The Future Looks Bright: Dartmouth Engineering Professors Discuss Promising Technologies for the Environment

April 15, 2013

Technological developments are enabling us to live a more sustainable life. We asked professors at Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth:

What technologies under development hold the most promise for sustainability—and why?

Cross-Laminated Timber Systems

Professor Vicki May Cross-laminated timber systems, which are more widely used in Europe than in the U.S., are being used for larger-scale structures (20+ story tall buildings). Using timber rather than steel and concrete is more sustainable as the wood is renewable, recyclable, recoverable, and stores carbon.
Vicki May, Associate Professor of Engineering

Fusion Energy

Professor Daniel Lynch It will require massive social commitment to make a scaled-up system of supply and distribution, but it is capable of removing energy as a constraint on development and the accompanying distortions.
Daniel Lynch, MacLean Professor of Engineering

Hybrid-Electric and High MPG Vehicles; Solar Hot Water Heating

Professor Jason Stauth These open up the possibility to dramatically reduce energy use and carbon production without a significant paradigm shift or painful modification of behavior/habits of the general public. Improved building management, especially with regard to water heating and thermodynamic processes such as heating and cooling. Rethinking building management and intelligently designing heating and cooling processes—for example, solar hot water heating—could have a tremendous impact.
Jason Stauth, Assistant Professor of Engineering

Hydraulics

Professor Brenden Epps Hydraulics—pumps and high-pressure fluid—to transfer power from offshore wind turbines or hydrokinetic tidal turbines to on-shore electric power generating stations. This may prove to be a more economical way to harness wind and tidal energy.
Brenden Epps, Assistant Professor of Engineering

Integrated Food Production Systems

Professor Lee Lynd Beef production accounts for over half of all land devoted to agriculture in the United States and yet delivers a much smaller fraction of both calories and protein. The land devoted to beef production could be devoted to producing food in a more land-efficient way, thus lessening pressure to clear land, which is a major source of habitat loss and greenhouse gas emissions. Producing and consuming food in a more land-efficient way could also make room for biofuels, which likely have to be substituted for fossil fuels in a carbon-constrained world for a significant (about half) of mobility requirements.
Lee Lynd, Paul E. and Joan H. Queneau Distinguished Professor in Environmental Engineering Design, Adjunct Professor of Biological Sciences

Net Zero Homes

Professor Solomon Diamond They're available now and will become more affordable with faster paybacks every year.
Solomon Diamond, Assistant Professor of Engineering

Photovoltaic Solar Energy; Smart Buildings and Cities

Professor Benoit Cushman-Roisin Photovoltaic solar technology has made significant progress and prices are coming down. Smart buildings and cities—that use censors and remote control to balance energy loads, decongest traffic, and the like—because of their reduction in energy consumption and emissions.
Benoit Cushman-Roisin, Professor of Engineering

Smart Grid

Professor Mark Borsuk A smart grid that is focused on enhancing the integration of renewables into our energy mix.
Mark Borsuk, Assistant Professor of Engineering

Pulse-Electro-Thermal Deicing

Professor Victor Petrenko Pulse-Electro-Thermal Deicing (PETD) technology, which uses quick pulses of electricity to instantly loosen ice from surfaces such as wind turbine rotors and solar panels. (In the United States and Canada about 17 percent of power generated by windmills is lost due to icing of windmill rotors. Snow and frost on solar panels lessen the power the panels can generate.) The technology can remove ice from windshields in two seconds using very low energy from a car battery. If used to loosen ice in commercial, industrial, and residential icemakers, PETD would save up to 40 percent of electric energy used by those devices. Currently the icemakers consume about $5 billion per year of electricity. If used in no-frost refrigeration and AC-evaporators, the technology could save from 15 to 40 percent of electric energy. With the national refrigeration electric bill averaging about $40 billion per year, this would make an impact.
Victor Petrenko, Professor of Engineering