living with the worst air quality are even more at-risk for respiratory and heart related death (leading to some 7,000 additional fatalities each year).

And there’s more bad news regarding climate change. Take a look at these extreme heat projections in the West and Southwest U.S. for 2030. Or, check out sea-level rise projections in places like Miami and New York City for 2050, along with the corresponding threats for supercharged storms.

Notice something? Read More »

Posted in Climate, Engaging Latinos, Jobs | Leave a comment

Demand Response: People, not New Power Plants, are Driving the Clean Energy Future

Clean energy resources, like wind, solar, and energy efficiency, have certain key advantages over traditional, fossil fuel-based resources: they don’t require expensive, polluting fuels or large capital investment, consume little to no water, generate negligible carbon emissions, and are easily scalable. To take full advantage of low-carbon, renewable energy sources, we need a power grid with enough flexibility to harness clean energy when it is available and abundant. That’s where demand response, a people-driven solution, comes in.

On a hot summer day, for example, electricity use rapidly increases as people turn on air conditioners to avoid the heat of the late afternoon. A decade ago, the grid operator’s only option is to turn on another fossil fuel power plant to meet the increased need for electricity. But, at any given time, there are thousands of light switches left on, idle water heaters, cycling swimming pool pumps, and forgotten thermostats that people could temporarily turn off or down, if only they were offered the right incentive. If asked, people can adjust their power usage in exchange for a financial reward. We call this “demand response,” and it is increasingly helping to balance the flow of electricity with our energy needs at a given moment.

Demand response diverts money that would generally go to a fossil fuel power plant to homeowners and businesses instead. In this scenario, a utility or demand response provider sends a message for participants to reduce electricity use at key times in exchange for a credit or rebate on their utility bill, in addition to the cost savings they will earn through conservation. Of course, participants always have the option to opt-out with the tap of a button on their smart phone or thermostat. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Energy Efficiency, Smart Grid | 1 Response

Fueling the Future: How California Businesses are Advancing Earth Day’s Vision

By Emily Reyna and Larissa Koehler

To mark the 44th Earth Day, EDF has released a new Green Roads map celebrating clean transportation, an economic sector that is helping the Earth by producing groundbreaking and sustainable technologies.

We Californians like to drive, but unfortunately our dependence on petroleum is harming our state, giving us the nation’s most polluted cities and the state’s biggest contributor to climate pollution (see the graph).

California greenhouse gas emissions by sector. Source: California Air Resources Board - May 2013 Investment Plan

California greenhouse gas emissions by sector. Source: California Air Resources Board – May 2013 Investment Plan

Fortunately, state policies like the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) and the AB 32 cap-and-trade program are helping to reduce damaging greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, while bolstering California’s economy and allowing green companies to grow and thrive.  In fact the number of clean transportation jobs in California tripled from 2001-2011. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, General, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Jobs, Transportation | Leave a comment

Lo que la creciente comunidad latina podría lograr para las políticas del cambio climático

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En el 2012, los latinos fueron 1 de cada 10 votantes y ayudaron a decidir las elecciones presidenciales, estableciendo un margen récord de votantes.  El mes pasado en California, el estado más populoso de Estados Unidos, la población hispana sobrepasó la de blancos no hispanos.   El único otro estado a llegar a este punto es Nuevo México, cuya población hispana-latina es casi un diez por ciento mayor que la de blancos no hispanos.

Así como la población latina continúa a crecer en todo el país, así crece su influencia en áreas de política claves.  En aquellos estados que son campos de batalla de las elecciones, como Florida, Colorado y Nevada, los latinos representaron el 17, 14 y 18 por ciento de votantes en el 2012, respectivamente, lo que refleja un aumento con relación a elecciones anteriores.  La tendencia ha reavivado una animada discusión sobre la influencia de la comunidad latina estadounidense, el “gigante dormido” en la política del país.

