Seminar Archive Summaries

Resource Revolution: A Tenfold Increase in Productivity

Stefan Heck, consulting professor, Precourt Institute for Energy

Monday, October 27, 2014 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

The prophets of doom are wrong. They believe the rapid rise over the next two decades of a new 2.5-billion-person urban middle class—and the unprecedented demand this growth will generate for oil, gas, steel, land, food, water, cement, clean air, and other commodities—must inevitably spur a global economic and environmental crisis. This talk takes that challenge seriously—but comes to exactly the opposite conclusion.

Instead, I will make the case that we are on the cusp of a new industrial revolution, the Resource Revolution, and that that same order of magnitude change we saw in labor productivity is possible for resources. We can meet soaring demand in a sustainable way by transforming how companies and societies prosper represents nothing less than the biggest business opportunity in one hundred years. The combination of information technology, nanoscale materials, and biotech with traditional industrial technology can unleash a step-change in resource productivity and generate enormous new profit pools. However, capturing these business opportunities—and avoiding the disruption they bring—will require an entirely new approach to management.

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Has Motorization in the U.S. Peaked?

Michael Sivak, director, Sustainable Worldwide Transportation, University of Michigan

Monday, October 20, 2014 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

I will discuss two series of studies related to the possible peaking of motorization in the U.S. In the first series of studies, I examined recent changes in the number of registered light-duty vehicles, and the corresponding changes in distance driven and fuel consumed. The units of the analyses were both the absolute numbers and the rates per person, per driver, and per household.

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Pricing Carbon Emissions

Bob Litterman, Chairman of the Risk Committee and a founding partner, Kepos Capital LP

Monday, October 13, 2014 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

The appropriate time path for emissions prices, which economists call the "Social Cost of Carbon," should be thought of as the solution to an optimal control problem. The price of carbon is the brake that society uses to accelerate or decelerate the rate of usage of the atmosphere's unknown capacity to safely absorb emissions. Right now the incentive to reduce emissions is strongly negative, i.e. governments around the world heavily subsidize the creation of emissions. Potential climate-risk tail events, together with societal risk aversion (which is best observed in the equity risk premium) and expectations of technological change determine the appropriate time path for emissions prices. Societal understanding of this issue is at a tipping point. As expectations of incentives being created sooner and higher increase, the valuations of stranded assets, such as coal and coal fired power plants will decline. But understanding how forward expectations of carbon emission prices drive current valuations is complex. It is also important to understand that it is not the act of pricing emissions that destroys the value of these assets – it is the economic externality that has already destroyed their value. What the recognition of that externality will do is to reduce their current false valuations. Exxon and Shell have, in their public discussion of stranded assets, shown that they do not understand this issue. Paraphrasing Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a company to understand something, when the valuation of its assets depends on it not understanding it.”

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Answering Calls of Our Time: Energy Technology Transitions and Equity

Holmes Hummel, founder, Clean Energy Works


Monday, October 6, 2014 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

How can we deploy clean energy technologies on a scale that matters and in a time frame that makes a difference? Market conditions that motivate private equity investments are framed in part by public policy decisions taken in contexts where social equity is a factor. Claims for justice are persistent in sticking points such as the distribution of benefits and burdens along energy supply chains, investing revenue from climate policies, and international development efforts to expand access to electricity worldwide. However, advocates with urgent calls for technology transition often overlook calls for fairness and inclusion as a path for expediting progress.

From this vantage point, advancing equity and opportunity is tightly aligned with opening opportunities for entrepreneurs, investors, and consumers everywhere – and with sustaining Earth’s life support systems. Interdisciplinary thinking that connects engineering, economics, policy, sociology, and philosophy can integrate concepts of fairness and inclusion into strategies for accelerating clean energy technology deployment. This seminar will draw on real-world examples at multiple scales to highlight landscapes of opportunity for more innovations in interdisciplinary problem-solving that can accelerate clean energy revolutions.

The Environmental Footprint of Unconventional Natural Gas and Hydraulic Fracturing

Rob Jackson, professor, Environmental Earth System Science, Stanford University


Monday, September 29, 2014 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

Unconventional oil and natural gas extraction fueled by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is driving an economic boom, with consequences described as “revolutionary” to “disastrous”. Reality lies somewhere in between. Unconventional energy generates income and, done well, can reduce air pollution compared to other fossil fuels and even water use compared to fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Alternatively, it could release toxic chemicals into water and air and slow the adoption of renewables. Based on research to date, some primary threats to water resources come from surface spills, wastewater disposal, and drinking-water contamination through poor well integrity. For air resources, an increase in volatile organic compounds and air toxics locally is a potential health threat, but the switch from coal to natural gas for electricity generation will reduce sulfur, nitrogen, mercury, and particulate pollution regionally. Data gaps are particularly evident for human health studies, the extent to which natural gas will displace coal compared with renewables, and the decadal-scale legacy issues of well integrity, leakage, and plugging and abandonment practices. Critical needs for future research include data for 1) estimated ultimate recovery (EUR) of unconventional hydrocarbons; 2) the potential for further reductions of water requirements and chemical toxicity; 3) whether unconventional resource development alters the frequency of well-integrity failures; 4) potential contamination of surface and ground waters from drilling and spills; 5) factors that could cause wastewater injection to generate large earthquakes; and 6) the consequences of greenhouse gases and air pollution on ecosystems and human health.

