UT Austin Mechanical Engineering Professor Varun Rai has been named Associate Dean for Research at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, where he will oversee a broad portfolio of research efforts and initiatives and represent the LBJ School in university-wide research programs and operations. Dr. Rai currently directs the Energy Systems Transformation Research Group and is a Faculty Affiliate at the Energy Institute. From 2013–2015 he served as a commissioner for Austin Energy, the vertically integrated, municipal electric utility for the City of Austin. Additionally, Dr. Rai serves on the editorial board of The Electricity Journal and Energy Research & Social Science, for which he is also an associate editor. Read more.
By Joshua D. Rhodes, Postdoctoral Fellow at The University of Texas at Austin Energy Institute
This piece was originally published in The Conversation and has also been published by the Associated Press, the Houston Chronicle, the San Antonio Express-News, the San Francisco Gate, the Albany Times-Union, and The Atlantic’s CityLab.
The electric grid is an amazing integrated system of machines spanning an entire continent. The National Academy of Engineering has called it one of the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century.
But it is also expensive. By my analysis, the current (depreciated) value of the U.S. electric grid, comprising power plants, wires, transformers and poles, is roughly US$1.5 to $2 trillion. To replace it would cost almost $5 trillion. [Read more…]
UT Energy Journalism Fellow Lorne Matalon for NPR’s Texas Standard (listen here)
MIDLAND, Texas—Water in west Texas is both an environmental issue and a major stress on overhead for oil and natural gas producers in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico. A private-public partnership in Midland is trying to address both concerns at the same time. [Read more…]
More than 1,000 people attended UT Energy Week, an annual gathering of experts from academia, industry, government, regulatory agencies and nonprofit organizations, to discuss and debate an assortment of topical energy issues, Feb. 7 – 10, on the UT Austin campus. The conference, now in its third year, is hosted by the Energy Institute, the KBH Center for Energy, Law & Business, and two student-run organizations – the Longhorn Energy Club and the Texas Journal of Oil, Gas, and Energy Law – along with support from schools and colleges across the UT Austin campus engaged in energy-related research. Read more.
For the past eight years, the primary focus of U.S. energy policy has centered on concerns over climate change and reducing carbon dioxide emissions, often through regulation and rule making, writes Dr. Scott Tinker, director of UT Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology. With a new Administration, however, this focus will likely change to a more market-based approach that seeks a balance between energy, economic, and environmental goals to develop secure energy for America. Read more.
In the 24 states that have deregulated their electricity markets to allow competition, providers have brought down prices while increasing the supply of green energy, says Prof. David Spence, who teaches regulatory law in the McCombs School of Business and School of Law. In an article for the Vanderbilt University Law Review, Spence argues that markets alone are not sufficient to balance society’s conflicting demands for a reliable supply of low-cost energy that causes minimal environmental impact. Read more.
After nearly 40 years of acquiring and processing seismic data in the Gulf of Mexico to better understand its geology, UT Austin’s Institute for Geophysics‘ (UTIG) dataset has become a valuable commodity for oil and drilling companies. In 1972, UTIG began recording seismic information in the Gulf, but stopped after 10 years when Mexico shut down foreign research. In 2014, when Mexico announced it would once again allow foreign gas exploration and drilling in its waters, American companies were in need of the information. With the help of UTIG manager Patricia Ganey-Curry, Andrew Hartwig, a geophysicist who earned his B.S. from the Jackson School of Geosciences in 2009, began to reprocess the data as part of a master’s project at the University of Houston. The information subsequently was purchased by seismic services company ION Geophysical, and has brought more than $4.77 million in royalty payments to UT Austin. The funds will be used for UTIG research grants and to create a fellowship position that promotes research in basin-scale depositional systems. Read more.
Electrical and Computer Engineering Prof. Dr. Andrea Alù, Research Scientist Dimitrios Sounas and colleagues at the AMOLF institute in the Netherlands have invented the first mechanical metamaterials capable of transferring motion effortlessly in one direction while blocking it in the other. Their findings, as published Feb. 13 in Nature, demonstrate that the material acts as a one-way shield that blocks energy from coming in but easily transmits it going out the other side. Researchers report that breaking the symmetry of motion may enable greater control and efficiency in mechanical systems and mechanical devices. The team hopes to leverage these topological mechanical metamaterials for various applications, optimizing them, and carving devices out of them for applications in soft robotics, prosthetics and energy harvesting. Read more.
Winning entrants in an energy research poster competition organized by the Longhorn Energy Club during this year’s UT Energy Week picked up $1,000 in four categories: Fossil Fuels and Byproducts, Environmental and Sustainability, Renewable Energy and Storage, and Energy Economics, Law and Policy. All told, more than 30 students participated in the contest. Posters covered a wide range of topics, including development of higher energy density batteries and understanding how air pollution forms from unconventional sources of emissions. Read more or watch a video.
UT Austin Chemical Engineering Prof. David T. Allen has been elected to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering (NAE) for his contributions to improving air quality and developing sustainable engineering education and practice. The award, which also was conferred upon five Cockrell School of Engineering alumni, is one of the highest professional distinctions bestowed upon an engineer. The academy honors those who have made outstanding contributions to engineering research and practice, including pioneering new and developing fields of technology and making major advancements in the engineering profession. Read more.