Equity in energy technology transition is goal of new institute

As the world faces a global energy crisis and climate change, the University of Michigan is launching a new Institute for Energy Solutions designed to accelerate an equitable transition to a more sustainable energy future.

Launched with $2.1 million in seed funding over three years from the College of Engineering and the Office of the Vice President for Research, Energy Solutions builds on U-M’s 75-year tradition of leadership in energy research and its broad expertise — not just in energy science and technology areas, as well as aspects of social, environmental and economic interlinkages that are critical to achieving a just transition.

Margaret Woodridge
Margaret Woodridge

“Today, as a species, we face the daunting task of correcting global carbon emissions and reimagining the energy systems that drive modern society,” said Margaret Wooldridge, director of the new institute and the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at Walter J. Weber Jr. . Professor of Sustainable Energy, Environmental, and Earth Systems Engineering, and Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Aerospace Engineering. .

“Science and technology have a central role to play, but we need to ensure they are developed and deployed in ways that benefit all — especially those who have been historically underserved.”

The institute will focus on research, outreach, community engagement and education, and support the University of Michigan’s carbon neutrality goals.

Among its inaugural programs will be a fellowship program for postgraduate and postdoctoral scholars that includes interdisciplinary training. The institute will also work to further make UM a living laboratory to showcase new low-carbon technologies and systems.

The Institute’s initial aim is to build community and create connections both within and outside the University, prioritizing topics that offer a wide range of benefits. This could include establishing robust energy equity metrics, developing ways to incorporate the voices of underserved communities into the creation of energy systems and technologies, and advancing distributed energy at scale to meet rural and urban needs.

“Energy Solutions truly puts our human-centered engineering framework into action, bringing together engineering foundations, disciplinary convergence and an equity-focused global worldview to close critical gaps in society. Today’s challenges require this holistic approach,” said the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, the Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor of Engineering, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and the Alec D. Gallimore Professor of Aerospace Engineering.

U-M’s energy leadership began in 1948 with the establishment of the Michigan Phoenix Memorial Project to honor members of the University community who died in World War II and to explore the peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology. UM had a research nuclear reactor from 1956-2003 and the UM Energy Institute from 2006-21.

“For decades, the University of Michigan has played a critical role in developing and integrating science, technology and policy solutions to the world’s most pressing energy challenges,” said Rebecca Cunningham, vice chancellor for research.

“This new institute will allow us to expand and strengthen our research collaborations in this important area, so together we can help create an energy future that is clean, safe, equitable and affordable for all.”

The Energy Solutions Institute will collaborate with strong existing programs and resources, including the School of Engineering, the School of Environment and Sustainability and the Graham Institute for Sustainability. In August, UM was selected to lead an $11 million Department of Energy center to develop advanced batteries and fuel cells for electric vehicles.


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