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First round accelerator grants

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The Sustainability Accelerator funded its first cohort of 30 teams whose multidisciplinary projects are intended to advance sustainability solutions through partnerships on local, regional, and global scales. The grants were awarded in three tiers: planning, mid-range, and large-scale.

Large scale

Engineering Biology to Recycle Plastic: Valorizing Polyester and Polyethylene Waste

Jennifer Cochran, Matteo Cargnello, Craig Criddle

Each year, 360 million tons of plastic are produced globally, of which over 150 million tons end up polluting the natural environment. Biology can play a key role in plastic recycling as it has the complexity to be designed to meet different material challenges, yet is broadly deployable. We are engineering biocatalysts that can rapidly break down multiple types of plastic in physically complex and mixed material waste streams. The support of the Sustainability Accelerator will catalyze our progress towards achieving industrial-scale biorecycling, enabling a future where biocatalysts are deployed at the points of plastic waste generation around the world.

TopicsTechnology development; clean energy technologies; bioremediation

Harnessing the Power of Geophysical Imaging

Rosemary Knight, Paul Gosselin, Mike Lepech

Throughout California, groundwater levels are declining due to excessive pumping during periods of drought. This has led state and local water agencies to undertake new ways to recharge – replenish – the groundwater. We will provide the web-based software and the online training needed to use geophysical data, being acquired throughout the state, to image the fast paths of sand and gravel that can quickly move water from the surface to recharge the groundwater system at depths of tens to hundreds of meters. This will impact and benefit people and environment, health and economy, building a more resilient freshwater future for California.

TopicsTechnology development; sustainable groundwater management

24/7 carbon-free electrified campus fleet

Ram Rajagopal, Marco Pavone, Nicholas Bambos, Liang Min, Omer Karaduman, Gustavo Cezar

Stanford has completed the transition to 100 percent renewable electricity in March 2022. But, the campus is still plugged into the grid which carries carbon-based electricity. To completely eliminate emissions, Stanford’s next challenge is to match its electricity consumption with carbon-free resources at all hours of the year. To begin, this project will demonstrate a 24/7 Carbon-Free Electrified Stanford Campus Fleet by developing a scalable platform that intelligently coordinates solar, storage, and electric bus charging. This platform also serves as the first transferable model for bus fleets in school districts, corporate campuses, and municipalities to become 24/7 carbon-free.

TopicsPolicy; technology development; clean energy technologies


Achieving the human right to water in California

Sarah Fletcher, Jenna Davis, Khalid Osman, Barton Thompson

Over one million people in California lack consistent access to adequate quantities of safe water. In 2012 California became the first US state to pass a law recognizing the human right to water. This project will engage policymakers, utilities, and communities to advance progress toward realizing this goal. We aim to address three major barriers: data quality and availability; metrics to track progress; and decision-support approaches to guide effective policy and technology solutions.

TopicsPolicy; environmental justice, water

A blue food transformation for the Pacific

Jim Leape, Fiorenza Micheli, Rosamond Naylor, Elizabeth Selig, Colette Wabnitz, Michelle Tigchelaar

Through the Blue Food Assessment, Stanford and its partners have sparked new interest in the potential of foods produced in ocean and freshwater systems.  At the United Nations Food Systems Summit last September, Pacific island leaders emphasized the importance of blue foods for solving their pressing public health and food security challenges.  Stanford researchers will be working with the Pacific Community, the island states’ technical organization, to develop a Blue Food Assessment for the Pacific and build a region-wide initiative to help the Island States develop the blue food systems they need. 

TopicsPolicy; human health and community well-being; biodiversity; ecological resilience; environmental justice

Addressing blind spots in environmental justice: The Central Valley as a proof of concept

Jenny Suckale, Gabrielle Wong-Parodi, Jens Hainmueller, Daniel Ho

Environmental governance has failed the most vulnerable. Whether flood risk from climate change, water pollution from agriculture, or air pollution from industrial facilities, vulnerable populations suffer the most acute impacts from environmental threats. The goal of this proposal is to uncover persistent blind spots in environmental justice for marginalized communities by co-creating tools and generating actionable, scientific insights to build targeted policies and governance systems that reduce environmental risk. We focus on the Central Valley of California as a demonstration area to support tribal and immigrant communities, rethink vulnerability indices and modernize environmental compliance.

