Colorado State University

Discovery Grants

The Energy Institute Discovery Grants program supports early stage research projects that will generate preliminary information to support future proposals, enabling faculty to expand their research into new directions that are of relevant to the energy space.

2014 Energy Institute Discovery Grant Recipients:

Conveying Injunctive Norms through Facial Expressions: An Experimental Investigation

PI: Pat Aloise-Young, Psychology

Co-PI: Jeni Cross, Sociology

Collaborator: Chuck Anderson, Computer Science

We will be conducting one lab study and one field study to examine the potential of a new type of feedback to reduce electricity consumption - facial expressions. Study 1 will focus on the effect that facial expressions have on inferring injunctive norms (perceived approval/disapproval) for energy-related behaviors. Visual ads will be created and presented to 200 participants. We will manipulate the descriptive norms (i.e., the stated percentage of people engaging in the desired behavior), as well as the facial expressions of people shown on the ad and ask participants to estimate the percentage of their peers who approve of the behavior (injunctive norm).

In the second (field) study, different facial expressions will be used to present feedback to administrative staff at CSU regarding their compliance with requests to turn their computers off at the end of the day. A graduate student from CS will create a program that will ping computers to determine whether they have in fact been shut down, collect that information for all the computers in the study and then automate the presentation of feedback. This will be an experimental study which will compare the effectiveness of an environmental message with normative messaging (using facial expressions).


Ultra-High Temperature Phase Change Coolant for Engine Waste Heat Recovery

PI: Todd Bandhauer, Mechanical Engineering

Internal combustion engines will continue to be the most utilized power system in multiple industries for the foreseeable future. However, these engines are only 30-40% efficient, with the remaining 60-70% energy rejected as waste heat. Attempts to increase the overall efficiency by utilizing this waste heat to make mechanical power are fundamentally limited, and, as a result, minimal fuel economy improvements have been realized (~6%). This project aims to dramatically improve the brake thermal efficiency of these engines through more effective utilization of this waste heat.  During the course of this project, we will experimentally validate the proprietary proof-of-concept on a small, 3-cylinder diesel engine, demonstrating a feasible path towards >25% brake thermal efficiency improvement. This research has the potential to transform multiple industries, including vehicle transportation, rail and highway shipping, and stationary power generation for emergency backup or distributed uses, and we are continuing to develop relationships with strategic partners in these and other areas.

Dr. Todd Bandhauer


Integrative Design for High Performance Buildings White Paper

PI: Brian Dunbar, Institute for the Built Environment

Co-PIs: Stephanie Barr, Institute for the Built Environment; Jeni Cross, Sociology; Tara Shelley, Sociology

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the Building Sector consumes nearly half (47.6%) of all energy produced in the United States. Buildings offer one of our greatest opportunities for reducing U.S. energy use, yet many buildings designed to meet third-party certification programs like LEED have not achieved their expected energy performance goals. We ask the question: What design processes are used by teams that create high performance buildings that exceed their energy performance goals?

Drawing on research conducted by Dr. Cross and Dr. Shelley, Sociology, we will develop a white paper written for industry professionals.  This paper will 1) define and elucidate the essential components of Integrative Design, 2) translate the best practices of Integrative Design to the field, and 3) further advance the practices used in designing and constructing energy efficient buildings. The key attributes of the Integrative Design Process will be synthesized into a replicable framework.  The goal of the synthesis will be to produce a simple and applicable tool for industry professionals to employ in future design projects. 

IBE At Work


Determining the Factors Driving Consumer Support for Alternative Energy Policies

PI: Chris Goemans, Agricultural and Resource Economics

In the past, utilities have focused more on meeting consumer demand for electricity at a low cost, and less on securing sources of energy that were in line with customer preferences for the environment. However, within the past two years, multiple municipalities have voted to ban “fracking” for oil and natural gas, and the city of Boulder recently voted to split from Excel energy in order to increase the municipality’s renewable energy provision. These events show that Coloradoans have strong energy-related preferences. As such, the success of new technologies for energy production and conservation will depend upon public support; in turn, this support depends upon which details of a policy capture public attention.  For instance, for some, cost is the factor that most drives support for development of natural gas in Colorado, while for others, perceived environmental impacts drive opposition. This tendency to focus on one specific characteristic of a policy is termed “attribute non-attendance” in the economic literature, and for some consumers, focusing on one policy attribute can cause consumers to ignore other beneficial aspects of a policy. Using survey-based methods, this research project will identify how support (or opposition) to energy policies is influenced by various policy characteristics. We will then examine whether the tendency to focus on specific policy attributes leads consumers to reject policies that might actually increase their overall welfare.

