Environmental Sustainability/Solar

The UA is a global leader in researching and developing renewable energy and sustainability solutions that integrate science, technology, economics, and public policy. From creating new materials for solar cells to researching biofuels and climate change to finding ways to improve energy efficiencies, our scientists dedicate themselves to solving the most pressing societal environmental puzzles.

Core Competencies:

  • Photovoltaic Solar Cells
  • Fuel Cells and Biofuels
  • Climate Change
  • Sustainability Engineering
  • Energy and Environmental Modeling

Much of the UA’s investigation into photovoltaics is organized by the Arizona Research Institute for Solar Energy (AzRISE). Launched in 2007, AzRISE photovoltaics research focuses on improving conversion efficiency, reducing cost and increasing module reliability while reducing environmental impact. From innovations in solar panel junction architecture to new materials to manufacturing capabilities and marketing, UA scientists are aligning with some of the top solar energy processing and manufacturing companies to solve what Alexander Cronin, associate professor of physics and optical sciences, calls the grand challenges of solar energy generation: cost, reliability, efficiency, storage and transmission. In 2009, the UA received a $15 million grant from the US Department of Energy to fund one of only 46 Energy Frontier Centers (EFRC). The UA Center will focus on the development of solar energy storage and transmission through research on photovoltaic innovations. And on the fuel cell front, Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering researchers have made significant theoretical progress in improving the design of advanced, more efficient fuel cells. In addition, several UA researchers are part of a consortium that has just received a $44 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to advance research in biofuels. The project will align experts from universities, the private sector and national laboratories to investigate ways to bring more sustainable and economically sound algae-based biofuels to market.

Meanwhile, the UA’s own living laboratory, Biosphere 2, has emerged as a beacon of sustainability practices and research opportunities in environmental testing. Biosphere 2 is a $150 million glass and steel structure that’s larger than two football fields and was named one of the "50 Must-See Natural and Man-Made Marvels" By Life Books. Environmental research “under the glass” concentrates on how plants affect their ecosystem and the relationship between carbon, water, and vegetation in rainforests under climatic variability. UA-corporate ties run deep here, as Biosphere 2 scientists assist cosmetic companies in testing their products’ effectiveness and endurance in different climates.

And then there’s the Institute for the Environment. This interdisciplinary research and outreach alliance, that includes a translational component, is devoted to multi-level projects that include climate variability in the Southwest, engineering for a sustainable environment, environmental informatics and decision-support, economics, law, policy and the environment, environmental entrepreneurship, biogeochemistry and ecosystem dynamics, hydrometeorology and climate, and environment and health.

In the College of Engineering, a new School of Sustainable Engineered Systems will be a leader in the improved design of linkages between our natural and engineered systems to sustainably provide material resources, water, energy, infrastructure, and manufactured products through innovative education, research, and outreach. The Water Resources Research Center in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is also a major player in sustainability. It is dedicated to promoting understanding of critical state and regional water management and policy issues.