Powering Water Conservation: Kate Sullivan '18

Author: Natalie Ambrosio '17

Sullivan Autry

Kate Sullivan ’18 really enjoyed sustainability and science in high school but chose to focus on her Political Science passions at Notre Dame because she didn’t have an appetite for the math that hard sciences commonly rely on. Yet by spring semester junior year she missed science enough to want it in her courses. With a selection of topical science classes, the sustainability minor was just the thing to satisfy this craving.


In this program she found a renewed interest in sustainability through a variety of classes that complimented her humanities studies wonderfully. “It’s a really really beneficial minor because its applicable to literally everything that you do,” she says. “You can customize it to your interests.” When it was time to create a capstone project based on her own passions, a prevalent problem stuck out to Kate.


Kate’s mom works for a Texas-based startup, Autry Industrial, which has developed Cycle Two73 to revolutionize cooling with water-free technology for data centers and power plants. This makes Kate, who’s from a suburb of Los Angeles, immediately think of Silicon Valley with its iconic data centers. They are critical to the region’s identity but also key components of the region’s water crisis. Exploring California’s legislative response to the drought, Kate increased her understanding of the issue, while focusing her capstone on developing marketing materials for Autry to target California data centers and power plants.


When she dove into research to get acquainted with the state of water stress in California her awareness really grew. “It turns out the drought the state’s currently experiencing is unprecedented in history, which is pretty frightening,” Kate says. After her freshmen year she helped organize a water conservation summit in the state, but she’d had no idea of the sheer quantity of water use they were battling. In 2015 the average data center used the equivalent of an Olympic-sized pools’ worth of water in two days. “That was shocking to me,” Kate says. “There’s so much waste happening, but there’s solutions available.”


These solutions will soon have legislative clout behind them, Kate found. California’s AB 1755, the Open and Transparent Water Data Act, mandates the development of an open data water platform, which will include tracking of water diversions. There are so many diverse measurements and data sources that it’s currently hard to get a comprehensive look at water use in California. Kate explains that the goal of the new platform is “for legislators to see where the water is going and where reductions can happen.” The integrated water platform will be available by Sept 2019 and Kate expects that data centers and power plants may face legislative pressure to reduce water use once their diversions are revealed.


For data centers and power plants, the Autry technology is an investment in a less wasteful and more efficient cooling system. Conducting the research to back up this claim provided challenges and improved Kate’s understanding of both the technicalities of water law and of water use. “The most challenging part was definitely the most technical aspects,” Kate says, remembering the detailed reports on water use by data centers and various cooling techniques. Members of the Autry team helped her digest this information and understand the role the company plays in this market. Meanwhile, her advisor, Dr. Suzanne Wengle in the Political Science department, helped her create a strong argument based on the laws in California. Kate says, “I had a really good range of resources at my disposal and I used them all because I needed them.”


While she was learning the science behind cooling processes, Kate was also writing a thesis on counter-terrorism for her Political Science degree. She really enjoyed getting to switch gears between these two in-depth projects. Her job next year will be more thematically similar to her thesis, as she’ll be doing defense intelligence consulting with Booz Alan Hamilton, in DC, but Kate also sees direct impact in her sustainability capstone. “My capstone, I think, will hopefully actually contribute to making California a more sustainable place and I really appreciate knowing that.”


Moving forward Kate will continue to keep these two interests in focus, even when the formalities of formal education don’t provide a clear application for each. She knows that the military is focused on climate change, so her career may end up incorporating sustainability directly. But in the meantime Kate will remember what she learned in the sustainability minor. She says, “If sustainability has taught me anything it’s that there is always a way to be more friendly with the environment and be less wasteful.”


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