Helping Clean Energy Move Forward

Alex Yoshizumi

Geospatial Analytics Ph.D. student Alex Yoshizumi is combining passions for geography, planning and sustainability to help map North Carolina’s energy future.

Across North Carolina, sources of renewable energy are just waiting to be tapped. New research by Geospatial Analytics Ph.D. student Alex Yoshizumi is advancing the infrastructure needed to tap them.

As a research assistant with the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, he is combining his passions for geography, planning and sustainability as part of a project exploring the spatial complexities of constructing new biomass generators in the state. The NC Residual Biomass Inventory project, funded by the UNC Policy Collaboratory and led by Mahmoud Sharara (NC State University Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering), is currently nearing the end of its first phase.

Biomass generators create electricity from “material that is sent to landfills or left on the field when it could be used for energy production instead,” Yoshizumi explains. In North Carolina, source materials include residue from logging operations, livestock waste and unused portions of crop plants. “One key challenge,” Yoshizumi notes, “is differentiating what is underutilized from what is available, as we want to encourage leveraging existing byproduct while not incentivizing unnecessary extraction.”

Historically, generators have used a single source of waste for fuel, but now “there’s a push to create biomass generators that don’t have to rely on a single source,” he says. This flexible technology would allow many types of material to be processed by the same facility, saving transportation costs and cutting down on emissions. Accounting for the locations of different fuel sources across North Carolina, Yoshizumi will use geospatial analysis to identify the optimal locations of new generators, to minimize transportation distances and associated costs.

Yoshizumi joined the Center for Geospatial Analytics in Fall 2019 as part of the Geospatial Analytics Ph.D. program’s second cohort and is advised by Faculty Fellow Jelena Vukomanovic (Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management). His work with the NC Clean Technology Center fits into his broader research mission of “investigating how best to make energy and transportation systems more equitable, sustainable, efficient and resilient,” he says.

That mission predates his arrival to NC State. While a master’s student at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, Yoshizumi performed an analysis on behalf of the GoTriangle public bus system, examining how adding electric buses to the fleet might affect demands on the power grid. He also mapped emissions and examined which routes would be best suited for electric buses, based on a variety of factors.

Ultimately, Yoshizumi’s ideal career is to direct a university research center, where “you can dream big,” he says. To meet that goal, he has been building skills in administration and management alongside his research portfolio; he currently serves as co-president of the Geospatial Graduate Student Organization and as a member of the Center for Geospatial Analytics’ Development Committee.

After graduation, Yoshizumi would like “to stay in the Triangle if I can,” he says. “Getting a Ph.D. is the right track,” he notes, for building a career in sustainability research and planning, and the Triangle “is the perfect place to do the work I want.”