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UCLA collaborates with Chinese universities on Clean Energy Resource Center ““ Los Angeles to find solutions to global energy consumption problems

UCLA professor Lei He is the director of the Clean Energy Research Center, which will focus on finding new methods of energy storage and distribution.

By Kate Parkinson-Morgan

Oct. 19, 2011 1:33 a.m.

Los Angeles and Beijing have more in common than an atmosphere thick with ever-lingering smog.

These sprawling metropolises, home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world, also boast an atmosphere of academic collaboration and a history of forming ties with research institutions worldwide.

UCLA is now working with counterparts at Chinese universities to form the new Clean Energy Research Center Los Angeles, in an interdisciplinary, transnational effort to find energy efficient solutions to global environmental problems.

China is a top collaborator in the project because, like the United States, it is one of the world’s biggest energy consumers and emitters of carbon dioxide, said Paul Bunje, associate researcher of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and CERC-LA staff member.

CERC-LA research will focus primarily on methods of energy storage and distribution, said Lei He, CERC-LA director and UCLA electrical engineering professor.

The lab’s research is mostly centered on developing smart power grid technology.

In contrast to the current power system that distributes energy from one central source, this new technology will allow for multidirectional flows of power, such as from consumers’ solar panels and electric cars back to power plants, said Michael Swords, executive director of strategic research initiatives in the UCLA Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and CERC-LA staff member.

The idea for the center grew out of a trip Swords made to Beijing last spring for the annual UCLA ““ Peking University Joint Research Institute for Science and Engineering Symposium. After gaining support from various Chinese universities and companies, the first CERC-LA meeting took place Oct. 10 at UCLA.

Once CERC-LA receives state and federal funding, its office, which will be located in the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, should be up and running by the next academic school year, He said.

But He said most of the real work will happen outside the office.

“The core of this research will occur through a virtual, international network of individuals teaming up across disciplines,” he said.

Many of these satellite laboratories and offices will be located in Chinese cities, such as Shanghai and Beijing.

Other universities, including UC Berkeley, University of Michigan and the University of West Virginia, have launched similar federally-funded clean energy efforts with Chinese partners.

But Swords said the breadth and strength of CERC-LA’s Chinese partners ““ including research universities Peking University and Fudan University and Chinese company XUJI Power Grid, which provides power to more than one billion people each day ““ gives the center an extra edge.

Eventually, the research center aims to team up with research institutions all over the world, He said. He said the center hopes to prove that collaboration, not competition, on these global problems will bring countries more success.

“If we isolate ourselves and try to compete, there will be little progress,” He said.

Other CERC-LA research includes transportation projects such as electric car technology, as well as developing devices to store solar energy, biofuels and bioengineering.

Due to differences in political systems, Los Angeles will implement these technologies at different rates than cities in China, Bunje said.

One challenge researchers will face is whether countries like China can develop their economies both rapidly and sustainably, he added.

“CERC-LA is an arena to mediate that global conversation,” Bunje said. “We can learn from China and they can learn from us.”

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