MBA Student and Veteran Jonathan Lim Nominated as White House Champion of Change

Jonathan Lim was more than 300 feet under the sea in a Navy submarine when he read a book on renewable energy and had an epiphany—his mission in life is to help change the world’s energy-use paradigm to create a sustainable future. Little did he know then that his path would lead him first to Haas, then the far reaches of Mongolia, and on to the White House.

Lim, MBA 14, was recently nominated as a Champion of Change by the White House, which defines such champions as “ordinary Americans who are doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” Last week Lim traveled to Washington, DC to join others who were nominated or honored as “Veterans Advancing Clean Energy and Climate Security.”

The White House event included inspiring speeches from White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz; and five-term senator John Warner, a World War II and Korean War veteran and former secretary of the Navy, who has worked on energy reform. Lim and other attendees also heard from 12 Champions of Change, all veterans and leaders in their fields, who discussed their efforts and achievements in advancing clean energy issues through the private and public sector.

“It was an honor to be nominated and invited to the Champions of Change event,” Lim said, adding it was particularly inspiring to hear from and meet fellow veterans who are passionate about clean tech and renewable energy. “When veterans stand up and say climate issues are real and serious, it depoliticizes climate change and renewable energy and emphasizes that these are American issues that affect us all.”

After working for six years as a naval officer of a nuclear submarine, including a tour in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army as the lead of a civil reconstruction team, Lim came to Haas to pursue his dream of creating a more sustainable energy paradigm. “I wanted to apply my nuclear engineering experience, which is essentially energysystems engineering, to renewable energy that will make the world a better place," Lim says. "Haas and the Bay Area are the places to be for renewable energy and cutting-edge cleantech. The amount of resources we have here and the classes I have been able to take are giving me the knowledge and exposure I need to make a difference.”

Lim has wasted no time in diving into his field at Haas. This spring he was part of Building Energy Efficiency Mapping Services (BEEMS), a Berkeley team who advanced to the regional finals of First Look West, a national clean energy business challenge. BEEMS is a startup focused on an indoor mapping technology developed at UC Berkeley that offers a fast, inexpensive way to assess the energy efficiency of existing buildings.

Lim is also the team lead for a project in the school's Cleantech to Market course. His team is developing a low-cost solar device that both purifies and pumps water. And he serves as vice president of marketing for the Berkeley Energy & Resources Collaborative (BERC), a broad, cross-disciplinary network of students, faculty, and professionals in the fields of energy and resources.

But perhaps Lim's most ambitious project to date is a solar-powered vehicle known as “Solar Nomad.” Lim and Brandon Doll, MBA 14, a fellow Haas student and veteran, conceived the idea for the vehicle after traveling on horseback in remote parts of Mongolia, a place where they expected to be completely removed from the dependence on oil and gas. The pair realized the falsehood of their expectation as their porter drove their gear ahead to their destination in a gas-fueled car.

Solar Nomad plans to drive a zero-emissions battery electric vehicle christened the “NomadZero” that will incorporate a solar-modified engine to charge itself using the energy of the sun. Lim believes the vehicle will be the first to charge itself without plugging into a pre-existing energy source.

“Solar and electric vehicle treks are now common but they all incorporate the use of support vehicles, overnight fossil fuel, or grid-based charging,” Lim explains.

Doll and Lim hope to raise funds and build the car over the next year. During the summer of 2015 they plan to demonstrate the technology by driving the vehicle from Deadhorse, Alaska, to Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina, a 15,000-mile journey. Says Lim: “We hope to create the first vehicle that breaks free from the grid and does not require carbon fuel sources to operate."

Veteran Jonathan Lim, MBA 14, in front of the White House.