TopicsPolicy; human health and community well-being; environmental justice

Buildings in the energy transition

Adam Brandt, Ines Azevedo, Chris Field, Michael Mastrandrea, Deborah Sivas, Michael Wara

Building on prior success related to legal and technical analysis of building electrification and the infrastructure networks that serve the built environment, we are working in concert with government and environmental justice partners to weave together policies related to building greenhouse gas emissions, resilience to extreme heat and wildfire smoke, and distributed energy. Only by combining these efforts will policies emerge that can harness sufficient capital to achieve these interrelated goals in a way that is affordable and helps address the housing crisis confronting California.

TopicsPolicy; finance; human health and community well-being; clean energy technologies; environmental justice

Western wildfire policy: From prescribed fire to public health

Chris Field, Marshall Burke, Michael Mastrandrea, Kari Nadeau, Deborah Sivas, Stefan Wager

Wildfire policy in California and the West is poised to make major advances over the coming year as policymakers respond to the catastrophic wildfire seasons of the past five years. Our team has made substantial contributions to wildfire policy in the state of California that have positioned Stanford as a leader in academic-to-policymaker translation and interaction. Our team is working with government and tribal partners on technical and policy analysis to transform the current suppression-oriented wildfire management regime towards a focus on protecting public health through quantified risk reduction and the development of strategies for protecting vulnerable populations and communities.

TopicsPolicy; finance; human health and community well-being; ecological resilience; environmental justice

Stanford Sustainable Fertilizer Project

Mark Cappelli, David Rogers, Benjamin Wang

We’re developing a decentralized appliance that makes fertilizer as nature does; combining electricity, water, and air to dissolve nitrates (NO3-) in water. We leverage our team’s expertise in plasma science and sustainable energy policy/economics to engineer an extremely low-cost system enabling manufacturing at scale, with a focus on providing small/underserved farming communities with a commodity free of price fluctuations and uncertainties due to socio-political forces. The accelerator program enables our transition from a 6.5 kW laboratory system to a 30kW system for field testing through a partnership with local producers and researchers at the USDA in the Salinas Valley.

TopicsTechnology development; clean energy technologies

Electrification of steam cracking reactors with high-frequency inductive heating

Jonathan Fan, Juan Rivas

High-temperature chemical reactor systems primarily use fossil fuel combustion for heating, resulting in large carbon footprints.  We propose volumetric magnetic induction as a new platform technology for the electrification of chemical reactors.  These systems use electricity to provide heat, and their efficient generation and utilization of heat for chemical reactions enables significant reductions in capital and operating costs.  We will focus on ethane to ethylene steam cracking as a model system and anticipate a reduction of over one ton of released carbon dioxide per ton of produced ethylene.

TopicsTechnology development; clean energy technologies

Scaling low-cost measurements of soil carbon dioxide emissions

Alison Hoyt, Debbie Senesky, Jack Lamb

We are developing a low-cost, field-ready CO2 sensor platform to monitor emissions from soils. Our soil carbon monitoring platform will cost significantly less than existing technologies, enabling large-scale and high-resolution monitoring of CO2 emissions. This project has potential applications to carbon credit markets, soil and land management, and environmental science.

TopicsTechnology development; ecological resilience, natural climate solutions and agriculture

Water Electrolyzers for Green Hydrogen Production From Impure Water Sources

Thomas Jaramillo, Adam Nielander, Michaela Stevens, Joseph Perryman, Daniela Marin, Shannon Boettcher

This project is focused on scaling up and enhancing durability of a new and potentially cost-effective design for water electrolyzers, enabling a sustainable pathway towards hydrogen (H2) production through electrification. H2 is a key chemical commodity produced conventionally from fossil resources at a massive rate of > 70 billion kgH2/yr, accounting for approximately 1% of global CO2 emissions. Our previous research has established a proof-of-concept for a new electrolyzer design that has shown resilience with respect to inexpensive and accessible impure feedstocks, e.g. Pacific Ocean seawater. The project’s aims are towards de-risking the technology, accelerating the pathway toward potential commercialization.  

