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UCLA’s Sustainability Grand Challenge Awarded $1.2 Million


By Kristen Hardy '17

Published Feb 19, 2016 8:00 AM

Projects funded include development of smart grids, conversion of wastewater to freshwater and a study of the consequences of bike sharing.


Photo by Michael/Flickr.

UCLA’s Sustainable LA Grand Challenge has received its first competitive research grants, providing $1.2 million to 11 projects, which range from developing lightweight solar panels that double as batteries to exploring how to unite the region’s 215 water systems to minimize imported water.

The Sustainable LA Grand Challenge is a university-wide research initiative to transition the Los Angeles region to 100 percent renewable energy, 100 percent local water and enhanced ecosystem health by 2050. The project unites more than 150 faculty from 70 different departments to ensure that quality of life continues to improve even in a hotter, more populous Los Angeles.

“This is an important step in making greater Los Angeles sustainable,” says Mark Gold, associate vice chancellor for environment and sustainability who oversees Sustainable LA. “UCLA has an extraordinary range of expertise, and the Grand Challenge directs that expertise toward creating the new technologies, policies and cultural shifts that will transform Los Angeles County. I’m excited that we have professors across campus working together on solving our megacity’s most intractable problems.”

The selection process for funding the 11 projects was guided in part by the research priorities identified in Sustainable LA’s new Five-Year Work Plan, a futuristic vision of Los Angeles with a detailed proposal for how the challenge will achieve its goals.

The competitive grants are possible thanks to the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation, which is providing funding for the Grand Challenge, including research that will implement the Sustainable LA Work Plan. Their generous $5 million gift will support at least two more rounds of similar grants in 2017 and 2018.

One project examines whether drivers for ridesharing companies could be used to speed up the adoption of zero-emission vehicles in Los Angeles. Because fuel-efficient cars pay for themselves most quickly for owners who drive the most, this could be a starting point for widespread use in the future.

Another energy-related project focuses on developing a “smart grid” that would allow customers to generate power for the electric grid. This requires the transformation of electric utilities, so researchers are looking at two major regional utilities and their different regulatory models to determine how to achieve that change.

Seeking to enhance ecosystem health, researchers will examine what inspires people to choose bikes or bike-sharing for transportation. The study will use before-and-after studies, accelerometers, pollution data and more to determine the health benefits but also the risks, such as the amount of air pollution inhaled.

This story is based on an article in the UCLA Newsroom. To view the original full-length article with details from the other research projects, visit



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