U.S. Department of Energy

Carbon emissions are about to have a rocky future, thanks to a $4 million grant to UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The grant was given to the bureau, which is part of UT’s Jackson School of Geosciences, to lead a regional partnership to research how carbon dioxide emissions can be safely stored in rock formations under the floor of the Gulf of Mexico.

“This is the type of science that aims at tackling big issues by bringing government, industry, community stakeholders and academia together to create innovative solutions … ,” Bureau director Scott Tinker said in a press release.

This process will involve capturing the carbon dioxide emissions, transporting them offshore and pumping the emissions into geologic formations deep beneath the floor of the Gulf.

“Right now, when we take fossil fuels out and bring them to the surface … and combust them we transfer the carbon from the earth and put it into the atmosphere,” said Susan Hovorka, a principal investigator for the research. “There are risks with this.”

The goal of this research is to create a long-term storage solution for emissions from carbon dioxide.

“We believe there is a solution for addressing atmospheric emissions that also promotes economic growth,” said Timothy Meckel, a principal investigator for the research. “We would like to demonstrate that we could utilize offshore geology for addressing national atmospheric emission issues as well as state and local issues.”

The grant will fund a four-year partnership led by the Bureau’s Gulf Coast Carbon Center.

Some partners include researchers from UT’s Institute for Geophysics, the Hildebrand Department of Petroleum Geosystems and Engineering, Lamar University and the U.S. Geological Survey.

“We have a very good team,” Hovorka said. “It’s a partnership. It’s not just about UT — it’s about the strength of our partners. We (also) have a strong track record and very good technical skills.”

The Bureau is also working with the Texas General Land Office, which oversees areas in the Gulf that are suitable for carbon dioxide emissions storage. Revenue from these areas goes to the Permanent School Fund, which supports primary education in Texas.

“If we can use state offshore lands for carbon dioxide storage, we might be able to find a way to increase the amount of income for the Permanent School Fund and therefore support some of the primary education in the state of Texas,” Meckel said.

In order to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, architecture and engineering students will work to create a design for a solar-powered house and make the house fully functionial before competing in Irvine, Calif., in 2015.

UT’s team has partnered with students from Technische Universitat Munchen in Germany for this event, after a working relationship was formed with the German university in 2013 through the EnergyXChange Conference directed by assistant architecture professor Petra Liedl in Austin. UT’s joint team was only one of 20 teams selected to compete in the event after submitting a proposal for a prototype which would serve as an affordable solar powered living space.

A team of undergraduate and graduate students from across campus worked together to create the initial concept for the entry last year and are now working on finding ways to combine their goals of efficient energy systems and modular building systems to create affordable housing.

Architectural engineering senior Kathleen Hetrick said she began working on the project in 2013. Hetrick said the Solar Decathlon project is presenting her with new engineering experiences.

“I have had design classes, but this is much more challenging as we will eventually build a full scale prototype that will accommodate an actual family of Austinites after the competition is over,” Hetrick said.

Architecture professor Michael Garrison and Liedl, along with members from the Austin Community Design and Development Center and Center for Sustainable Development, serve as advisors to help the team look into increasing affordable housing for existing Austin neighborhoods.

Because this is an international effort, UT members plan to collaborate with the students and faculty from Technische Universitat Munchen this summer, according to architecture graduate student Marianne Nepsund. Liedl said she thinks the continued collaboration between the groups will be a great opportunity.

“[I’m looking forward to] working in an interdisciplinary and intercultural team, and [having] the chance to build the house and compete with 19 other teams next year in California,” Liedl said.

Nepsund said the competition has given the team a chance to use its skills in different disciplines to address issues a lot of people don’t associate with architecture.

“My favorite thing is getting to explore how we can make sustainable architecture accessible to people across a broad range of incomes and backgrounds,” Nepsund said. “I don’t think equity is an issue that gets addressed very often through [the] Solar Decathlon.”

After the international team works together this year, Nepsund said they will put together construction documents in the fall 2014 semester and then construct the full-scale model during the spring and summer of 2015. Both Nepsund and Hetrick said they hope to apply the skills and concepts they’ve learned in the future.

“I hope to spend my career working on innovative projects that combine sustainability, engineering and public policy to address problems concerning the built environment,” Hetrick said.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

President Barack Obama awarded chemistry professor Allen Bard with the Enrico Fermi Award, a $50,000 prize he will share with Andrew Sessler, director emeritus of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. The award, which honors distinguished research in energy science and technology over the course of a scientist’s career, is given through the U.S. Department of Energy and was announced Monday.

Chemistry professor Jonathan Sessler, whose father won the award alongside Bard, said Bard has made an impression on him since his early days at UT.

“I have admired Al Bard since I first arrived at UT in 1984. He was already famous back then,” Sessler said. “He remains one of my true heroes: a scientist’s scientist.”

Electrochemistry is the combined study of various kinds of energy, chemicals and electrical systems. Bard said electrochemistry is necessary for creating many complex chemicals that are a vital component of many modern devices.

“[Electrochemistry is] used widely to obtain a lot of chemicals that you can’t make because they don’t occur naturally in nature, like chlorine and aluminum,” Bard said. “All the batteries we have today are made through electrochemical systems.”

Chemistry lecturer Sara Sutcliffe, who was a student of Bard’s in the ’90s, said Bard has always been a memorable and thoughtful instructor.

“I took his class called ‘Electronics for Scientists’ and it was a wonderful experience I will never forget,” Sutcliffe said. “He was patient and would take the time to really help you.”

Sutcliffe said she recalls a particular lesson in which Bard wanted to emphasize the importance of caution. According to Sutcliffe, Bard brought a television into class one day, adjusted the television’s wires and then touched one of them with a screwdriver, producing sparks, smoke and a powerful smell.

“He got the reaction out of the class he wanted,” Sutcliffe said.

Chemistry graduate student Michelle Robinson said Bard’s award speaks to the quality of researchers at the University.

“As a graduate student in the department of chemistry, having a recipient of the Enrico Fermi award is very exciting,” Robinson said. “It enhances the reputation of the department.”