Energy Research in the Koln-Porz and Bonn Area

This morning I commuted from Cologne to Bonn all by myself: an insignificant task for many, but a monumental accomplishment for a car-driving Tennessean such as myself. I was out the door this morning before most of my classmates because I was attending an energy research excursion sponsored by the EnergyAgencyNRW (Northwest Rhine Westphalia), a state-sponsored energy consultancy.

Along with a diverse assortment of fellow energy enthusiasts, I travelled to the German Aerospace Center, DLR to hear from energy and materials scientists about their exciting research into a number of innovative new energy technologies. We first toured their molten salt thermal storage unit, a mechanism of storing energy as thermal heat in well insulated chambers. The salts flow back and forth between a “cold” chamber (roughly 370 degrees Celcius) and a hot chamber (800+ degrees Celcius), heated by excess solar-powered electricity and cooled later when energy demand ramps and the sun is no longer shining. It is cooled by transferring its thermal energy to water, which vaporizes and turns a turbine to generate electricity. This technology is among several storage solutions which will be imperative to achieving the 100% renewable energy system that Germany is striving towards.

Hot and “Cold” Molten Salt Chamber

Next we visited the DLR solar furnace, an ingenious array of mirrors which concentrates solar radiation to achieve incredibly high temperatures. Hundreds of spherical mirrors redirect sunlight to a golf ball sized focal point, producing temperatures of 2500 degrees Celcius. For reference, this array can melt solid steel in under 30 seconds using only the sun’s natural energy. This technology has innumerable applications in driving industrial processes, producing renewable chemical fuels, and generating electricity.

DLR Solar Furnace Mirrors

From the DLR facility, we travelled to the University of Bonn Klein-Altendorf plant science department to learn about their research into sustainable biofuels and agroecology. Scientists at the university grow a variety of cellulosic plants to use in consumer goods, building materials, and combustion-driven electricity generation. These materials do release carbon when burned, but it is the same amount of carbon that they previously sequestered during growth, thereby achieving nearly carbon-neutral electricity.

We concluded our excursion at the Deutsches Museum Bonn to tour their hydrogen fuel exhibit. We learned about how hydrogen fuel is generated from water before being condensed and used as fuel in cars and buses. I discussed the technology at length with an employee of EnergyAgencyNRW’s hydrogen fuel cell subsidiary, trying to grasp the substantive differences between hydrogen powered transportation and battery powered transportation. I am personally not convinced of the advantages of hydrogen fuel over battery power due to the considerable energy losses in the hydrogen processes. However I acknowledge that if we are to achieve a fully renewable energy system, we must research every opportunity that may advance us towards that vitally important goal. And it was really cool to ride on a hydrogen powered bus!!


More climate change solutions tomorrow.

-John Higham

Day Five – The US Climate Action Center & The Private Sector

It’s day 5 in Bonn and day 3 of COP23! After two days full of meetings, networking, and events, we did a variety of things today. Over the past few days, I have been focusing on researching private sector solutions to climate change mitigation and adaptation, and particularly emerging business opportunities in low-carbon markets. Some of the most insightful side events I have attended have been panels of sustainability executives from large corporations as well as talks by “ecopreneurs” who operate small business that benefit the environment. This morning I went to a fascinating event on the effects of the Paris Agreement for the fashion industry and their supply chains. I learned that the fashion industry is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, second only to the oil industry. The directors of sustainability of H&M and VF Corp. (The North Face, Timberland, Vans, etc.) spoke about their commitments to becoming “climate positive” in accordance with the Paris Agreement and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. I was also able to hear from some interesting eco-friendly fashion-focused entrepreneurs who operate businesses with innovative models that reduce waste and recycle materials. I look forward to attending many other business-related side events to learn about how the private sector is leading the fight against climate change, and how environmentally-friendly business practices can be profitable.

I look forward to volunteering at the U.S. Climate Action Zone Center. As Kelly explained in her blog post, since the US has a weak presence at the conference, a group of American people decided to come together to tell the world that #WeAreStillIn. Many countries set up pavilions which serve as hubs to communicate their successes and challenges in climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as hosting events, speakers, and cultural exhibitions. Think Epcot for climate change advocacy. Since the US didn’t get a pavilion, the US Climate Action Zone serves a similar purpose. Representatives from local governments, prominent businesses, universities, faith-based organizations and other sectors are hosting a variety of events this week in a purpose-built structure located just feet away from conference area.

