Undergraduate student teams win UC Berkeley carbon neutrality competition

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A multistep plan focused on campus fleet emissions, solar paneling and the cogeneration plant won in a campus competition that aimed to achieve carbon neutrality.

The first and second place winners were chosen from five finalists. The competition was held by the Carbon Crew, a campus group committed to achieving carbon neutrality, and coordinators included rising juniors Grace Gau and Anjika Pai, as well as alumna Kaylee Holland. Alongside the group, the UC Berkeley College of Engineering and Rausser College of Natural Resources were involved in the competition. Pai said the intention of the competition was to bring technology and social issues together.

“The question we asked is, ‘How do we make our campus more carbon neutral?’ ” Pai said. “Specifically, we asked them to modify the facilities, vehicles and landscapes of our campus and combine knowledge of College of Engineering and College of Natural Resources to do that.”

Campus rising senior Julie Yu and rising juniors Jeffrey Heo, Kushaan Bahl and Sophia Krivoruchko were part of the competition’s winning team, according to Gau.

Yu and her team’s plans included turning waste oil from the dining halls into fuel for campus fleets, installing more solar panels and using carbon capture for the cogeneration plant, which provides electricity for campus, according to Yu.

“We wanted to put forth a proposal that was actually feasible,” Yu said. “It’s really important to look at what’s already being done on campus and build from that.”

Installing solar panels on the Richmond Field Station located 5 miles from campus would be more feasible than putting them on historical buildings on campus, as the panels require a large surface area, added Yu.

In terms of the cogeneration plant idea, Yu said, this was her team’s most ambitious part of the proposal.

“The cogeneration plant we designed, with the incorporation of biomethane, allows us to capture the carbon emitted from the plant and be able to use storage so we’re not releasing it up in the air,” Yu said.

Yu noted that she felt her team’s proposal was chosen because it had a detailed financial budget and a realistic timeline.

According to Yu, the next steps for her team would be speaking to the Rausser College of Natural Resources faculty and other campus administration to see what parts of the proposal could be implemented.

In the team’s proposal, the second-place team with rising juniors Adam Ng, Kelly Han, Claire Stockwell and Laura Shi discussed altering light fixtures to reduce carbon emissions, using hybrid fleet vehicles and involving stakeholders and student groups, according to Ng.

Ng and his team discussed ways the campus could be educated about carbon neutrality by having a central organization so environmental clubs could interact with one another, according to Gau.

“We divided our work into the facilities, vehicles, and physical as well as social landscape, hosting surveys with current students conscious of Berkeley’s environmentally sustainable efforts,” Ng said in an email.

Both teams hope to discuss their plans and timelines with campus administration to implement these proposals.

Contact Shylie Ati at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @shylieati.