Skip to main content

Clean Tech Cluster

Three San Diego professors with high impact clean-tech projects received a financial boost through the Clean Tech Innovation Challenge. This partnership between the City of San Diego, UC San Diego's William J. von Liebig Center for Entrepreneurism and San Diego State University (SDSU) accelerates the commercialization of clean technologies out of university labs. The challenge is part of San Diego's goal to grow its clean-tech cluster.

Mayor Jerry Sanders helped honor the three San Diego professors whose projects won funding. "The universities represented here tonight have literally put San Diego on the map. Clean tech is the latest example."

Turning 'Wasted' Heat into Energy

Turning 'Wasted' Heat into Energy

As the nation's energy crunch continues to increase, UC San Diego engineers are developing more cost effective and efficient ways to produce electricity.

Structural engineering and materials science professor Yu Qiao has invented a method to convert much of our "wasted" heat into electricity via a nanoporous system. A nanoporous material is a solid that contains nanometer sized pores. Current conventional methods of turning heat into electricity have a low conversion rate, therefore causing much of the heat to be "wasted."

"With our research we hope to push this energy efficiency to the limit, which would allow you to get 10 times more electricity from heat," Qiao says.

One energy source that could benefit from Qiao's technique is solar power. He says much of the energy produced by solar panels, for example, is dissipated into the air and becomes wasted heat. There are techniques that can increase the solar power for electricity more efficiently but those techniques are expensive, he says.

"We have found a more cost effective way to convert this heat to energy," Qiao says.

Fiber Optics Meets Solar

Electrical engineer Paul Yu wants to use fiber optics to trigger a solar revolution.
Electrical engineer Paul Yu wants to use fiber optics to trigger a solar revolution.

Building fiber optic pipelines to carry energy collected from the sun is electrical engineering professor Paul Yu's goal. Yu is developing an efficient solar spectral concentrator that will transform sunlight into optical energy that can be massively transported via optical fibers and later converted to electrical energy. In contrast, most of today's photovoltaic (PV) systems convert solar energy directly to electrical energy. Transporting and distributing energy harvested from the sun in the form of broad spectral width solar beams could allow for more flexible and effective use of the solar energy. For example, some solar energy could be used directly as a light source. Yu highlights another benefit of this strategy: by centralizing the conversion of solar energy to electricity, the latest advances in PV systems can be incorporated into the system at relatively low cost.

Sea-Powered Cars?

San Diego State University chemistry and biochemistry professor John J. Love (right) has discovered a novel way to process biodiesel from algae.
San Diego State University chemistry and biochemistry professor John J. Love (right) has discovered a novel way to process biodiesel from algae.

There has been increased talk over how algae could be one of the most efficient ways to make biofuels to power our cars. That's because algae can turn sunlight and nutrients into fuel with efficiency unmatched by traditional crops, while using CO2 that would otherwise be absorbed into the atmosphere. John J. Love, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at San Diego State University, has discovered a novel way to process biodiesel from algae.

Biodiesel production entails the use of significant amounts of energy for heating, as well as the use of harsh chemicals such as strong bases and/or lye. Love and his team propose to eliminate these costs by re-engineering natural protein enzymes such that they efficiently extract fatty acids from membranes and chemically convert them to fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs), the primary molecules in biodiesel. Examples of membrane sources include bacteria or yeast grown on sugar (glucose) as an energy source or micro-algae grown by way of photosynthesis.


Print Article