Symposium Explored Energy Research Projects On Campus

What do cook stoves in Bangladesh have to do with F-15 jet fuel? Or a plant fungus discovered in the Amazonian rain forest with sustainable architecture? As the faculty who attended the West Campus Energy Symposium on Feb. 27 learned, these are just some of the areas in energy research taking place at Yale.

The symposium, which was sponsored by the Yale Climate and Energy Institute (YCEI), brought together 40 or so faculty from across campus, including Science Hill, the School of Engineering & Applied Science and the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) — as well as from the Department of History and the School of Architecture. It was exactly the kind of diversity for which Gary Brudvig and Alessandro Gomez, the symposium’s organizers, had hoped.

“There is a lot of excellent research in energy going on across campus, but we weren’t talking to each other in a good way,” said Brudvig, deputy director of the YCEI and the Eugene Higgins Professor of Chemistry. “We wanted to give people a chance to showcase their own research and find out about what else is taking place outside their own schools and departments.”

In addition to fostering new connections, the symposium was an opportunity to brainstorm about how the West Campus might be used for energy research at Yale. Michael Donoghue, vice president for West Campus planning and program development, told the crowd during the opening remarks that, “We’re very receptive to doing something in energy on the West Campus, but we need to make sure we put forth the right ideas.”

Donoghue said that there has been a lot of interest in trying to include energy research at the West Campus since Yale bought the former Bayer Healthcare complex in 2007. While there are no firm plans yet in place for exactly how that will happen, Saturday’s event made it clear that there is a lot of energy research already taking place on the main campus.

More than 20 faculty members gave short presentations about the work going on in their own labs and at several Yale institutes, including the Yale Institute for Nanoscience and Quantum Engineering and the Center for Research on Interface Structures and Phenomena.

Faculty presenters included Scott Strobel, the Henry Ford II Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, who recounted his discovery of a plant fungus in South America that appears to produce biodiesel. Jordan Peccia from chemical engineering and Evan Beach of the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering at Yale both discussed the possibility of growing algae for biofuel. Jim Axley from the School of Architecture and F&ES illustrated urban building designs that maximize natural airflow, while Andreas Savvides, the Barton L. Weller Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering, talked about cyber-physical systems for advanced sustainable buildings that can predict the energy needs of buildings in real time and help reduce their carbon footprints.

Other presentations focused on the history and future of energy policy, using artificial photosynthesis to transform sunlight into transportation fuel, improving photovoltaic technology, and carbon finance markets, to name a few.

Emphasizing the need for both science and policy research around energy was Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and director of the YCEI.

“We need to move at great speed and [with] urgency,” Pachauri said. “There is a huge body of talent at Yale University. If we want to make an impact, we have to start mapping out a path.”

— By Suzanne Taylor Muzzin

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Suzanne Taylor Muzzin:, 203-432-8555