• Best Practices for Microalgae Cultivation by Capturing Carbon and Dissemination of Energy-Water-Food Concepts to Multiple Audience and Exploring Inclusivity in Higher Education in the Southwest Region

      Ogden, Kimberly L.; Acedo, Margarita; Saez, Avelino E.; Guzman, Roberto; Slack, Donald (The University of Arizona., 2019)
      This dissertation contains results of the research I have done in two areas I am interested in: energy and education. The energy-based research focuses on renewable energy as well as carbon capture and utilization. The educational research includes K-12, outreach, and higher education programs. Combining energy and education has allowed me to apply engineering concepts to education and disseminate energy concepts to a wide audience, including K-12 students, Navajo Nation members, and higher education colleagues. I demonstrated best practices for microalgae cultivation when combining carbon capture with renewable energy generation, thus making it possible to reduce the carbon footprint of power plants, knowledge that I shared with the communities noted above. In addition, as a graduate student, I have utilized my research skills to conduct research in higher education by exploring inclusive environments in graduate programs in the College of Engineering, which is part of my dissertation. This research allowed me to develop instruments and protocols to assess equity and the learning climate in graduate programs within the College of Engineering. Recently, the energy field has been driven to develop new technologies that minimizes greenhouse gas emissions, mainly CO2, for the purpose of mitigating global warming. This drive has advanced microalgae-based CO2 sequestration research because of microalgae’s photosynthetic capacity to fix CO2. Microalgae are a promising source of biomass and suitable candidates for biofuel production. Thus, this project explored the potential synergy of microalgae cultivation and carbon capture in both the laboratory and at pilot scale at two generation stations: The University of Arizona (UA) and Tucson Electric Power. Previous laboratory experiments demonstrated that algae can tolerate flue gas compounds. The pilot-scale experiments assessed the potential of state-of the- art technology for algal biofuel and carbon capture utilization in two different power plant scenarios, including one with extremely high temperature conditions due to the reactor’s location close to the boiler. The results of microalgae growth utilizing flue gas showed microalgae yields as high as 0.29 g/L ash free dry weight (AFDW) and a lipid content of 24%. Leveraging observed synergic opportunities between CO2 emitters and algal farmers can provide resources required to increase carbon capture while enhancing a sustainable production of algal biofuels and bioproducts. The energy field has been attempting to diversify the nation’s energy portfolio not only by introducing innovative technology but also by providing energy security. Another dissertation chapter explores the fossil energy transition plan for the Navajo Nation. Potential alternative energy resources, including solar photovoltaics and biomass (microalgae for either biofuel or food consumption), were assessed. The methodology for this analysis consisted of data collection from publicly available data, utilizing expertise from national laboratories and academics, and evaluating economic, health, and environmental impacts. The results of this study highlighted areas of opportunity to implement renewable energy within the Navajo Nation by presenting the technology requirements, costs, and considerations regarding energy, water, and the environment within an educational structure. Another chapter focuses on K-12 energy curriculum. Students conducted an electrolysis experiment, using the scientific method, to separate microalgae from water as a hands-on introduction to water treatment processes. From this experience, students learned how electrolysis works and became familiar with several real-world applications. Over the years, diversity has increased at the UA, and currently, the institution is looking to maintain this trend. However, literature has shown that even within equitable learning environments, conflict, tension, and microaggressions may emerge; an increase in diversity does not equate to an increase in inclusivity. This finding led me to design a collaborative project with the Office of Instruction and Assessment (OIA) that explores the current climate in the College of Engineering at UA through survey instruments and classroom observation protocols that assess inclusive environments in graduate programs. In summary, this dissertation enabled me to integrate energy and education research. I coupled carbon capture and microalgae cultivation; I applied and disseminated energy concepts to K-12 students, the Navajo Nation community, and higher education; and I employed my research skills to study and develop instruments to assess learning environments in higher education.