TopicsTechnology development; clean energy technologies

Catalyst Technology for Scalable and High-Efficiency Power-to-Liquid Fuel Systems

Matthew Kanan, Simon Bare

Replacing fossil-derived liquid fuels with carbon-neutral alternatives has the potential to eliminate up to 30% of global GHG emissions while improving energy security. This project will accelerate the translation of a catalyst technology invented at Stanford that could improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of systems that generate liquid fuels from CO2 and green H2. PIs Kanan and Bare will lead a Stanford team working closely with industry partners to test the technology on a 100× larger scale, assess month-long durability and tolerance to impurities found in CO2 sources, and evaluate its performance in integrated power-to-liquid fuel systems.

TopicsTechnology development; clean energy technologies

Electrochemical Nutrient Recovery from Wastewater: Creating Circular Nutrient Economies

William Tarpeh, William Mitch, Sharon Bone, Johanna Nelson Weker

Water pollution, particularly of nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, has exceeded what planetary ecosystems can handle. Although these discharges induce harmful algal blooms and compromise drinking water quality, they also contain valuable fertilizer components. We aim to use electricity to convert and extract nutrients from various wastewaters. We will advance electrochemical water treatment technologies from laboratory reactors to functional device prototypes guided by diverse stakeholders interested in environmental protection, fertilizer production, and global sanitation. Creating circular, element-specific nutrient economies can prevent pollution, reduce the environmental impacts of chemical manufacturing, and broaden access to commodities that improve quality of life. 

TopicsTechnology development; human health and community well-being

Data commons for climate, energy, and sustainability

Ram Rajagopal, Arun Majumdar, Gretchen Daily, Noah Diffenbaugh, Alexandra Konings, David Lobell

TopicsTechnology Development, data sharing and data science; human health and community well-being, clean energy technologies, biodiversity, environmental justice


CLEAR decarbonization: Collaboration and learning for equitable and rapid decarbonization

Martin Fischer, Rishee Jain

CLEAR Decarbonization, hosted by the Center for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE), extends Stanford's Building Decarbonization Learning Accelerator (BDLA) to engage faculty at seven Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs). CLEAR aims to co-create teaching materials and exchange  ideas that help students learn about decarbonization strategies. Clear Decarbonization will further the potential impact that a Stanford-HBCU collaboration has on the interlinked quests to advance equity and accelerate decarbonization. This project will focus on equitable decarbonization of the energy sector and its associated intersections with integrative design for buildings, mobility, power, industry, and the water-energy nexus.

Topics: DEI Leadership Development; clean energy technologies; environmental justice

Biodiversity and people: Balancing socioeconomic development and conservation

Shripad Tuljapurkar, Gretchen Daily, Harman Jaggi, Wenyun Zuo, Alejandra Ochoa

We aim to develop a nature-positive approach to integrate human development, agricultural practices, biodiversity, wildlife-livestock interactions, and ecotourism, and susceptibility to extreme climate events. Our focus is the high mountains of Himachal Pradesh state in the Indian Trans-Himalaya, where rapid change is driving a transition from a livestock-dominated production to a system driven by markets for cash-crops and ecotourism. Our key partners are the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), Bangalore, India, and the Natural Capital Project at Stanford. Longer-term, we plan to scale up to other regions in the global South.

Topics: Development and conservation; human health and community well-being; biodiversity, ecological resilience; environmental justice

Blue Foods: Planning grant to co-develop a sustainable, equitable, and climate-smart aquaculture strategy for Africa through the Global Environment Facility (GEF)

Rosamond Naylor, Jim Leape, Michelle Tigchelaar

There is a common saying in many African countries that “Fish are rich food for poor people”. Aquaculture now supplies over half of the fish consumed by all humans, yet Africa accounts for less than 5% of global aquaculture production. Meanwhile, population growth and rates of malnutrition in Africa exceed all other continents. This project will co-develop a strategy for climate-smart aquaculture development in Africa through the Global Environment Facility (GEF), building on scientific knowledge produced over the past two years through the Blue Food Assessment. Through the GEF, the project will establish partnerships between Stanford and major international development organizations, NGOs, and private investment groups actively working in Africa; generate complementary funding of up to $100 million; and train African researchers and Stanford students on climate-smart aquaculture.

