Energy Research at the University of Washington

Announcement Archives

James W. Murray presenting a seminar on 10/26/12: “Peak fossil fuel energy, an update – energy independence for the US?”

UPDATE - NEW DATE AND TIME: James W. Murray will be giving a seminar on Friday November 2, from 1:30-2:20 pm in 425 Ocean Science Building, titled “Peak fossil fuel energy, an update – energy independence for the US?” Everyone is welcome.

New twist on old chemical process could boost energy efficiency - James Mayer Quoted

Chemical reactions on the surface of metal oxides, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are important for applications such as solar cells that convert the sun’s energy to electricity. Now University of Washington scientists have found that a previously unappreciated aspect of those reactions could be key in developing more efficient energy systems.

Read the full article in UW Today:

Plasma startup creates high-energy light to make smaller microchips; Uri Shumlak and Bruce Nelson Quoted

A University of Washington lab has been working for more than a decade on fusion energy, harnessing the energy-generating mechanism of the sun. But in one of the twists of scientific discovery, on the way the researchers found a potential solution to a looming problem in the electronics industry.

To bring their solution to market two UW engineers have launched a startup, Zplasma, that aims to produce the high-energy light needed to etch the next generation of microchips.

"In order to get smaller feature sizes on silicon, the industry has to go to shorter wavelength light," said Uri Shumlak, a UW professor of aeronautics and astronautics. “We’re able to produce that light with enough power that it can be used to manufacture microchips.”

The UW beam lasts up to 1,000 times longer than competing technologies and provides more control over the million-degree plasma that produces the light.

Read the full article in UW Today:

New twist on old chemical process could boost energy efficiency; James Mayer quoted

Chemical reactions on the surface of metal oxides, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are important for applications such as solar cells that convert the sun's energy to electricity. Now University of Washington scientists have found that a previously unappreciated aspect of those reactions could be key in developing more efficient energy systems.

Such systems could include, for example, solar cells that would produce more electricity from the sun's rays, or hydrogen fuel cells efficient enough for use in automobiles, said James Mayer, a UW chemistry professor.

Read the full article in UW Today:

Nuclear and coal-fired electrical plants vulnerable to climate change; Lettenmaier quoted

Warmer water and reduced river flows in the United States and Europe in recent years have led to reduced production, or temporary shutdown, of several thermoelectric power plants. For instance, the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama had to shut down more than once last summer because the Tennessee River's water was too warm to use it for cooling.

A study by European and University of Washington scientists published today in Nature Climate Change projects that in the next 50 years warmer water and lower flows will lead to more such power disruptions. The authors predict that thermoelectric power generating capacity from 2031 to 2060 will decrease by between 4 and 16 percent in the U.S. and 6 to 19 percent in Europe due to lack of cooling water. The likelihood of extreme drops in power generation—complete or almost-total shutdowns—is projected to almost triple.

Three UW Grad Students are selected for the Hydro Fellowship Program from the DOE

The Energy Department, in cooperation with the Hydro Research Foundation, announced the 2012 selections for the Hydro Fellowship Program. Through their research, these 10 new Fellows will work to advance hydropower technology development and deployment in the United States.

Three of our UW graduate students (3 out of 10 nationwide) received this honor:

Adam Greenhall at the University of Washington, who will research the cost-saving benefits of using computer models to find optimal scenarios of wind, hydro, and thermal energy generation to allow for constant and least-cost energy production.

Tresha Melong at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, who will research how hydropower projects can be designed to allow for the downstream passage of the American eel.

Mark Raleigh at the University of Washington, who will research how to improve the representation of snow in summer hydropower forecasting.

