The Institutes of Energy and the Environment (IEE) are one of seven interdisciplinary research institutes at Penn State. Our mission is to foster and facilitate research that advances the energy and environmental research missions of the University, IEE works to build teams of researchers from different disciplines to see how new partnerships and new ways of thinking can solve some of the world’s most difficult energy and environmental challenges. We have five research themes:
Climate and Ecosystem Change
Managing the risks of anthropogenic climate change poses significant challenges at the nexus of natural and social sciences, ethics, engineering, and mathematics. Penn State has the critical mass to become a world leader in this area. Realizing this potential, however, requires integrated assessment of system interactions leading to societal change. This will, in turn, require investments in mission-oriented basic research across the involved disciplines. Major initiatives within this theme include, but are not limited to:
- Climate variability and change;
- Ecosystem productivity and biodiversity;
- Stressors and resilience;
- Food and water security; and
- Polar science.
Future Energy Supply
New sources of power generation will undoubtedly be needed to meet skyrocketing world energy demand. Penn State researchers are positioned to lead efforts to support a scalable, innovative, and clean energy portfolio that meets the world’s need for reliable energy sources while considering the economic, environmental, health and climate effects of energy generation. These technologies include, but are not limited to:
- Biomass energy;
- Coal utilization for fossil & renewable energy;
- Global unconventional shales;
- Solar photoconversion; and
- Wind energy.
Health and the Environment
The National Academy of Sciences lists climate change, emerging infections and pollutant impacts as 3 of the 6 most important environmental challenges of this century. Dynamics of disease, environmental change, and gene-environment interactions have been affecting human, animal, and plant health for decades, but we are only now beginning to address these interactions in ways that can disrupt infectious disease vectors, enable precautionary design of chemicals and materials, and develop medical treatments to minimize negative impacts. Scientists are also identifying an increasing number of beneficial human/ environment interactions, including the microbiomes in our digestive systems and on our skin. Penn State researchers are beginning to gather around these important questions. IEE has already hosted a number of workshops, and plan to continue these and other activities, to facilitate team development and knowledge sharing in this emerging area.
Smart Energy Systems
The International Energy Outlook 2013 projects that world energy consumption will grow by 56% between 2010 and 2040. The importance of energy efficiency and smart energy systems to help meet growing energy demand without contributing to greenhouse gas emissions – in the built environment, for transportation, and elsewhere – has never been greater. In addition to work on energy systems and their supporting infrastructure, Penn State has world-class research on clean and efficient energy utilization strategies for engines, turbines, fuel cells, refrigeration, and many other devices. Implementation of new solutions has the potential to revolutionize the energy industry, but significant technical, social and systems-level analysis is required for such solutions to fulfill their promises. IEE will foster and build knowledge in smart energy systems by focusing on topics such as:
- CO2 capture, sequestration, and utilization,
- Energy storage,
- Smart infrastructure development (energy grid, transportation, buildings, etc.)
Water and Biogeochemical Cycles
Population growth, development, and environmental changes put increasing stresses on water resources throughout the world. Water is at the nexus of the energy-environment relationship, and water scarcity involves the inherent trade-offs between the production of food, goods, and services and the maintenance of natural ecosystems. Nutrients and carbon are circulated through water, terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere in biogeochemical cycles that have both local and global impacts. With humans already impacting well over 50% of the Earth’s biosphere, understanding and managing these coupled earth systems is essential for a sustainable future.