The UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge awarded its second round of competitive research grants this month, providing $1 million to eight new projects led by UCLA researchers who will study self-driving cars, improve ways to capture and distribute solar power, map wild mammals in urban L.A., and more.

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 an enhanced ecosystem and human health by 2050. This second annual round of research grants awarded by Sustainable LA focuses on renewable energy, transportation and urban ecosystems.

The competitive grants are possible thanks to the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation, which provides funding for this Grand Challenge, including research that will implement the Sustainable LA Work Plan. Their generous $5 million gift is supporting at least three rounds of similar grants from 2016 to 2018. This year’s projects are:

Renewable Energy

  • Development of high-efficiency integrated solar and thermal energy systems to increase renewable energy generation and availability into the L.A. electricity market. Researchers: Yongjie Hu and Adrienne Lavine (mechanical and aerospace engineering); J.R. DeShazo (public policy); Bruce Dunn, (materials science and engineering);
  • Identify policies and market mechanisms that will increase the likelihood of adoption and rate of transition to renewable energy in Los Angeles County. Researchers: Timothy Malloy (law); Charles Corbett (management); Benjamin Nyblade (law); Andrea Hicks, (civil and environmental engineering at the University of Wisconson, Madison).


  • Use information about electric vehicle-charging (EV) behavior to develop recommendations for reducing EV costs and optimizing EV efficiency. Researchers: Omar Isaac Asensio (environment and sustainability); Samuel Coogan (electrical engineering);
  • Pilot an automated vehicle prototype demonstration aimed at understanding the effects of autonomous vehicles on road congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. Researchers: Chee Wei Wong (electrical engineering); Rui Wang (urban planning)

Urban Ecosystems

  • Conduct a historical analysis of urban-tolerant and intolerant raptors and colonial waterbirds in Los Angeles to understand the effects of urbanization on these avian species and identify behavioral and ecological traits that increase their tolerance to human activities. Researchers: Daniel Blumstein and Pamela Yeh (ecology and evolutionary biology); Dan Cooper (Cooper Ecological Monitoring, Inc.);
  • Develop sustainable urban ecosystem management plans for the region based on the historical effects of urban vegetation cover on water use and run-off. Researcher: Dennis Lettenmaier (geography);
  • Understand mammal wildlife distribution throughout L.A.’s urban areas, mammalian impacts on public health, and the public’s perception of the values and risks of contact with urban mammalian wildlife. Researchers: Jessica Lynch Alfaro (society and genetics); Anthony Friscia (integrative biology and physiology); Jamie Lloyd-Smith (biomathematics); Christopher Kelty (society and genetics); Katherine Prager (ecology and evolutionary biology);
  • Develop a new instrument with sensor technology that is able to rapidly measure the water content in plants and interface with irrigation systems to optimize water use. Researchers: Lawren Sack (ecology and evolutionary biology); Mona Jarrahi and Benjamin Williams (electrical engineering).