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Seminar | Environmental Science Division

The Renewability of Everything: Updating Commercial Energy Taxonomy for True Sustainability

EVS Seminar

Abstract: Every commercial energy technology depends on at least two materials or processes that provide the available energy for driving useful work. These two sides of the equation typically involve renewable and nonrenewable components. In the case of fossil fuels, oxygen gas — a naturally renewable resource — is consumed in a combustion reaction. In the case of photovoltaic panels, nonrenewable materials are required for most energy transfer and storage components.

As the commercial energy mix diversifies, the renewable vs. nonrenewable labels commonly used today need to be replaced with a language that speaks more fully to environmental impacts. Tools such as life-cycle assessment and ecological footprinting have allowed for a more nuanced comparison of energy system impacts, yet sustainable energy discourse continues to treat alternatives as simply renewable” or clean.”

A novel framework is proposed for categorizing the renewability of commercial energy systems. This framework will be presented, with application to vehicle transportation technologies. This research builds on an initiative to update energy science curriculum presented to graduate students at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Department of Civil and Materials Engineering.

Bio: John Mulrow is a Ph.D. candidate in civil engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His research is focused on measuring the ecological impacts of emerging technologies in transportation and energy use. John holds an M.S. in civil engineering from UIC and a B.S. in earth systems from Stanford University.