Jacob's School Explores Alternative Sources of Energy

In the midst of California’s current energy crisis, scientists throughout the UC system are involved in various energy research projects in an effort to discover new and efficient ways to produce energy.

These “”energy research activities,”” as the university calls them, are numerous and varied, dealing with nearly every branch of the physical sciences. The research is taking place entirely on UC campuses and in the national laboratories that the university manages for the U.S. Department of Energy.

“”The University of California and its affiliated national laboratories are conducting research across a broad array of energy technologies that represent a marked departure from present methods of generating and transmitting power,”” said UC President Richard C. Atkinson.

The innovative research includes a project at Los Alamos National Laboratory in “”Magnetized Target Fusion,”” which could potentially produce cheap fusion energy in a soda-can-sized cylinder. Another innovation is the discovery by UC Berkeley scientists of a metabolic switch in algae that converts sunlight into valuable hydrogen gas. The Lawrence Livermore Labs and the Davis, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Irvine campuses are also all conducting energy research.

“”While not all of these new technologies are going to become reality tomorrow, they do hold out great hope over the longer term for inexpensive and abundant energy supplies,”” Atkinson said.

UCSD is also involved in an energy study. Scientists at the Jacobs School of Engineering are exploring ways to use sea water as a fuel for the generation of power. After exposing hydrogen atoms to high temperatures in a fusion reactor, the product of which, an ionized gas called plasma, would generate 1,000 megawatts of energy cleaner, safer and more stable than by methods using fossil fuel.

The Office of Fusion Energy of the U.S. Department of Energy is funding research investigating possible methods of containing the volatile plasma. Containment of the ionized gas is one of the most troublesome aspects in the effective production of fusion energy.

UCSD’s involvement in the statewide research does not end there. Various projects in pollution control, energy conservation and energy production are currently underway. These projects include the nearly completed cogeneration plant that, once finished, will allow UCSD to generate on-campus electric power. The plant will allow intrastate redirection of energy formerly supplied by San Diego Gas & Electric.

The Jacobs School is eager to share its work with the UC community.

“”We’re just beginning to implement a program to communicate with the rest of the campus and keep it informed of new developments,”” said Dolores Davies of the Jacobs School of Engineering.