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Andlinger Center News

May 26, 2015


We are pleased to announce that Princeton’s Energy Systems Analysis Group (ESAG) will be based in the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment effective July 1, 2015. Currently residing within the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI), ESAG focuses on systems-level engineering and policy analysis for long-term solutions to major environmental and other societal problems associated with energy conversion and use. ESAG uses science- and engineering-based analysis to help clarify the environmental and economic implications of alternative energy systems and to identify energy technologies and strategies that could put the global energy system on a more sustainable path. The group is led by Senior Research Scientist Robert Williams, with core members Eric Larson, senior research engineer, and Thomas Kreutz, senior technical staff member.

ESAG adds a wealth of expertise in support of an Andlinger Center goal to become a leading source of reliable, timely information on energy and the environment for decision makers in the private and public sectors. Group members communicate directly with government policymakers and private-sector leaders providing analyses relating to energy technologies, strategies, and policies in the U.S. (at federal and state levels), China, India, Brazil, and several European countries. Their work has also informed decision-making at multilateral organizations such as the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility, and the United Nations.

Research Interests and Collaborations
ESAG’s research activities focus on identifying technologies and technology strategies and policies that could facilitate solutions to long-term energy-related societal problems, including global climate change, urban air pollution, overdependence on energy imports, the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation, and poverty in developing countries. Technology areas they have studied include fuel cells for both stationary and automotive applications, solar photovoltaic systems, hydrogen production and use, wind energy systems coupled to compressed air energy storage, advanced biomass energy conversion systems, coal and natural gas electricity generation, the production of synthetic transportation fuels, carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and storage (CCS), and industrial energy efficiency (including combined heat and power), among other topics.

Larson is leading a current ESAG engineering, cost, and commercialization systems study for low-carbon synthetic jet fuel production from coal and sustainable biomass in the Southeastern U.S. ESAG is collaborating with researchers at the University of Queensland and at Southern Company, both of which are cost-sharing the project, with primary funding coming from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory. A key design objective is lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions for the jet fuel that are less than those from petroleum-derived jet fuel. To facilitate this, byproduct CO2 will be captured and sold for use in enhanced oil recovery (CO2 EOR). The in-depth design and cost study will greatly improve the systems-level understanding of the challenges to launching in the market cost-competitive low-carbon jet fuels from domestic resources.

This is not the first time ESAG has collaborated with Southern Company. Fifteen years ago, the company supported a project led by Larson to analyze new technologies and strategies for integrating the production of electricity and fuels from biomass by-products of paper pulp production. The work helped catalyze the development of advanced gasification technology that is now operating in a commercial demonstration in Sweden. Southern Company has been a member of the Princeton E-ffiliates Partnership, a program administered by the Andlinger Center which enables academic and industry collaboration, since 2014.

ESAG is also part of the Low-Carbon Energy Group of the Carbon Mitigation Initiative, an ongoing 20-year partnership between Princeton University and BP. In this activity the group is exploring the engineering design and economics of making liquid fuels by co-processing biomass and shale gas, integrated with storing byproduct CO2 in depleted shale gas wells. In collaboration with Lynn Loo and Michael Celia, ESAG has explored systems that may be located over the Marcellus shale formation, a region where biomass, cheap shale gas, and pre-drilled CO2 storage sites exist. An important initial finding is that prospective CO2 injection rates into shale are modest, but well matched to byproduct CO2 availability at the small-scale synthetic fuel production facilities being investigated.

ESAG will shortly be launching a new research effort funded by Stanford University’s Global Climate and Energy Project. ESAG will identify, analyze, and articulate promising systems for negative carbon emission transportation energy by mid-century, taking into consideration the current status of technology developments and costs, as well as prospective market and policy-driven rates of deployment of new technologies. The focus will be on biomass-based energy conversion systems that include CO2 capture and underground geologic storage. Key collaborators are David Tilman and colleagues at the University of Minnesota who will develop a comprehensive understanding of the ecological dynamics and carbon storage potential in roots and soil of perennial grasses grown on the millions of acres of degraded lands across the U.S. that are currently ill-suited for conventional agriculture.