También hay una tendencia política menos reconocida que está surgiendo entre los grupos más jóvenes y de más rápido crecimiento: la demanda entre latinos para actuar con el fin de hacerle frente al cambio climático.  Según una nueva encuesta nacional publicada el mes pasado por Natural Resources Defense Council y Latino Decisions: Read More »

Posted in Climate, Engaging Latinos, Jobs, Politics | Comments closed

What the growing Latino community can do for climate politics

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In 2012 Latinos made up 1 in 10 voters and helped decide the Presidential election with record-setting voter margins. Last month in California, the most populous state in the nation, the Hispanic population surpassed that of non-Hispanic whites. The only other state to reach this benchmark is New Mexico, where the Latino population is almost 10% larger than that of non-Hispanic whites.

As the Latino population continues to grow across the country, so does its influence in key political arenas. In battleground states like Florida, Colorado, and Nevada, Latinos accounted for 17, 14, and 18 percent of voters in 2012, respectively, an increase from previous elections. The trend has reignited a lively discussion about the influence of the American Latino community, the “sleeping giant” of American politics.

There’s also a lesser-known political trend that is emerging among the country’s youngest and fastest-growing demographic: the demand among Latinos for action to address climate change. In a new national poll released last month by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Latino Decisions: Read More »

Posted in Engaging Latinos, General, Jobs | Comments closed

Turning Lemons into Lemonade: How Two Companies are Turning Your Trash into Low Carbon Fuel

ca_innov_series_icon_283x204By Tim O’Connor and Chloe Looker

EDF’s Innovators Series profiles companies and people across California with bold solutions to reduce carbon pollution and help the state meet the goal of AB 32. Each addition to the series will profile a different solution, focused on the development of new technology and ideas.

Modern society makes a lot of garbage. The decomposition of organic material from garbage in landfills releases methane gas, a potent global warming pollutant.

At the same time, the modern transportation system is powered mostly by fossil fuels and also releases global warming and toxic air pollution. Today, two companies are turning rotting lemons (garbage) into lemonade (low carbon fuels for cars and trucks), and are showing that AB 32 creates a powerful incentive for new ideas and innovations.

Although the ultimate solution to the problem of waste generation and pollution from landfills must include reduction of waste going into the landfills, the fact of the matter is landfills aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Read More »

Posted in California Innovators Series, Clean Energy, Climate | 1 Response, comments now closed

LA Better Building Challenge Partners with EDF’s Investor Confidence Project to Accelerate Citywide Energy Efficiency Goals

By Matt Golden, Senior Energy Finance Consultant

Source: LA Better Buildings Challenge

Environmental Defense Fund’s Investor Confidence ProjectSM (ICP) is pleased to announce a partnership with the Los Angeles Better Buildings Challenge to help develop a more robust marketplace for energy efficiency retrofits in the city. Los Angeles has set a goal of achieving 20% energy savings across 30 million square feet of existing buildings by 2020 as part of the Better Buildings Challenge, a national leadership initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. If achieved, it is estimated that this 20% reduction in energy costs will create over 7,000 high-quality local jobs, and avert annual carbon emissions equivalent to taking more than 18,000 cars off the road.

The LA Better Buildings Challenge will be promoting the ICP Protocols through its network of building owners and industry stakeholders to help bring even greater transparency and accountability to the energy efficiency market by introducing a system of standardization in the way commercial building retrofits are developed, funded, and managed. The ICP framework assembles best practices and existing technical standards into a set of protocols that define a clear roadmap for developing projects, determining savings estimates, and documenting and verifying results.

David Hodgins, Executive Director of the LA Better Buildings Challenge, describes how the partnership with ICP will help the project meet its goal. The mission of the LA Better Buildings Challenge is to support our partners in achieving a minimum of 20% savings by 2020, and to get there we need to have a clear path. We are excited to partner with ICP, which offers our partners a best-practice approach to developing, underwriting, and measuring the impact of their resource efficiency projects,” he said. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Energy, Jobs, Smart Grid | Comments closed