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Research Area: Energy Sustainability

The future of energy

Improved efficiency of energy systems and development of sustainable, low-carbon-emission energy generation processes are essential for the long-term health of the environment.

Recent increases in energy prices provide a graphic reminder of the importance of energy to our economy and our quality of life. Most of our endeavors — economic, social and societal — are fueled by a near-transparent infrastructure of relatively inexpensive, highly reliable and easily accessible energy. However, the traditional model — one based on plentiful, inexpensive fossil fuels — will not carry us past the middle of the century.

In the Mechanical Engineering Department at Stanford University, we recognize that developing sustainable energy solutions requires efforts in multiple disciplines and by large teams of faculty and students. It will require that we identify attractive fuel sources and that we develop the technologies required to use those sources in efficient, environmentally benign ways. Many ME faculty are focused on advanced energy carrier technologies and energy conversion devices such as fuel cells, hydrogen storage systems, hybrid transportation and power systems, as well as “smart” ways of accomplishing chemical-to-work energy conversion.

Energy faculty

Faculty in the Thermosciences and Flow Physics & Computational Engineering Groups have a long tradition of experimental and simulation leadership for energy systems. These efforts include a world-leading set of laboratories for the study of reacting flows and combustion processes including a massive engine laboratory and shock tube facility. Our laboratories also include facilities to study clean-coal energy conversion, thermoelectric energy conversion for waste-heat recovery, and fuel cell devices and systems. Our faculty are at the forefront of computational engineering of advanced energy conversion processes, and have led the way in the use of parallel computing and the development of strategies for handling multi-physics energy transport and conversion phenomena. These activities, as a group, provide compelling simulations and data for systems such as fuel cells, thermoelectrics, clean coal and high-efficiency gas turbine engines. In the Design and Mechanics & Computation Groups, faculty are studying the basic materials physics for novel energy conversion systems including solid oxide and PEM fuel cells.

Multi-disciplinary solutions are required

These developments will take place both within the traditional boundaries of mechanical engineering and at the boundaries where ME intersects with material science (such as membranes), electrical engineering (sensors, actuators and controls), biology (biosynthesis of fuels) and other fields. Our current, highly diverse approach to research positions us well to contribute to this rapidly changing landscape.