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Developing the Next Generation of Energy Efficiency

Dian Grueneich, Senior Research Scholar, Stanford University

Monday, September 22, 2014 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

Over the past 30 years, energy efficiency has become an important tool for reducing customer and utility costs and achieving sustainability goals, particularly avoided carbon emissions, but its impact is still limited. The widely used model for delivery of energy efficiency is a utility-centric approach funded through ratepayer or other public fees with complex regulatory oversight structure.  The focus has been on delivering widgets (primarily CFLs) with limited attention to persistency of savings, linkage to procurement decisions, leveraging of private sector financing, or support for innovation. Energy efficiency needs to transform significantly over the next 30 years in order for it to be a large-scale tool for climate change and economic development.  Private investment, innovation, and deeper reliance on markets are critical to rapid expansion of energy efficiency.

I will discuss a new initiative Stanford has launched on the “next generation on energy efficiency”. This project will develop a new framework to deliver deep, persistent, and comprehensive savings, at a level far beyond historical practice.  I will discuss key areas of the project including: identifying the most successful existing energy efficiency efforts in terms of cost, persistency of savings, scalability, market share, and ease of implementation; identifying key barriers that must be overcome for the next generation of efficiency to deliver large-scale, persistent savings; analyzing new technologies and approaches that can improve efficiency uptake; researching new delivery approaches that can support energy efficiency in a more market-oriented fashion; and examining a new regulatory structure to support new approaches to energy efficiency.

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The Nuclear Fuel Cycle vs. the Carbon Cycle: Pu vs. C

Rodney C. Ewing, professor, Stanford University

Monday, June 2, 2014 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

One hundred commercial nuclear reactors in the United States generate ~ 800 billion kWh of energy each year. This accounts for 19% of the electricity generated in the U.S. The nuclear power plants (NPP) themselves produce no carbon dioxide, but the construction of the NPPs does require energy that leads to limited CO2 emissions. The essential issue is: What is required of the nuclear fuel cycle in order to have a significant impact on the carbon cycle?

Globally, nuclear power plants account for a reduction of carbon emmissions of ~ 0.5 gigatonnes (Gt) of C/yr This is a modest reduction, as compared with global emissions of carbon, just over 8 GtC/yr. Most analyses suggest that in order to have a timely impact on carbon emissions, carbon-free sources, such as nuclear power, would have to expand total production of energy by factors of three to ten by 2050. A three-fold increase in nuclear power capactiy would result in a projected reduction in carbon emissions of 1 to 2 Gt C/yr, depending on the type of carbon-based energy source that is displaced. This three-fold increase utilizing present nuclear technologies would create 25,000 metric tonnes (t) of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) per year, containing over 200 t of plutonium. However, there is considerable technological flexibility in the nuclear fuel cycle that can be described as: open, closed, or a symbiotic combination of different types of reactors. Within each cycle, the volume and composition of the high-level nuclear waste and fissile material depend on the type of nuclear fuel, the amount of burn-up, the extent of radionuclide separation during reprocessing, and the types of materials used to immobilize different radionuclides. Further, the nuclear fuel cycle can be augmented by different strategies for the immobilization of nuclear waste and geologic disposal.

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Can Fusion Step Up? Encouraging Developments in Laser Fusion Research and Prospects for a Future Energy Source

 Siegfried Glenzer, Distinguished Staff Scientist, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Monday, May 19, 2014 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

One of the great challenges of this century is to determine if nuclear fusion of hydrogen isotopes can be demonstrated in the laboratory and developed into an unlimited carbon-free energy source. Recently, experiments on laser-driven targets have begun on the National Ignition Facility to reach temperatures and densities more extreme than the center of the sun. These studies have the goal to demonstrate a burning plasma state with significant fusion energy gain. In this talk, I will present a new high-energy-density science program at SLAC aimed at pursuing discovery-class science of fusion plasmas. Here, we use the seeded LCLS beam with x-ray pulses with the highest peak brightness available today. This capability allows us to measure plasmons and physical material properties in dynamic experiments. Our data allow direct determination of pressure for validating theoretical models of the most extreme states of matter. I will show how LCLS data relate back to the design of ignition fusion experiments and will discuss prospects for near-term progress and fusion energy gain in the future.

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A New Energy Agenda for Latin America: Challenges and Opportunities (Latin America mini-series 4 of 4)

Mauricio Garron, Senior Energy Specialist, CAF Development Bank of Latin America

Monday, May 12, 2014 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

The objective is to offer a broad perspective on the current situation and the challenges that Latin America and the Caribbean will face in the short, medium and long run. The aim, then, is to provide an overview that helps to identify both these challenges and opportunities for developing energy projects and improve regional energy planning that can make a contribution to sustainable economic development.

The talk would give an overview of the factors affecting the energy situation and the impacts on Latin America. It also analyses the progress towards and obstacles to energy integration and security of supply. Another important issue is the balance between resources and reserves as this affects the supply and consumption of energy. The environmental implications and problems associated with climate change in the context of global energy development trends. Particular emphasis will be is laid on the potential role of progress with technological development and innovation, energy efficiency and renewable energies.
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Ethanol in Brazil: a model to follow or to avoid? (Latin America mini-series 3 of 4)

Dario Gaeta, CEO, Sermatec


Monday, May 5, 2014 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

Brazil's fuel comsumption has reached 50% of its matrix of Ethanol. The biggest clean energy programm in the world. How many investors are asking if it pays back? What is happening? Does it really work or it is a "hoax"? What is the future of this program?

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