Research Highlights for Longhorn Energy Sponsorship

Energy-Water Nexus:

The Webber Energy Group at UT Austin analyze energy and environmental problems at the intersection of engineering, science and public policy. The group has 10 student researchers working on four main areas of research: the energy-water nexus, energy systems modeling, alternative transportation fuels, and the nexus of food, waste, and energy. Within the energy-water nexus, research topics include analyzing the effects of drought and heat wave on thermoelectric power generation and fuel extraction,  determining the feasibility of on-site oil field water treatment technologies powered by waste gas, assessing the effect of water policy and economics on oil field water use, developing and analyzing an integrated thermal energy and rainwater storage (IThERSt) system to shift on-peak air conditioning electricity load off-peak using stored rainwater as the thermal storage medium. Charlie Upshaw, Joshua Rhodes, and Michael Webber have filed a provisional patent on the idea, and are researching possibilities for prototype development and potential commercialization.


Solar Decathlon 2015:

The University of Texas at Austin along with Technical University of Munich, Germany (TUM) have successfully secured a place as one of the 18 teams participating in the 2015 competition. Since 2002, the U.S Department of Energy Solar Decathlon has involved over 100 collegiate teams, which pursued a multidisciplinary approach to study the requirements for designing and building energy-efficient, solar-powered houses. The School of Architecture is heading a team of over 30 students from architecture, design, engineering, business and communications, and they are jointly developing an innovative house and energy/water efficient design for entry into the competition. The project concept has been driven by overarching ideas of sustainable urban development, affordability, and energy and water efficiency.


Barriers to Adoption:

The Energy Systems Transformation (EST) at LBJ School of Public Affairs are developing an integrated modeling framework that combines survey research, econometric modeling, financial modeling, agent-based modeling, and implementation and evaluation of pilot projects to study the socio-technical systems underlying the diffusion of capital-intesive, innovative, consumer energy-technologies, such as solar photovoltaics (PV) and Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEVs). This approach is designed to study PV and PEV diffusion as an emergent complex system, with attention to the interactions between the constituent parts of the socio-technical system: economics of individual decision-making; peer and social influences; behavioral responses; and information and transaction costs.


Low cost, large area solar:

Researchers in UT Austin’s Microelectronics Research Center (MRC) are making strides in developing a new generation of low cost, large area solar cell panels, thanks to funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SUNSHOT program. Dr. Sanjay Banerjee, an Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor who directs the MRC, leads UT’s participation in the Bay Area Photovoltaics Consortium, led by Stanford University and the University of California Berkeley.


Pecan Street Inc.:

The power grid of the future is being developed in east Austin on a 700-acre mix of homes and businesses, and faculty and students at The University of Texas at Austin are at the heart of the multidisciplinary research collaboration. The public-private research initiative, known as Pecan Street Inc., launched just three years ago in the Mueller development, and has already has garnered international praise, attracted almost a dozen industry partners and secured millions in funding — including more than $3 million in direct funding for research, education and technology commercialization at the university. The research initiative is also providing students and faculty at the university, and largely from the Cockrell School of Engineering, with an unprecedented research test bed — one that could reinvent the way communities across the U.S. generate, distribute, store and consume energy.


Carbon storage:

With renewed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), researchers at UT will soon be starting projects aiming for breakthroughs in carbon storage. Carbon storage is a major focus for the White House, which announced earlier this month its proposal to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030, compared with the level in 2005. The goal of UT Austin’s research is to improve geologic CO2 storage, which is a key technology for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel consumption — especially from coal and natural gas used to generate electricity. A multidisciplinary team from the Cockrell School, UT Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences and Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, will collaborate on the project.


Fusion - Fission Hybrid:

Hybrid nuclear power is a proposed means of generating power by use of a combination of nuclear fusion and fission processes. Physicists at The University of Texas at Austin, Institute for Fusion Studies (IFS) have designed a new system that, when fully developed, would use fusion to eliminate most of the transuranic waste produced by nuclear power plants. The invention could help combat global warming by making nuclear power cleaner and thus a more viable replacement of carbon-heavy energy sources. The scientists propose destroying the waste using a fusion-fission hybrid reactor, the centerpiece of which is a high power Compact Fusion Neutron Source (CFNS) made possible by a crucial invention. The CFNS would provide abundant neutrons through fusion to a surrounding fission blanket that uses transuranic waste as nuclear fuel. The fusion-produced neutrons augment the fission reaction, imparting efficiency and stability to the waste incineration process.