For the first time since we arrived in Germany, we have a full-class debrief session at the end of the day today. It was nice to take a moment to relax, reflect, and hear about the wide variety of experiences our peers are having at the Conference. Everyone explained their favorite places to get free food, coolest side events they had attended, and unexpected encounters with low-key famous people. Katherine made it on Moroccan television and I have an interview tomorrow with the Costa Rican radio! We’re all exploring different perspectives at COP, and we’re excited to keep pursuing new opportunities and topics! Only one week left!

-Cole Simon ’20

A presentation on the future of sustainable agriculture and its integration into urban living.

The back entrance to the Bonn Zone, complete with lots of free bikes.

Volunteering at the U.S. Climate Action Center

Indigenous Peoples’ Day at COP23

Coming to you from Bonn, Germany, 1 day late, it’s your friend Jordan Churchwell! I was going to write this post last night, but I knocked out from exhaustion with my laptop on me before it even turned on. So, well rested and more coherent, I bring to you the news of 10/07/17. This was Indigenous Peoples’ Day at COP23 and, as I’m focusing on how Indigenous knowledge is or is not being heard and incorporated into these large scale international negotiations, I was quite busy. I went to meetings the entire day, which were all in the same conference room, all around Indigenous rights and knowledge. I filmed a good amount of these meetings and side events, in fact 100gb worth! I was able to get interview footage with Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, the co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change (amongst many other things, check her out she’s awesome), and a delegate negotiating on behalf of Tuvalu (a Polynesian Island). Going up t0 ask for those interviews was intimidating, and the footage is not perfect, but it felt very empowering and worthwhile!

On my train ride back to the hostel, I sat next to a delegate negotiating on behalf of Kenya. When asked what he hopes to see come from the negotiations, he shrugged and said he doesn’t expect much. He talked about how since the US federal government/trump administration pulled out of the Paris Agreement, it has really complicated things. He also spoke on the disillusionment too many negotiators from developed countries have, because so many of them are not experiencing the effects of climate change as much as Kenya and other developing nations. Because of this, he says he does not have much hope. The work continues.

Stay Optimistic!

Today was our third official day observing the UNFCCC COP 23. With only three days into the convention, it’s great to see every one of us has already become exceptional conference attendees, making meaningful connections and maintaining a busy calendar to gain a broad range of perspectives from various panel discussions and events in the country pavilions (not to mention finally remembering to squeeze in lunch!). Not only that, we have also become quite the navigators in the Bonn-Cologne area. Just yesterday, for instance, Cole and I were able to put our knowledge of the COP 23 venue to good use for networking and help Mr. Hasmukh Patel – the CEO of the only energy company in Fiji ­­– find his way to the Bula Zone, where he will be participating in negotiations.

On the train ride to the convention with Mr. Patel, we conversed about the significance of Fiji becoming the first Small Island Developing State to assume Presidency in empowering them to communicate their message. Small island states are the immediate victims to climate change ­– a +1.5°C warming would mean they will be overwhelmed by severe climate impacts. However, with the recently passed Paris Agreement and with Trump’s announced intentions of backing out, countries’ current NDCs are proving unattainable even at the original 2°C goal that would still have devastating effects for them. Mr. Patel mentioned how the recurrence and damage of the tropical cyclones has already noticeably gotten worse in recent years. Fiji today faces the uncertainty of not knowing when the next big cyclone will hit and wipe everything out. The most recent large-scale cyclone, he talked about, was the Cyclone Winston, which hit in February of 2016, costing the country $1.4 billion dollars in damage and taking over six months for reparation in his power plant. Mr. Patel, however, remained positive about the outcomes of COP 23 and told us he is grateful for having the chance to lead the conversation on climate change this time.

To wrap up our busy day, our class congregated for the first time since arriving to reflect on our experiences in Bonn so far. We agreed that networking with people and attending interactive sessions proved to be very rewarding experiences for all of us, which is what we decided we all will focus more on going forward with the time we have left. We also realize it is us – the younger generations – to keep optimistic and keep pushing forward on stronger climate action, like Mr. Patel, despite all of the differing agendas we are also observing at this conference.

COP23 Day 2!

