Georgetown University to power campus with electricity from solar plants

Georgetown University will meet more than two-thirds of its energy needs with electricity from solar plants starting in November, as part of an agreement that will lessen the school’s dependence on traditional grid-based power, officials said Thursday.


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The university has been buying renewable-energy certificates, or RECs, for its electricity needs since 2013. The financial instruments prove energy has been generated from a renewable source, even if the owner isn’t using it directly. Georgetown and other universities and businesses use RECs to invest in clean energy while powering their campuses with conventional grid-based electricity.

Now, as part of a 15-year agreement with regional solar plants, Georgetown will use more energy sourced directly from renewable-energy facilities. The deal will allow the school to purchase 100,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year.

“This agreement is yet another step forward in a comprehensive set of commitments that Georgetown has made to ensure a sustainable future consistent with our broader mission of advancing the global common good,” Peter Marra, a professor and director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative, said in a statement.

The investment comes after Maryland’s secretary of the environment denied a permit last year for a solar farm that Georgetown wanted to build in rural Charles County. The project, which would have involved razing about 210 acres of trees, was opposed by local environmentalists who said the installation could endanger wildlife and threaten the Chesapeake Bay with pollution.

Under the new agreement, the electricity that Georgetown will purchase will come from solar plants in Maryland and New Jersey. The school will continue purchasing RECs from other providers of renewable energy.

Georgetown made another step toward its sustainability goals earlier this year when officials shared plans to divest from fossil fuel companies, in part because of the threat of climate change. Georgetown’s chief investment officer, Michael Barry, in February also cited the “volatile range of financial outcomes” that accompany investing in oil and gas companies.

The divestment was the result of a years-long campaign driven largely by students. The campus this year voted to support a student government referendum calling on the university to sever ties with fossil fuel companies by 2024, the campus newspaper, the Hoya, reported.

The university’s plan shows a complete divestment from fossil fuel companies over the next 10 years.

Victoria Boatwright, the president of the student-led Green Renewable Energy and Environmental Network said Thursday that the university’s recent efforts show progress.

The organization is “excited to see Georgetown continuing forward in pursuit of reducing our carbon emissions and decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels, and we were especially encouraged by administrators including students in this process,” Boatwright said in a statement.

In recent years, the campus in Northwest Washington also has launched academic programs focused on sustainability and has reduced its carbon footprint by more than 70 percent through purchasing RECs and modernizing its facilities, according to the university’s energy and climate plan.

Other campuses throughout the District have made similar commitments. In 2018, American University became the

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Sludge-powered bacteria generate more electricity, faster

Sludge-powered bacteria generate more electricity, faster
KAUST researchers have identified a novel electroactive bacterium, called Desulfuromonas acetexigens, that produces a higher current density than a traditionally used bacterium, and in a shorter time. Credit: KAUST

Changing the surface chemistry of electrodes leads to the preferential growth of a novel electroactive bacterium that could support improved energy-neutral wastewater treatment.

To grow, electroactive bacteria break down organic compounds by transferring electrons to solid-state substrates outside their cells. Scientists have utilized this process to drive devices, such as microbial electrochemical systems, where the bacteria grow as a film on an electrode, breaking down the organic compounds in wastewater and transferring the resultant electrons to the electrode.

Scientists are now looking for ways to improve this process so it produces hydrogen gas at a negatively charged cathode electrode, which can then be converted to electricity to power wastewater treatment plants. This needs electroactive bacteria that efficiently transfer electrons to a positively charged anode electrode that do not use hydrogen for their growth.

Krishna Katuri, a research scientist in the lab of Pascal Saikaly, and colleagues have now found a novel electroactive bacterium, called Desulfuromonas acetexigens, that preferentially grows when the surface chemistry of the anode is changed in a specific way. The bacterium produces a higher current density than the most important current-producing bacterium, Geobacter sulfurreducens, and in a shorter time.

Credit: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

“We consider this a breakthrough discovery in the field,” says Katuri.

In tweaking the surface chemistry, the researchers modified graphite electrodes to produce amino, carboxyl and hydroxide groups on their surface. When sludge and acetate, an organic compound used as feed, were placed in a glass chamber together with the electrode, bacteria quickly grew on the electrode’s surface. Analyses revealed that D. acetexigens preferentially grew quickly on the modified electrodes, while G. sulfurreducens grew on conventionally used unmodified electrodes tested as controls.

Further analyses showed that D. acetexigens generated a current density of around 9 amperes per square meter within 20 hours of the process starting, compared with only 5 amperes per square meter in 72 hours by G. sulfurreducens.

Also, D. acetexigens does not use hydrogen as feed. This means that a microbial electrochemical reactor treating wastewater could combine the electrons and protons produced by this bacterium to generate hydrogen gas at the cathode.

“We next plan to study how D. acetexigens transfer electrons and to learn how to maximize their activity at the anode,” says Saikaly. “We’re also fabricating a pilot-scale microbial electrolysis cell reactor to treat domestic wastewater with this bacterium while recovering hydrogen gas as energy. Solar panels will be integrated into the pilot reactor with the aim of using solar and hydrogen energy to achieve energy-neutral or even possibly energy-positive wastewater treatment.”

Anammox bacteria generate energy from wastewater while taking a breath

More information:
Krishna P. Katuri et al. Electroactive biofilms on surface functionalized anodes: The anode respiring behavior of a novel electroactive bacterium, Desulfuromonas acetexigens, Water Research (2020). DOI: 10.1016/j.watres.2020.116284
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King Abdullah University
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