Topics: Finance; technology development; human health and community well-being; aquaculture development in Africa

Fighting fire with data: Research-informed policy changes to mitigate health effects from wildfire smoke emissions through in-situ sampling, real-time predictions, and field studies

Matthias Ihme, Kari Nadeau, Mary Prunicki, Matthias Kling, Thomas Wolf, Andy Aquila

The severity and frequency of large wildfires have increased significantly over the past two decades. While the loss of lives, property damage, and increased burn areas from wildfires are of immediate consequence, long-term effects on health from pollutants and smoke emissions are of equal importance. Yet, the effect of the pollutants, smoke residue, and other toxic compounds that are emitted from wildfires have not been considered in regulatory and legislative planning. The objective of this project is to initiate research informed policy changes that are accelerated through the employment of discriminative sampling techniques and real-time prediction tools and novel data-analysis. To this end, we will advance, integrate, and demonstrate complementary analysis techniques in conjunction with field studies.

TopicsPolicy; human health and community well-being

Designing efficient and sustainable water reallocation in California

Paul Milgrom, Barton Thompson, Billy Ferguson

California, facing the worst megadrought in 1200 years and new legislation mandating reductions in groundwater use, must efficiently reallocate water to the greatest need. Existing legal and regulatory infrastructure in California create significant barriers to water reallocation. Our project will build a collaborative team of policy-makers, regulators, hydrologists, lawyers, and economists focused on inventing and promoting novel market mechanisms that provide a scaffolding for sustainable adaptation to the changing climate while respecting rights of existing users. Targeted workshops and dialogues will incorporate our economic and legal expertise on this complex reallocation problem to generate practical solutions to California’s water problem.

TopicsPolicy; finance; ecological resilience; resource management

Elastic energy storage proof of concept and scalability

David Camarillo, Steve Collins, Ovijit Chaudhuri, Gordon Avery

TopicsTechnology development; clean energy technologies; environmental justice

Use of carbon dioxide as a solvent and water replacement for “dry” manufacturing in the microelectronics, industrials and pharmaceuticals processing industries

Joseph DeSimone, Gunilla Jacobson

Technological breakthroughs in the last decades indicate that liquid and supercritical CO2 could be the most used solvent of the twenty-first century as manufacturing industries attempt to avoid the production, use, and subsequent release into our environment of contaminated water, organic solvents, and other noxious pollutants. Building on our previous experience in this field, and in collaboration with the Sustainability Accelerator, we aim to build a program that allows for rapid evaluation and implementation of liquid and scCO2 technology by providing access, training, and expertise to collaborators within and outside the Stanford campus.

TopicsTechnology development; clean energy technologies

Establishing Stanford’s place in the carbon-zero steelmaking economy

Leora Dresselhaus-Marais, Alexander Dudchenko, Subhechchha Paul, Xueli Zheng

Steel is a pillar of modern society, but its fabrication relies on antiquated ironmaking processes that produce 8% of global CO2 emissions. Decarbonizing this >1.86-billion-ton-per-year industry is difficult because C-free extraction requires reactions with interdependent mechanical, thermal, and mass-transfer that prevent its effective implementation at scale. We have developed kinetics models that resolve the science of ironmaking but for societal impact, we must connect our findings to the industrial process design. In this work, we will connect our work to the industrial sector by extending our science and collaborations to process-scale approaches.

TopicsTechnology development, sustainable manufacturing, extraction, and mining technology

Feasibility study of an evaporative cooling (with water recovery) for energy efficient and sustainable operation of edge data centers

Kenneth Goodson, Juan Santiago, Steve Jones, Mehdi Asheghi

Sustainable and efficient operation of the US data centers, currently ~100 billion kWh/year, requires transformative and innovative technologies for energy saving and water recovery of the data center cooling infrastructure. Nearly 20% of the total power is used to run the data center refrigeration cooling, and an excess of 650 billion liters of water, roughly 2 and 0.46 gallons/kWh for electricity generation and on-site wet cooling towers, respectively. Here, we are exploring the feasibility of an energy efficient and sustainable operation of data centers using a novel evaporative cooling solution that integrates water recovery system using metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) fluidized bed system. 

