Energy and Environment Thrust Overview

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Vision:  We aim to improve society and the Earth upon which we live through advances in Smart Energy Systems, Green Energy, Energy Transformation, and Recovery, and Environmental Systems and Processes. 

Energy and Environment are intertwined as the production of energy relies on the utilization of environmental resources, environmental management requires energy, and at times energy production and utilization can contribute towards environmental degradation. The classic example includes green-house gas emissions and climate change impacts associated with the usage of carbon-based energy sources. More efficient use and capture of carbon-based energy sources contributes towards lessened environmental impacts. The use of alternative energy sources may lessen green-house gas emissions but there may be different environmental impact tradeoffs. Overall, the Energy and Environment thrust area focuses on developing knowledge and assessing technologies and policies that define an appropriate balance between the need for energy production while maintaining a sustainable environment. Conservation and reuse are consistent themes throughout these areas.

Energy, specifically, is an important pressing global challenge that includes the areas of energy production from conventional, alternative, and renewable resources and its transformation or storage for use in productive ways. It includes the areas of not only energy conservation and improved efficiency but also its distribution, management, control, and security through grids and microgrids for smart and connected communities which are also resilient against system anomalies.

Environment is defined broadly as one’s surroundings. It includes both built and natural systems and understanding their impact on health and well-being. It consists of the Earth terrestrial and atmospheric systems, including the mediums of air, water, and land. Air includes research in air quality and aerosol generation. Water quality, contaminant fate and transport, and water/wastewater treatment are major focus areas in the area of water. Land applications include sediments, soils, solid waste, and building materials and their ability to retain and/or release contaminants and energy to other media. 

Overall, the area of Energy and Environment is very broad and not only spans the intersection of the two fields (e.g., influence of energy production on the environment), but also encompasses the broad areas of energy and environment independently. Energy and Environment also encompasses areas beyond these two areas. For example, electric and water utilities should also be integrated to optimize the distribution of these resources.