Seminar Archive Summaries

Integrated Energy and Resource Recovery from Waste and Wastewater

Craig Criddle, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University

Richard G.Luthy, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University

Monday, February 13, 2012 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All






Craig Criddle


Richard Luthy


By the end of the 20th century, the United States had about 15,000 wastewater treatment plants and 13,000 landfills. These systems were designed to prevent environmental harm and to protect public health. Other factors, such as energy costs and climate change, were not a consideration. Waste and wastewater were collected, transported to centralized facilities, treated to remove harmful agents, and the effluents and residuals discharged. Now these systems have reached their design life and are in need of revitalization. Energy costs, climate change, and demand for secure supplies of water, food and materials provide powerful incentives for technological innovation through the creation of circular markets. In such markets, wastewater becomes a resource for local production of freshwater and nutrients, and organic waste becomes feedstock for local production of energy and biomaterials. Many groups around the world are now developing technology to enable such innovation.


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National Oil Companies and the World Oil Market: Should We Be Worried?

Mark Thurber, Program on Energy and Sustainable Development, Stanford University

Monday, February 6, 2012 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

State-owned oil and natural gas companies, such as Saudi Aramco, Petróleos de Venezuela and China National Petroleum Corp., own 73 percent of the world's oil reserves and 68 percent of its natural gas. They bankroll governments across the globe. Although national oil companies superficially resemble private-sector companies, they often behave in very different ways.

Oil and Governance: State-Owned Enterprises and the World Energy Supply (Cambridge University Press, 2012), a new book commissioned by Stanford University's Program on Energy and Sustainable Development, explains the variation in performance and strategy for such state-owned enterprises. The book, which Mark Thurber co-edited and contributed to, also provides fresh insights into the future of the oil industry and the politics of the oil-rich countries where national oil companies dominate.

Though national oil companies have often been the subject of case studies, for the first time multiple case studies followed a common research design, which aided the relative ranking of performance and the evaluation of hypotheses about such companies' performance. Interestingly, some of the worst performing of these operations belong to countries quite unfriendly to the United States. Mark will also discuss the industrial structure of the oil industry, and the politics and administration of national oil companies. One result of the dominance of this structure for oil markets is that high prices often lead to lower supplies and low prices lead to increased production -- the opposite response of private companies.


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Producing Natural Gas from Shale - Opportunities and Challenges of a Major New Energy Source

Mark Zoback, Department of Geophysics, Stanford University

Monday, January 30, 2012 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

It is now clear that enormous quantities of natural gas can be produced from organic rich shales found in many countries throughout the world. Because natural gas is both a flexible fuel and much cleaner than other fossil fuels, it has the potential to significantly transform energy use in many regions. Natural gas used for electrical power generation produces about half as much CO2 as coal.

Despite these advantages, there are also significant challenges associated natural gas development. These include minimizing the impact of shale gas development on the environment and communities. In the U.S. alone, thousands of wells will need to be drilled each year (along with construction of pipelines, compressor and distribution facilities, etc.). While a number of misleading claims have been made about the dangers associated with processes such as hydraulic fracturing, poor well construction and drilling have the potential to cause environmental damage which must be minimized.

Another challenge associated with shale gas development is to significantly improve the efficiency of drilling and production practice.  This will require greatly improved understanding of shale gas production from the nano-scale pore structure and flow mechanisms in the shale to the optimal way to stimulate production using horizontal drilling and multi-stage hydraulic fracturing. 


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Going Underground: Safe Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel

 Burton Richter, Director Emeritus, SLAC National Accelerator Labaratory

Monday, January 23, 2012 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

Nuclear reactor fuel after it comes out of a reactor is intensely radioactive and dangerous.  It is literally too hot to handle for 4 to 5 years after it comes out and is stored under water, and then too radioactive to be stored without massive shielding.  How to ultimately dispose of this material has been the focus of both technical and political controversy.  The deep underground repository planned for Yucca Mountain in Nevada has been abandoned after twenty five years of R&D, leaving a new site to be found and characterized before used fuel can be put away.  The problem is mainly political, rather than technical and in this presentation I will discuss the technical and political issue that got the US into its current situation.  Other countries (Switzerland, Finland, and France for example) have no problems like ours.  A new high level commission has been working on what to do and their report is due out at the end of this month, though its main points are already available and I will review how the spent fuel issue can be managed.

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CO2 Sequestration: Recent Advances and Remaining Challenges

Sally Benson, Department of Energy Resources Engineering, Stanford University

Monday, January 9, 2012 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

In little more than a decade, carbon dioxide (CO2) capture from point source emissions and sequestration in deep geological formations has emerged as one of the most important options for reducing CO2 emissions. Two major challenges stand in the way of realizing this potential: the high cost of capturing CO2, and gaining confidence in the capacity, safety and permanence of sequestration in deep geological formations. Building on examples from laboratory and field-based studies of multiphase flow of CO2 in porous rocks; this talk addresses the current prospects for CO2 sequestration.

Which formations can provide safe and secure sequestration? At what scale will this be practical and is this scale sufficient to significantly reduce emissions? What monitoring methods can be used to provide assurance that CO2 remains trapped underground? What are the long-term risks of geological sequestration and how can they be managed? The status of each these questions will be discussed, along with emerging research questions.

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Stanford'se ARPA-E Sensor and Behavior Initiative

Panel: Carrie Armel, June Flora and Tom Robinson, Stanford University.
Moderated by Byron Reeves, Stanford University.