Topics: Technology development; clean energy technologies

Performance-based co-design of natural ventilation systems  to reduce cooling demand and improve thermal comfort in South East Asia

Catherine Gorle, Sarah Billington, Rishee Jain, Gabrielle Wong-Parodi

Globally, increased urbanization is leading to an unsustainable energy demand for cooling. Natural cooling, which leverages wind and buoyancy to ventilate and cool a building, can provide a solution for this so-called ‘cold crunch’. Compared to mechanical cooling, it is more difficult to ensure consistent airflow rates with natural cooling. Hence, natural cooling is often perceived a high-risk solution, and it is not widely adopted. This project will lay the foundation for accelerating the uptake of natural cooling by co-design of: (1) modeling tools for performance-based design of natural cooling systems, and (2) human-centric control-interfaces that optimize operational control.

TopicsTechnology development; human health and community well-being, sustainable buildings

Refining a technology to reduce black carbon emissions from South Asian brick kilns

Steve Luby, N. Grant Miller, Jeff Wood, Lester Su

The emissions from brick kilns across South Asia are estimated to cause 50,000 deaths per year and a climate impact equivalent to the US passenger car fleet. This project aims to advance iterative development and local manufacture of an automatic coal feeder for brick kilns that would replace bolus feeding of coal by hand. A steady even supply of coal would markedly improve combustion efficiency, save kiln owners money by using less coal and reduce pollution generated by kilns.

TopicsTechnology development; clean energy technologies

A method to directly capture carbon dioxide in soils

Kate Maher, Zhenan Bao

About half the carbon removed from the atmosphere via photosynthesis is returned via respiration of plants and microorganisms. The fraction of the respiration that occurs underground allows carbon dioxide levels in soils to accumulate to high concentrations, making it a favorable place to capture carbon dioxide compared to the atmosphere. This project will design a method to capture soil carbon dioxide using low-cost and environmentally friendly sorbents.

TopicsTechnology development; clean energy technologies; carbon mitigation

Protecting ocean biodiversity: Developing and deploying real-time environmental DNA sensors in international marine sanctuaries

Fiorenza Micheli, Jennifer Dionne, Collin Closek, Halleh Balch

Tracking biodiversity and species abundance is critical for food and economic resource management and for monitoring and maintaining ecosystem health. However, quantitative measurements of biodiversity remain a major challenge, especially in aquatic ecosystems. This accelerator project aims to develop real-time, autonomous sensors that can detect environmental DNA (eDNA) for monitoring marine biodiversity and environmental change. The technology will be developed in collaboration with the Palau National Marine Sanctuary and community stakeholders, with future broad applications to streams, estuaries, coastal, and offshore marine environments.

TopicsTechnology development; biodiversity

Accelerating 30x30 through a collaborative regional prioritization partnership

Elizabeth Hadly, Deborah Sivas, Sarah Billington, Nicole Ardoin, Mele Wheaton, Kelly Chauvin

TopicsPolicy; biodiversity; ecological resilience; environmental justice

Accelerator for environmental justice (EJ) at Stanford

Robert Jackson, Sibyl Diver, Emily Polk, Rodolfo Dirzo, Jane Willenbring, Gabrielle Wong-Parodi

The Environmental Justice Working Group at Stanford will accelerate community-engaged teaching, learning, and research through EJ partnerships. Building on a long-term collaboration with the Karuk Tribe, we will develop a social impact assessment of Klamath dam removal that centers tribal community well-being. We will partner with SCOPE 2035 to lead a Just Transitions Policy Lab advancing housing and transportation justice, and lead a transdisciplinary EJ curriculum curation project drawing on our national database. Further, we will advance respectful community-academic partnerships through our EJ Communication for Social Change initiative, resulting in high impact publications rooted in reciprocal relationships and EJ principles.

TopicsEnvironmental justice

Partnering with Domestic and International Players For More-Effective Energy-Transition Policies and Financing in Indonesia and Vietnam

Thomas Heller and Jeff Ball

This project seeks to help inform effective low-carbon-energy transitions in key Southeast Asian countries, working with international donors and domestic institutions to calibrate finance and policy reforms to political economies. Focusing on Indonesia and Vietnam, and working through multilateral Just Energy Transition Partnerships, it seeks to support energy planning, including equity for fossil-fuel-dependent constituencies. Based at Stanford’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, it involves policy labs with Stanford students, aims to deepen relationships with Southeast Asian institutions and universities, is led by the center’s Jeffrey Ball and Thomas Heller, and coordinates with the Sustainable Finance Initiative.

Topics: Finance, Policy, Energy transition