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Institute at CMU aims to advance energy industry

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Energy projects

• Researchers are working to offset global warming by reflecting sunlight back into space. They studied more than 50 scenarios for using solar radiation management to alter climate.

• Chemical engineering students are evaluating ways to transform chemicals from the gas in Marcellus shale deposits. Student teams designed chemical processes to convert hydrocarbons such as ethane from shale deposits into aromatic chemicals used to manufacture plastics, dyes, pharmaceuticals and other products. Such chemicals typically are extracted from petroleum.

• Researchers developed the world's smallest fuel cell powered by bacteria. Future versions could be used for self-powered sensing devices in remote locations where batteries are impractical, such as deep ocean or geological environments.

Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 1:50 p.m.

Carnegie Mellon University has hundreds of experts exploring new ways to produce energy and to make existing types of energy more efficient.

“But the people working on these projects often don't know enough about what other people at the school are doing,” said Granger Morgan, a professor who heads the school's Department of Engineering and Public Policy.

Morgan will lead the Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation, a research and education initiative aimed at designing efficient systems for the use and storage of energy and the developing clean, affordable and sustainable energy sources.

University officials announced plans for the institute in June. Carnegie Mellon is constructing a building to house it within two years, near Hammerschlag Hall.

The institute will organize teams of Carnegie Mellon engineers, scientists, economists, architects, policy specialists and others to examine energy issues.

University researchers developed technology to reduce carbon emissions and technology to transmit wind- and solar-generated power through the electricity grid to a broad range of customers. They have developed materials such as solar panels that produce and store energy, increase efficiency and reduce waste.

“Half or more of the energy produced by big power plants is wasted. If you had smaller, combined heat-and-power systems, you could almost double the efficiency,” said Andrew Gellman, head of the Department of Chemical Engineering and the institute's assistant director.

Morgan's research on carbon capture and sequestration, a process that pumps carbon dioxide into the ground instead of the air, helped California provide electricity without greenhouse gas emissions.

Next year, Carnegie Mellon spinoff Aquion Energy Inc. will start selling its nontoxic sodium ion batteries that boost capacity for energy storage. Aquion is scheduled to start production in the former Sony plant in Westmoreland County this year.

About 1.6 billion people live with no power, and hundreds of millions of others get makeshift power from dirty diesel generators. In many places, electricity is available only sporadically.

“You see that somewhere like India, where power goes out all the time. When it does, store owners turn on generators, which spew out fumes and make noise. It's horrible,” Gellman said.

The institute was made possible by a lead gift from Carnegie Mellon alum Sherman Scott, president and founder of Delmar Systems, and his wife, Joyce Bowie Scott, a graduate and trustee of the university. The institute is named for Sherman Scott's father.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at



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