Bula! (Hello in Fijian)


As everyone in the class separates to embark on their second day of COP, we have one symbol to unite us: Pins reading “#WeAreStillIn.” Our class started the day off by handing out booklets to promote the Climate Action Center which opens it’s doors on Thursday and will act as the United States’ pavilion. What is a pavilion you ask? A third of the Bonn Zone is filled with pavilions representing countries around the world. Each pavilion is decorated to display a country’s culture, includes a mini conference room for speakers, and some even had their country’s famous foods as refreshments. One of my favorite signs is in France’s pavilion and it reads “Make Our Planet Great Again.” One country that has owned a pavilion every COP was noticeably absent this year: United States of America. Our pins represent cities and states that have committed to fulfill the commitments of the Paris Agreement even though Trump said otherwise. The Climate Action Center will be located right outside the Bula Zone. It will have food and conference rooms for famous speakers, including Jerry Brown and Mike Bloomberg. The center will not be an act of resistance to the Trump administration, but instead act of perseverance.


After volunteering, I went to an event in the Malaysian pavilion about water sources and the effects of sea level rise in Malaysia. Due to climate change, the country has experienced increased temperatures which harms agriculture yield and crop productivity, a change in rainfall pattern which leads to floods, droughts, erosion, landslides, and increased sea level which results in coastal flooding. The country has responded with several adaptation strategies including rainwater harvesting, rain gardens, green roofs, water playground, and riparian buffer. Malaysia is an example of a country that has adapted to some of the effects of climate change, but struggles to finance projects and lack the technology it needs to adequately combat the compounding effects of climate change.


Moce, (Goodbye in Fijian)

Kelly ‘20


First Day Exploring Bonn!

Today was the first full day in Germany! Many of us left the hostel at 6:45 am: a pretty brutal 11:45 pm for our bodies, in order to make it to the Bonn Zone to register our credentials. We were hoping to beat the crowd and we did! We were among the first to register.

All of us were fortunate to be gifted the credentials to get access to the Bonn Zone through organizations across the world, from the University of Arizona to Refrigerants Natural. Our passes give us access to one of the two sites where climate events and meetings will take place. This space is called the Bonn Zone, where we will be spending our time at presentations and talks, and the other is called the Bula Zone, a more private space for delegates and country representatives meet in private.

The conference is held in Rheinauenpark, a large green open space on the edge of the city of Bonn and on the Rhine river. The start of the Bonn Zone begins with a huge tent, very white and clean looking inside, with lots of meeting rooms, tables, and open-spaces. The Bula Zone is about twenty minutes walk North, with art installations, a giant inflatable Earth, a skewed polar-bear, and a number of other odds and ends.

Because no official events were happening today, we took the opportunity to explore the city of Bonn. We took the train to the University district and explored a small city market, trying some cheeses, pastas, meats, and warm mulled wine!

We are all back in Cologne now, getting ready to see the excitement and attend our first side-events tomorrow back in Bonn!

Auf Wiedersehen,


Being Awake

Today’s life lesson was about being awake.  Whether it was being prepared for directions to the conference center or being aware of the new opportunities around us, we were reminded of the importance in taking ownership of ourselves and not to be ducklings following the direction of our Herr Doktor Professor.

After a much needed night of sleep, a handful of us stepped out into the rain at 6:45am to get our passes for the conference.  Even though it was dark, cold, and the city was still asleep, we enjoyed chocolate croissants on the train to Bonn.  In Bonn we received our passes, which will allow us into the side event of the conference for the next two weeks.  Side note: I was promoted to the head of my organization (lol) giving me access into an even more exclusive zone. I am hoping to get pictures will some notable individuals… Hello Angela Merkel.

We enjoyed the art installations around the conference center before making our way to the Bonn Market.  We tasted cheeses, bratwurst, more cheeses, and garlic at the market. (yes some of us smelled very strongly of garlic cloves).

To end the evening we ate dinner as a class at a traditional German restaurant.  The restaurant overlooked the Rhein river with a carnival lighting up the other side.  We ate sausages, sauerkraut, and apple strudel, and shared our plans for our first day at the conference.  (For some this includes meeting and then hopefully marrying Leonardo DeCaprio)

Below are a few pictures from the day.


Willkommen in Köln!


(Make sure to pronounce that “W” like a “V” so you sound like a true German)!

We have all traveled a very long way from our campus home in Colorado Springs, and have now (mostly) arrived in Cologne (Köln) Germany! Over the weekend students, Herr Doktor Professors and Herr Doktor Professors’ sons took to the skies (with appropriate carbon offsets of course) to make their way to Germany. Most of the class traveled in small groups taking planes, trains and perhaps automobiles to get where they needed to go. Some groups made detours to places such as Brussels, Belgium and Reykjavík, Iceland, but we will all end up at the UNFCCC COP-23 in Bonn, Germany! I personally was traveling with three other students in the class. We flew from Denver to Detroit, Michigan and caught our connecting flight to Frankfurt, luckily without any issues! Our plane landed early in the Frankfurt Flughafen (airport), so we had some time to wander around the bahnhof (station) before our train departed for Cologne. As you can see, my German speaking skills are coming along nicely. In fact, one of our classmates taught me how to count to five earlier today!