Monday, December 5, 2011 | 04:15 PM - 05:30 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All


Carrie Armel

June Flora

Byron Reeves

Tom Robinson

Smart meters and related sensing technologies promise that energy information will change energy use. Poorly designed interactions with energy information, however, jeopardize billion-dollar infrastructure investments. The current problems are numerous: sensor information is complex and dull, incentives are inappropriate, informational barriers to action are high, and social context is ignored. These problems all involve the intersection of human behavior and technology. The goal of the Stanford ARPA-E Sensor and Behavior Initiative is to develop a comprehensive human-centered solution that leverages the anticipated widespread diffusion of energy sensors to significantly reduce and shift energy use. The Stanford ARPA-E Sensor and Behavior Initiative includes 20 projects spanning 10 Stanford academic departments with multiple industry collaborators. The Initiative can be divided into three types of projects: (1) technology-oriented projects: hardware, analytics and a software platform that enables behavioral programs to be implemented at scale; (2) behavioral programs to reduce and shift energy use; and (3) data modeling that incorporates behavior into prescriptive engineering and economic analyses. The behavioral programs include media (interaction design, social networking, games and feedback interfaces), policy (behavioral economic incentive programs), and community (e.g., a Girl Scout program).

Going Underground: What Does the Future Hold for Geothermal Energy?

Roland Horne, Department of Energy Resources Engineering, Stanford University

Monday, November 28, 2011 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

The past five years have brought considerable changes to geothermal development. Historically high oil prices since 2005 have focused attention on renewable energy, supported by a global ambition to address greenhouse gas reduction. Geothermal developments have accelerated in many parts of the world, both in countries (such as New Zealand, Indonesia and the US) that have a traditional interest in "conventional" geothermal resources, as well as countries without a historical interest in geothermal energy (such as Australia and Germany). Some new developments have followed well-worn paths in conventional hydrothermal resources in volcanic regions, while others have struck out in new directions in enhanced geothermal system (EGS) projects in nonvolcanic regions. Technology has allowed for developments of conventional resources with lower temperature, restricted water access, and constrained surface utilization.  EGS projects have launched in a variety of different directions and places (the US currently has six active EGS developments).

Solar Energy Mini-Series: The Silicon Photovoltaic Roadmap

Richard Swanson, SunPower Corp.

Monday, November 14, 2011 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

SunPower Founder: Solar’s Learning Curve Paves Way to Competitive Costs

By Mark Golden

Solar power, despite critiques that it is too expensive to significantly contribute to a green future, will be cost competitive without government subsidies in just a few years, according to a pioneer of both the solar industry and research.

The price of generating solar power in some cases is already on par with electricity generated by burning fossil fuels, according to Richard Swanson, who was an electrical engineering professor at Stanford University for 16 years before he left to found SunPower in 1991. Large photovoltaic (PV) power plants, like the one SunPower is building to supply PG&E, are already cost competitive, as are home rooftop panels in Hawaii and several European countries.

“We’re at the precipice, man,” Swanson enthused. “PV is basically right there, after all these years of hard work.”

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Whither Nuclear?

George Frampton, Jr., Covington & Burling LLP

Monday, November 7, 2011 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

As unlikely as it may seem, the future of the commercial nuclear industry, except perhaps in a few European countries and in Japan, appears to have been little affected by the Fukushima disaster. In the United States, Fukushima may have an impact on the relicensing of old plants and result in new safety requirements. But the principal barrier to a “nuclear renaissance” in this country remains the fact that nuclear is not cost competitive with other alternatives; indeed, its lack of competitiveness has been accentuated by the new prospect of cheap and abundant domestic natural gas, and by escalating nuclear capital costs. But nuclear will likely boom in China, India, Russia and perhaps other developing countries. It is China that will likely take the lead in new designs and in growing an export business of nuclear construction and operation. But without a safety law or a nuclear safety agency, with no history of independent regulatory entities, and with a record of problematic infrastructure construction, China will be challenged to move ahead at the pace currently envisioned without raising serious concern among its population and the nuclear community.

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Long-term Trends in the Energy Efficiency of Computing: Why We Can Expect Ever More Amazing Mobile Computing Devices in the Years Ahead

Jonathan Koomey, Stanford University, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Monday, October 31, 2011 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

This talk will explore the relationship between the performance of computers and the electricity needed to deliver that performance. Computations per kWh grew about as fast as performance for desktop computers starting in 1975, doubling every 1.5 years, a pace of change in computational efficiency comparable to that from 1946 to the present. Computations per kWh grew even more rapidly during the vacuum tube computing era and during the transition from tubes to transistors but more slowly during the era of discrete transistors. As expected, the transition from tubes to transistors shows a large jump in computations per kWh.

The main trend driving towards increased performance and reduced costs in the microprocessor era, namely smaller transistor size, also tends to reduce power use, which explains why the industry has been able to improve computational performance and electrical efficiency at similar rates. If these trends continue (and we have every reason to believe they will for at least the next five to ten years), this research points towards continuing rapid reductions in the size and power use of battery-powered mobile computers, allowing further rapid progress in mobile sensors, computing, and controls.

The paper documenting the work to be summarized in this talk is Koomey, Jonathan G., Stephen Berard, Marla Sanchez, and Henry Wong. 2011. "Implications of Historical Trends in The Electrical Efficiency of Computing." IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. vol. 33, no. 3. July-September. pp. 46-54.