Annual Report

2017-2018 Energy Institute Director’s Message

Friday, August 31, 2018

Author: UMEI Interim Director Bart Bartlett

This year has been one of great transition at the University of Michigan Energy Institute. I began serving as the Interim Director in February 2018, and I am inspired by the creativity and enthusiasm that the faculty affiliates, students, and staff members display in exploring new energy technologies, combating climate change, and implementing these energy and power solutions on the U-M campus and in communities.

Developing an enduring, sustainable energy infrastructure and economy across the globe remains among the top challenges facing humanity. To make lasting impact, the UMEI endeavors to push energy discoveries, grow partnerships, and shape the conversation. We have accomplished a great deal in the past year. We have seen a rise in the cross-discipline collaborations on campus, with new and significant contributions from the College of Engineering, the School for Environment and Sustainability, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, the Ross

School of Business, the Institute for Social Research, and Mcity. We have also had increased engagement from large and small businesses alike in the U-M Battery Lab. In addition, we are delighted to be part of both the academic- and public discourse in shaping the future of mobility and in removing greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere.

In this past year, our core research projects have continued to flourish. We are expanding our experimental capabilities in the U-M Battery Lab to assess solid electrolytes for lithium batteries. This paradigm shift enables the safe use of batteries that store more energy in a smaller volume. The most recent U-M Energy Survey shows that consumers remain comfortable with home energy costs despite an slight increase in gasoline prices. Undergraduate students participating in the UMEI summer research fellows program have continued their work on solar energy feasibility in Ann Arbor.

Three major convenings exemplify our growing partnerships. The annual Transportation Economics, Energy, and the Environment Conference continues to bring academics, industry leaders, and policymakers together to discuss the challenges and frontiers associated with the intersection of policy and business. We also welcomed former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, who highlighted the importance of preparing the automotive workforce for new jobs as connected and autonomous vehicles hit the road. This theme continued in a workshop on the Future of Mobility. There, experts explored the economic and social impacts of the rising number of electrified and connected automated vehicles for both consumers and businesses. Finally, students, faculty, leaders in the energy sector, representatives from our Big Ten peer institutions, and the community gathered to share ideas–both research and policy efforts at a Toward Carbon Neutrality at the University of Michigan: 2025 and Beyond workshop.

We saw the completion of the REFRESCH, a three-year project focused on finding solutions to problems at the food, energy, water nexus in Gabon, Kazakhstan, and Michigan. The project epitomizes UMEI’s mission to support research and to act not only in thriving and developed communities, but also to carry out this vital work in communities that are resource-constrained.

Two accomplishments highlight the impact we are making at UMEI. First, we found funding sponsors for all of this year’s major events. Second, the strong efforts began by our Beyond Carbon Neutral project four years ago have led to a major funded program, the Global CO2 Initiative. Details on our major events and programs are included below.

Finally, I am extraordinarily grateful for the five years that Dr. Mark Barteau served as the UMEI director. His leadership solidified the strong ties between science & technology and social science & policy that have enabled many of the achievements highlighted in this letter. I am also excited to welcome Dr. Anna Stefanopoulou as the next UMEI director. I look forward to her creating the vision of UMEI and continuing to support the interdisciplinary scholarship in energy across campus. The UMEI was founded as a legacy of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project, the living memorial for those in the U-M community who gave their lives in World War II that supports the peaceful use of atomic energy. I am excited that the UMEI fosters and promotes a diverse community of scholars devoted to exploring the conversion, use, and storage of other forms of renewable energy.

Energy and climate

This year’s merger of the Energy Institute’s Beyond Carbon Neutral project and the Global CO2 Initiative is big news in the research space where climate and technology meet. The merger, a major partnership with the U-M College of Engineering, promises to open U-M climate and carbon utilization research up to new opportunities for innovation, collaboration, and funding. The initiative aims to reduce the equivalent of 10 percent of current atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions annually by 2030. That’s roughly 4 gigatons that could potentially be converted into concrete and other construction materials, fuels, and carbon fiber for use in lightweight vehicles and fabrics, for example. I’m confident that this project represents an exciting new direction for both the Energy Institute and the wider climate community.

The Energy Institute showed climate leadership closer to home as well, organizing and  co-hosting Toward Carbon Neutrality at the University of Michigan: 2025 and Beyond with faculty, student and community groups. The gathering resulted in a white paper presented to President Schlissel.