The train was about an hour or so, and as we walked out of Köln Hauptbahnhof (Cologne’s main train station) we were greeted by a gorgeous view of the famous Cologne Cathedral! By this time it was about 9:30 am, and our crew walked a mile or so, bags in tow, to our hostel. We were the first of our class to arrive and could not check in until 3 PM, so we dropped our bags off and wandered around the city. While a little chillier and perhaps a little less sunny than Colorado, Cologne is such a beautiful place! We walked around for a couple of hours, and headed back to the hostel for a quick nap in their lounge, which is where our Herr Doktor Professor and his son found us.

While fairly exhausting, I am so incredibly excited to be in Germany and for the upcoming COP.  I cannot wait to learn,  and meet new people who are passionate about our earth!

Auf wiedersehen!


Emily ’19

We have arrived!

Guten Tag!

Anna here. We arrived on Saturday in waves- Emily, Cole, Kelly and I landed in Frankfurt at 6:15am, earning us the first place prize, and possibly the most intense levels of exhaustion. We took the train to Cologne and wandered for quite a while, wondering why nothing was open and repeatedly forgetting how early it was on a Saturday morning.



We procured a selection of cheeses, paired them with the German version of garlic bagel chips, sat on a park bench and feasted while looking up to catch glimpses of the Cologne Cathedral on the skyline between bites.




Eventually, the jet lag hit us all like a brick wall and we made the journey back to our hotel to take a nickerchen (that’s nap in German, thanks google translate!). Cole, Kelly and Emily all fell asleep in extremely uncomfortable looking positions while I drank tea. Eventually, I too gave in to my drooping eyelids and napped uncomfortably. We later awoke to our classmates and professor Smith entering the lobby. It was quite exciting to see everyone in Germany! After a little bit more napping, we were able to check into our rooms and get settled before everyone split up to explore Cologne and eat dinner. Highlights included all-you-can-eat sushi (not very German), schnitzel (more German) and goulash (also German). The neighborhood that we are staying in is lovely and the hustle and bustle is great fun to be a part of! I am excited to get over this whole jet lag thing, to explore more and especially, starting on Monday, to see what the COP has to offer!



Travel Day

Greetings to the blog readers,

Today we travelled! I don’t travel very well, so I forgot a bunch of stuff and decided to paint my nails and take a shower instead of making sure everything was packed. Security at the airport took forever for me because instead of going through the line like everyone else, I talked to everyone around me, felt bad that everyone was late for their flights, and let everyone cut me in the line. Whereas the rest of the class got through security in 10 or 15 minutes, it took me over 50.

On the plus side, getting on the plane was a good experience because I met two people who do work in climate change policy while waiting in the line, one of whom is going to the UNFCCC! That person was my seatmate for the entire 9 hour flight, and he told me a bit about the work he does as an environmental lawyer fighting for, among other things, the rights of small island states in climate change discussions. Since I plan on doing my research on the economic impact of climate refugees from small island states, I was really happy to hear his perspective on what exactly should be done. Further, his perspective was one that I agree with as well: The countries emitting the CO2 that raises the average global surface temperature, thus raising sea levels that threaten the survival of these states, should be the ones to pay for the remittances to and relocation of the populations of small island states. He is going to be part of a panel for small island states, so maybe I’ll get a chance to see him again and learn more about joining in his mission at the UNFCCC. Maybe I’ll be him in 15 years, sitting next to a student going to a conference I’m speaking at as a negotiator on behalf of a marginalized community. Maybe I’ll be on the forefront of climate justice issues, passing on my experience to someone willing to soak it in.

On another note, I didn’t choose my seat on the flight like most other people in my class did (my mistake) so I ended up in a middle seat near the wings of the plane, next to people who take up all the armrest space and snore, with almost no leg room because the overhead bins were too full to take in my backpack. Despite that, I’m still so happy to be here on this trip since I’ve already learned so much (about how to travel, about small island states, about networking) and we haven’t even landed in Germany yet. I nervously anticipate what will happen in Germany, and hope that the class continues to be as good of an experience as it has been so far. No matter how it turns out, I’ll definitely learn some valuable life lessons and teachable moments to take home with me, and perhaps cherish forever.