Perspective: Thayer’s Focus on Energy
By Dean Joseph J. Helble
In late winter 2007, the Thayer School of Engineering identified “Energy” as an area for strategic growth of faculty, research, and educational programs. At the time of this decision, oil was trading at approximately $50 per barrel, and concerns about price were constantly in the news. With oil now trading at nearly $130 per barrel, economic concerns are even greater. When coupled with concerns over energy security, climate, and the environment broadly, there is new urgency to the need to develop a more sustainable energy future.
Heightened attention and a longer term view are welcome. A review of changes in the U.S. supply portfolio is a sobering illustration of how little our supply base has changed despite fluctuations in price and an “energy crisis” through part of the 1970s. In 1958, the U.S. obtained 45 percent of its energy from petroleum, 23 percent from coal, and 7 percent from renewable sources. Nearly 50 years later, and after living through the inflationary price shocks of the oil crisis of the 1970s, our energy portfolio (in 2006) remains virtually unchanged: 40 percent provided by petroleum, 23 percent by coal, and 7 percent by renewable sources.
Thayer’s selection of energy for focused program growth is an indication of our commitment to preparing students to tackle this critical and interdisciplinary challenge. Over the next year, we will begin expanding our faculty in this area, the first step in building upon our strong research base in biofuels, power electronics, and the environment. We will add a new interdisciplinary course for advanced undergraduates and graduate students in energy supply technology — the second piece of an envisioned three-course sequence in energy supply, energy utilization, and energy systems. We will display our energy consumption on monitors in the MacLean Atrium to induce people to reduce consumption. Thayer’s Formula Hybrid International Competition continues to grow, and our student ethanol and hybrid formula racing teams enthusiastically try out new ideas for improving fuel efficiency.
As Thayer moves forward with our work on energy, we are dedicated to preparing the next generation of engineers to lead the world toward sustainable energy solutions.
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