Grid 101 short course launches

The Michigan Power and Energy Laboratory, in cooperation with the Energy Institute, in may held a two-session short course called Grid 101. Taught by EECS Professors and Energy Institute Faculty Affiliates Ian Hiskens and Johanna Mathieu, the course was geared toward a broad audience, from people interested in gaining a working understanding of grid operation and electricity markets to people conducting research in fields adjacent to the grid. Attendants were a great mix of community members working in energy, faculty and students, and employees of Ford Motor Company. We’re looking forward to the next one.

UMEI-UROP summer fellows dive deep into energy

We welcomed our seventh group of undergraduate UMEI Summer Research Fellows in partnership with the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). This year, fourteen students representing ten departments across five colleges conducted a 10-week research program in a variety of priority areas for UMEI, including: materials in energy conversion and storage, land-use policy in renewable energy, feasibility of solar energy in Ann Arbor Public Schools, use of solar energy in buildings, how economic policy in Nigeria affects energy use, and creating digitally controlled power electronics. The UMEI summer fellows and other UROP students also engaged in vibrant conversations around topics in energy technology and economics led by UMEI Faculty Affiliates through the Lunchbox Discussion series. The faculty affiliates include Prof. Bart Bartlett (chemistry, UMEI), Prof. Stephen Maldonado (chemistry), Dr. Ellen Hughes-Cromwick (UMEI), Prof. Margaret Wooldridge (mechanical engineering), and Prof. Johanna Mathieu (EECS). The students wrapped up the summer program by presenting their work at the annual UROP Summer Symposium on Wednesday, August 1.

Energy + competition explores campus emissions

Organized by the Energy Institute and the Duderstadt Center Digital Media Commons, the Energy + Emissions contest challenged students to conceptualize campus carbon emissions. In 2016, the University of Michigan emitted 641,000 metric tons, or 1,413,161,420 pounds, of carbon dioxide. During fall and winter 2017, student teams battled to best conceptualize what 641,000 tons actually looks like, culminated in a December judging session at the Duderstadt Center. The challenge sought to demonstrate to students the interconnectedness of energy with the built environment, the climate, and the centrality of energy in society.

The interdisciplinary winning team’s virtual reality experience visually represents campus CO2 emissions of each University of Michigan building, calculated based on the electricity use of the building and the utility’s electricity generation methods. There are multiple models: one for the current emissions, as well as others showing the potential reductions in emissions based on plans found at the end of theReport from the President’s GHG Reduction Committee. Their project was displayed in MIDEN, the university’s most advanced audio-visual system for virtual reality.

Energy Survey digs into consumer sentiment, beliefs

During 2017-2018, the ongoing U-M Energy Survey, led by the Energy Institute’s John DeCicco in collaboration with the Institute of Social Research, published the following:

Consumers remain comfortable with home energy costs while pump prices edge up(link is external)

Seasonal trends in how consumers feel about the reliability of energy(link is external)

Income shapes consumer views on energy reliability(link is external)

A rising belief that energy use affects global warming(link is external)

Women more stressed than men about energy costs today, but views vary on future costs(link is external)

Environmental worry rises as concerns about energy costs fall(link is external)

A carbon tax: How much would be too much?(link is external)

Battery Lab, TE3 Conference continue growth

The Battery Lab has continued its strong performance; average revenue for the research user facility is over $60,000/ month this year, and staff have grown their role in research activities on campus, with two major new College of Engineering faculty collaborations and construction of a solid-state fabrication facility initiated. Since the lab’s opening, U-M faculty time spent in the space has tripled. We’re also excited to be getting recognition from our external partners; during this past year, Bosch, Ford Motor Company, Pellion, and Mercedes-Benz all agreed to publicly endorse the lab. With Energy Institute Senior Economist Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, the lab has also collaborated on a project developing economic analysis of batteries for electrified vehicles. The lab hosts regular user schools to familiarize researchers and technicians with the battery research and fabrication process; in 2017-2018, it held four.

Held on October 20, 2017, the 4th annual Transportation, Economics, Energy, and Environment conference hosted over 140 experts from academic institutions, mobility, energy and financial firms, public agencies, nonprofit organizations and consultancies interested in energy and transportation. The one-day event consisted of three sessions with presentations and discussions of peer-reviewed papers, and two panel discussions addressing current policy issues related to the topic. In addition to U-M student attendees, the Sloan Foundation generously funded travel and attendance by 17 economics students from around the country.

In May, the Energy Institute co-hosted a Future Mobility workshop with Mcity, welcoming a packed house of scholars and industry attendees from across the transportation landscape (video and other resources from the event are viewable here).

To view past annual reports, visit the Publications archive.