Dr. Geomans


An Economic Analysis of Local Opposition to Hydraulic Fracturing

PI: Terrence Iverson, Economics

Co-PI: Dale Manning, Agricultural and Resource Economics

Collaborator: Harvey Cutler, Economics

Unconventionally extracted oil and gas have changed the energy future of the United States.  Lower gas prices have facilitated a move away from coal and created a cost advantage for manufacturers.  Despite these benefits, the increased use of hydraulic fracturing (HF) has raised many concerns about the environmental and health costs associated with drilling.  As a result of public trepidation, several local governments in the US have implemented or considered bans on the use of HF.  In this project, we model the distribution of HF costs and benefits for local communities and discuss the circumstances under which these differ from broader costs and benefits.  Specifically, we consider the distribution of resource ownership, uncertain external costs associated with oil and gas extraction, and the potential for learning about the true costs of the technology.  The ability to learn over time creates an additional ‘option value’ of waiting until more is known about potential local costs.  Our modeling approach contributes to the economics literature by linking an economy-wide Computable General Equilibrium model with a dynamic model that explicitly includes learning about the costs of HF.  Study results can help understand and correct discrepancies in energy policy incentives at the local and national scales.

Professor Iverson and Professor Manning


Development of Sorghum Transformation Protocols for Improved Bioenergy Traits

PI: Courtney Jahn, Crop and Soil Sciences

Co-PI: Christie Peebles, Chemical and Biological Engineering

Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L. Moench) is a multi-purpose crop that is recognized as an important future sources of biofuels because it accumulates a considerable amount of sugar and biomass with relatively little water. Sorghum also tolerates environmental stresses that other biofuel crops cannot (e.g. arid or saline soils, high heat), and can be grown with minimal fertilizer inputs while producing similar biomass to other grasses such as maize and switchgrass.  Despite these advantages, the development of sorghum as a bioenergy crop has been hindered due to the recalcitrant nature of the plant to genetic transformations and severe weed pressure. Several types of sorghum are produced including grain, forage, sweet, and energy sorghum, of these, only a few grain cultivars (short in stature to maximize grain yields) have seen successful transformation and regeneration protocols developed. The overall goal of this proposal is to establish a sorghum transformation protocol at CSU and to expand the varieties of sorghum that can be transformed. Additionally, we will optimize the CRISPR/Cas system for targeted genome editing. Once established, we will utilize these protocols to produce herbicide-resistant sorghum as a proof of concept and to improve bioenergy traits of sorghum.

Dr. Jahn

Relationships between synthesis, structure, and properties in new high-efficiency photovoltaic materials and devices: perovskites

PI: James Neilson, Chemistry

The harvesting of sunlight for residential and commercial energy remains an attractive venture for a sustainable energy future. However, the global economy mandates that such energy harvesting methods be both highly efficient and inexpensive to produce; low-temperature processing chemistry provides an advantageous approach to minimize processing costs. New, solution-depositable materials of the canonical “perovskite” structure type have recently been unveiled as a new promise for inexpensive, high-efficiency energy conversion. The goal of this project is to discover and prepare new hybrid inorganic/organic materials within this family of compounds, while developing new solution-phase chemical methodologies to produce inexpensive photo- voltaic devices based on these semiconducting perovskites. Our research is intrinsically interdisciplinary: our chemical reactions are guided by both chemical intuition and quantum chemical calculations; feedback into our chemistry results from our advanced characterization of the atomistic structures of these materials and their relationships to measurements of the physical properties that enable high-efficiency, low-cost photovoltaics.

Dr. James Neilson


Hyperthermophilic fermentative biofuel production in the Archaea: a platform for biohydrogen and liquid biofuels.

PI: Tom Santangelo, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

The next generation of biofuel-generating organisms must provide robust, tunable, and modular expression platforms to enable catabolism of the most varied input substrates while facilitating production of many different fuels.  Emphasis must be placed both on production of fuels that can immediately be employed within the current energy infrastructure (i.e. butanol, isopentanol and biodiesels), while continuing to optimize production of promising fuels of the near future (i.e. biohydrogen). Thermococcus kodakarensis – a marine, hyperthermophilic, genetically tractable archaeon – is an established and robust platform for biohydrogen production, however, input carbon is typically lost as organic acids or CO2. My laboratory is focused on exploiting T. kodakarensis for simultaneous gaseous and liquid biofuel production, and funding from the CSU Bioenergy Institute is aimed at generating liquid biofuel precursors from fermentative catabolism. This proposal will establish and characterize the enzyme(s) responsible for the mevalonate isoprenoid synthesis pathway from Thermococcus kodakarensis.

Dr. Santangelo

Energy Institute Member Organizations

Center for Energy and Behavior Center for Energy Development and Health Center for Energy Water Sustainability Center for Laser Sensing and Diagnostics Center for Next Generation Photovoltaics Center for the New Energy Economy Electric Power Systems Laboratory Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory Industrial Assessment Center Institute for the Built Environment Rural Energy Center Sustainable Biofuels Development Center