Policy Analysis and Education
In addition to the above-described ongoing projects, Williams has been conducting policy analyses that may be helpful in establishing CCS technologies in energy markets. In its 5th Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that, without CCS, limiting global warming to 2 °C (the carbon-mitigation goal agreed to by the leaders of most countries) would be very difficult and costly. In a paper prepared for the September 2014 UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit, Williams and Prof. Zheng Li of Tsinghua University pointed out the importance of a strategic partnership between the U.S. and China for CCS market launch—exploiting simultaneously the U.S. opportunity to launch promising CO2 capture technologies in conjunction with CO2 storage via CO2 EOR and the opportunity in China to gain early experience with CO2 storage in deep saline formations by capturing at very low cost some of the streams of essentially pure CO2 vented from hundreds of coal-based chemical and synfuel plants. In late 2014 Williams filed a Public Comment with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on its proposed carbon-mitigation mandate for existing power plants with a suggestion that could plausibly transform that mandate (which, as proposed, does not encourage CCS) into an initiative that could be a powerful enabler of CCS market launch by exploiting the U.S. CO2 EOR opportunity.

Tom Kreutz heads ESAG’s technical modeling and simulation activities. He was co-author of the Andlinger Center’s first Energy Technology Distillate, Grid-Scale Electricity Storage: Implications for Renewable Energy, published in 2014. This publication is a collection of concise articles about electricity storage and its prospects for enabling renewable energy, co-authored by expert faculty and researchers at Princeton. Kreutz is currently working with colleagues Robert Socolow and Barry Rand on an upcoming distillate about intermediate-scale renewable electricity generation via solar photovoltaics (PV).

Group Members
Robert Williams is a senior research scientist, an associated faculty of PEI, and an affiliated researcher in the Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy Program of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He was trained as a physicist and received his Ph.D. in theoretical plasma physics from the University of California-Berkeley. In 1972 Williams became chief scientist for the Ford Foundation’s Energy Policy Project, where he was responsible for environmental and energy efficiency research. He joined Princeton University’s Center for Energy and Environmental Studies in 1975. His energy technology interests include fuel cells for transportation and stationary power applications, advanced gas turbine technologies for power generation, industrial combined heat and power, low-carbon technologies for producing hydrogen and other clean synthetic fuels from carbonaceous feedstocks, fuels decarbonization and CO2 sequestration, various renewable energies, and nuclear energy (with a major focus on proliferation concerns).

Eric Larson is a senior research engineer, an associated faculty of PEI and an affiliated researcher in the Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy Program of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. His research interests include engineering-, economic-, and policy-related assessments of advanced clean-energy systems, especially for electric power and transport fuels production from carbonaceous fuels (biomass, coal, and/or natural gas) and for efficient end-use of energy. His work addresses technologies of relevance to developed and developing countries. He also holds an appointment as a senior scientist (Energy Systems) at Climate Central, a nonprofit, nonpartisan science and media organization that aims to provide clear and objective science and technology information relating to climate change. He received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota and has worked at Princeton since 1983.

Thomas Kreutz is a senior technical staff member whose research includes modeling and techno-economic analysis of advanced energy conversion systems, in particular: gasification of coal and/or biomass to produce low net carbon electricity, liquid transportation fuels, hydrogen, and/or ammonia with CO2 capture for CCS or EOR; inorganic membranes for H2 separation; fuel cells, gas turbines, and hybrid/combined cycles for electricity production and co-generation (with CO2 capture); fuel cell/battery hybrid electric vehicles: power system design and vehicle performance modeling. Kreutz’s industry experience includes membership on the external advisory board of Sandia National Laboratory’s Sunshine to Petrol (S2P) project and membership in the FutureGen Surface Technical Experts Group. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry from Princeton University (with Herschel Rabitz and Richard Miles), and was a postdoctoral fellow and research scientist at Columbia University before joining the technical staff at Princeton in 1990 (with Ed Law).