Faculty members join Energy 2100 initiative as Fellows

Kevin Sliman
July 03, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Two Penn State faculty members have been named Energy 2100 Fellows. Chris Gorski, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, specializing in environmental engineering, and James Freihaut, professor of architectural engineering, specializing in building mechanical systems, are both in the College of Engineering.

“It is great to see faculty willing to take time out from their own research topics to contribute to strategic efforts to make Penn State a leader in renewable energy education and research,” said Bruce Logan, an Evan Pugh Professor in Engineering and the Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering and leader of the Energy 2100 initiative.

Gorski said he applied for the fellowship because he wanted to bring researchers who study different components of electrochemistry together from across all of Penn State’s campuses.

“Electrochemistry is a foundation to our transition from fossil fuels to carbon-neutral life,” Gorski said. “Electrochemistry is the basic science underlying batteries, solar cells, fuel cells and the conversion of CO2 into useful products.”

He noted that one drawback with electrochemistry being relevant to so many fields is that researchers studying it are spread across different Penn State colleges and campuses, including the colleges of Engineering and Earth and Mineral Sciences and the Penn State DuBois campus.

“My goal with this fellowship is to meet with faculty studying electrochemistry and identify how we can strategically work together to better address climate change issues and improve awareness of research and education being done at Penn State,” Gorski said. “Climate change is transforming this world in ways that can be devastating. It is a time-sensitive issue. The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to deal with.”

Freihaut said his interest in Energy 2100 arose from the desire to assist in the University’s collective effort to improve the environment.

“My specific contribution will be to establish a focused, practically impactful, cross-disciplinary, coordinated effort among expert Penn State researchers in a number of fields that influence the implementation of distributed energy systems and community microgrids,” Freihaut said.

These distributed energy systems and community microgrids are structures that allow for diverse energy generation and local distribution within a specific geographic location without dependence on a central grid or power company.

“Energy 2100 looks to enable specific interdisciplinary efforts to be realized that can accelerate beneficial implementation of creative solutions leading to a net-zero carbon or carbon-free society.”

— James Freihaut, professor of architectural engineering and Energy 2100 Fellow

Since 2012, Freihaut has been working on combined heat and power (CHP), which produces on-site electricity and thermal energy that are used immediately at the site with utilization efficiencies of at least 70 percent. He said during his time working on CHP, it became apparent that a more universal implementation of the technology needed to be pursued.

“The central generation-transmission-distribution system paradigm (CGTD) of our electric infrastructure has less than a 35 percent efficiency and mostly utilizes coal and gas as the primary energy sources,” Freihaut said “When CHP technology is combined with on-site solar or wind generation of electricity and energy storage systems, the hybrid system reduces the carbon footprint of the energy use of the site significantly, gives the site energy resilience in the context of central power outages and, when implemented in a modular component manner, enables the cost-effective insertion of increasing use of onsite renewables.”

Freihaut points to two threats that makes the CGTD inadequate: increases in climate change-induced weather outages and the incessant threat of cyber security issues.

“It is almost beyond obvious that if society wants to reduce carbon emissions, ensure communities have resilient electric energy and establish paths for cost-effective use of renewables generation of electricity, then the CGTD paradigm of our electric energy infrastructure must shift to a new energy and infrastructure paradigm,” Freihaut said.

However, Freihaut said the issues involved in accelerating that paradigm shift are not just a set of technical challenges. The issues also involve societal awareness, policy and regulatory environments, customer value proposition developments and investor business models.

“Penn State has the research and development expertise in its colleges of Engineering, Earth and Mineral Sciences, the Smeal College of Business and Penn State Law to address the interrelated, cross-discipline issues,” Freihaut said.

Additionally, Freihaut believes for the shift to be successful, Penn State experts would need to regularly interact with the state of Pennsylvania, gas and electric utility organizations, municipal community governments and populations, as well as representatives from interested investment firms and the equipment providers. 

“As I saw it, the Energy 2100 Fellowship provided the resources needed to focus on the formation of such a working team and establish a focused roadmap delineating the relevant issues to be creatively resolved to move forward,” Freihaut said.

Gorski said he was pleased to see how Penn State is transitioning its focus and resource allocation from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

“I believe that having leadership at the University stating the importance of the issue will drive action among students, faculty and staff,” Gorski said. “I work as hard as I can to address climate change through research, teaching and outreach. I believe it is the biggest impact I can make in my position.”

Freihaut echoed similar reasons for being a part of Energy 2100.

“There is no doubt climate change is occurring, and it is accelerating,” Freihaut said. “There can be no long-term, worldwide standard of living growth for most of the world’s population without increases in primary energy use. But, given the reality of climate change, there can be no improvement in the living conditions of the most of the world’s population without a dramatic increase in cost-effective, carbon-free energy.”

Freihaut said making societal impacts in challenges like this are why land-grant universities, like Penn State, exist.

“Energy 2100 looks to enable specific interdisciplinary efforts to be realized that can accelerate beneficial implementation of creative solutions leading to a net-zero carbon or carbon-free society,” Freihaut said.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 03, 2019