UD hosts media workshop on energy issues
Willett Kempton, right, shows the inner workings of a V2G vehicle.
Doug Brunner explains the workings of UD's hydrogen fuel cell-powered bus.
The V2G automobile and hydrogen fuel cell-powered bus.
John Sweeney of The News Journal speaks at the media workshop on energy.
John Byrne, director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy, addresses those attending the media workshop.

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4:34 p.m., April 28, 2010----Helping reporters get the word out about current and future energy challenges and the multifaceted approach that will be needed to address these issues was the focus of a University of Delaware media workshop held Monday, April 26, in the Trabant University Center.

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During the first-ever Covering Energy Issues workshop, UD scientists joined students, policy makers and representatives of the news media in discussing the scale of the energy challenge and possible solutions, and the key role that news media can play in conveying this information to the general public.

Participants also were treated to a ride in one of the University's hydrogen buses, a look at the vehicle-to-grid (V2G) automobile, and a visit to the fuel cell lab in Spencer Laboratory.

David Brond, vice president of communications and marketing at UD, welcomed researchers, panel participants and guests, noting that “this is a first for UD. We wanted to invite media to come in for a discussion on how to cover a very important, but complicated issue.”

The event was sponsored by the University of Delaware Office of Communications and Marketing in partnership with the UD Research Office and the Unidel Foundation.

While scientists agree that there are no easy solutions, they believe that a knowledgeable news media can help increase readers' awareness and understanding that solving major interconnected environmental and energy issues will be a long-term and multifaceted effort involving and affecting everyone.

These issues include climate change and the growing use of alternative energy technologies, many of which are being developed or adapted by UD researchers, Mark Barteau, senior vice provost for research and strategic initiatives at UD, said.

“Energy is the grand challenge of our time,” Barteau said. “One of the things reporters should include in their coverage of these issues is the scale, including how much we need to reduce carbon dioxide. They also need to report on new technologies and infrastructures we are going to need.”

Although the use of emerging alternative technologies and energy-producing resources are growing, they are not enough to meet the total projected energy demands and the accompanying environmental challenges.

“We are not going to have energy independence as long as the United States relies on the internal combustion engine,” Barteau, who is also the Robert L. Pigford Chair of Chemical Engineering and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, said, quoting former U.S. Energy Secretary James Schlesinger. “Fossil fuels will continue to be important through the rest of the century, while renewable energy is growing rapidly, but from a very small base.”

While the use of biofuels and wind power, including the turbine installed on UD's Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes, are promising developments, there is no single energy source or technology that will solve energy and environmental needs, Barteau said.

“We need to develop new resources,” Barteau said. “We also need to think about how the media can convey this kind of information and the consequences of our energy choices back to the people.”

John Sweeney, Wilmington News Journal editorial page editor, said it is important for news organizations to understand and deliver this information to readers in a clear and consistent manner.

“Energy and climate change is a contested terrain, and we have to navigate our way through this,” Sweeney said. “If we can't bring the information to the people that we send our [news] leads to, we are pretty much lost.”

Besides answering the basic journalistic questions of who, what, when, where and why, Sweeney said the news media needs to convey to readers why such information on energy issues is important.

“We have to think about what it will take to get them to read these kinds of stories,” Sweeney said. “We bring our entire history with us when we read something. We need to relay the information to readers in a way that they can understand. We also need to think about what the reader is going through.”

John Byrne, Distinguished Professor of Energy and Climate Policy and director of the UD Center for Energy and Environmental Policy, said America must adopt a climate challenge policy that looks beyond the political election media cycle.

“We need to think about the risks involved if we do nothing,” Byrne said. “There are no silver bullets. We need a more multidimensional strategy, and we need to be doing this 24/7. This is not a problem we can solve in the next 30 days or 30 years.”

Willett Kempton, director of the UD Center for Carbon-free Power Integration and professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, said that in getting the federal government to support wind turbine placement along the Mid-Atlantic coast, advocates had to dispel preconceived notions about installation costs, wind availability and return on initial investments.

“Wind power generates 18 times more energy than offshore oil would supply, and it also is renewable,” Kempton said. “By doing this you take out the dirty power and put in clean energy. By intermittently connecting a fleet of wind turbines from Maine to Cape Hatteras, we would have a more steady source of power and it would drop regional carbon dioxide emissions by 68 percent.”

Robert Birkmire, professor of materials science and engineering and director of UD's Institute of Energy Conversion, said that while photovoltaic cells can power anything from a flashlight to large electricity generating turbines, solar energy must be employed as part of a unified energy policy.

“Journalists need to be cautious when they are reporting on these things,” Birkmire said. “What we have to realize is that this is a big problem, and it will take a long time to solve it.”

Michael Klein, the Board of Governors Professor of Chemical Engineering at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, described the importance of coal as a United States-based natural resource that powers nearly half of all electricity generated in the United States.

“About 25 percent of the world's coal supply is located in the United States, and is greater that the world's reserves of oil. It is the workhorse of the American electrical power industry,” Klein said. “Clean coal technology, including a new generation of energy processor, can reduce emissions and other pollutants from coal-burning power plants.”

Jingguang Chen, interim director of the UD Energy Institute and the Claire D. LeClaire Professor of Chemical Engineering, said that scientists and academics must recognize the need to help media relate the process of biomass conversion research to the public.

Mohammed Al-Sheikhy, director of the Biopolymer and Radiation Laboratory and professor of materials and nuclear engineering at the University of Maryland, said that there has been a recent resurgence in pubic support for building more nuclear power plants in the United States.

“We will need 40 new nuclear plants by 2035,” Al-Sheikhy said. “The good news is that there has been a revival of license renewals. We also need to steer more students to study nuclear engineering.”

Ajay Prasad, director of the UD Center for Fuel Cell Research and of the fuel cell bus program, and professor of mechanical engineering, described fuel cell technology used to power the two UD hydrogen buses as being two to three time for energy efficient that the internal combustion engine.

“The fuel cell stack is quiet and has no moving parts and produces zero carbon dioxide emissions,” Prasad said. “Our goal with the fuel cell bus program at UD is to research, build and demonstrate fleet of fuel cell-powered buses and a network of refueling stations in Delaware.”

Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photographs by Doug Baker and Ambre Alexander

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