Read more:

Professors argue flattening oil production should trump environment as reason to move to alternative sources; Professor Murray quoted

Two university professors, one from the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington in Seattle, the other from Oxford, have published an opinion piece in the journal Nature, where they argue that governments aren’t doing enough to wean modern societies off of oil and onto more sustainable and stable sources, including atomic energy. James Murray, who is also the founding director of the University of Washington's Program on Climate Change and David King, Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford as well as senior science adviser to the bank UBS also has served as chief scientific adviser to the British government back in 2000-07; together write that because global oil production hit a cap in 2005, small disruptions in supply have led to large disruptions in economic systems and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

New energy course called ‘Energy Future’ is an introductory-level class on the technology and social impact of sustainable energy

The physics department is offering an introductory-level class on the technology and social impact of sustainable energy. This class, called 'Energy Future' is scheduled as phys248A (SLN 17583, 5 credits), with website The main course text is David MacKay's terrific book "Sustainable Energy; Without the Hot Air," and will be supplemented by NAS and UN reports and by extensive media coverage on sustainability, global climate change, and related topics. All lectures will also be recorded and screencasted. Please forward this information to undergraduate or graduate students with a strong interest in sustainable energy!

UW 360 features Shwetak Patel and the Computing Research Lab

Shwetak Patel heads up the University of Washington's Ubiquitous Computing Research Lab where researchers combine computing technology, computer science and electrical engineering to solve health and energy problems. See the uTube video:

UW 360 UTBE: Tidal Energy

University of Washington scientists assess the possibilities for electricity generated by tidal currents in Puget Sound, including environmental impacts.

Carbon mitigation strategy uses wood for buildings first, bioenergy second

Proposals to remove the carbon dioxide caused by burning fossil fuel from the atmosphere include letting commercially managed forests grow longer between harvests or not cutting them at all. Read the article in UW Today; UW Professors quoted:

Improving the physics of grocery store display cases to save energy

Shoppers don’t usually give a second thought as they reach into a cooler to grab milk, cheese or prepackaged lunches. Open-front refrigerated display cases, which make up roughly 60 percent of the refrigerated cases in grocery stores and supermarkets, provide quick access to chilled products such as dairy, meat, fish and produce. While they are popular with shoppers and grocery stores, they’re less popular with electric utilities and others concerned with energy efficiency.

Engineers at the University of Washington and Kettering University are working to cut the amount of energy used by these coolers, while enhancing product safety and quality. Results published this month in the journal Applied Thermal Engineering show that tweaking the physics can reduce the energy used for refrigeration by as much as 15 percent. Lead author of the article is Mazyar Amin, a former UW doctoral student now doing postdoctoral research at Missouri’s Saint Louis University.

UW360: Integrated Design Lab

Learn more about the Integrated Design Lab that supports the development of high-performance commercial and institutional building design including lighting, daylighting and energy infrastructure. See the YouTube video:

UW 360 site:

NW biofuels coming of age with $80 million in separate projects led by UW, WSU

The University of Washington and Washington State University are leads for two separate grants of $40 million each that will use Pacific Northwest woody biomass to expand what’s been a Midwest-centric biofuels industry into Washington, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana and northern California. Read the full article in UW Today:

Shwetak Patel wins MacArthur 'genius' award

Shwetak Patel, assistant professor of computer science and engineering and electrical engineering has been named one of this year’s MacArthur Fellows.

Patel, who explores how people and computers interact, is one of 22 people honored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The $500,000 no-strings-attached prizes are often referred to as the “genius” awards. Read the UW Today article:

Read the Seattle Times article:

Department of Energy Awards More Than $145 Million for Advanced Solar Technologies

Energy Secretary Steven Chu today announced more than $145 million for projects to help shape the next generation of solar energy technologies and ensure that the United States remains a leader in this global market. Sixty-nine projects in 24 states will accelerate research and development to increase efficiency, lower costs, and advance cutting-edge technologies. Funded through DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the projects will also improve materials, manufacturing processes, and supply chains for a wide range of photovoltaic (PV) solar cells and components of solar energy systems. Some of these investments also support efforts that will shorten the overall timeline from prototype to production and streamline building codes, zoning laws, permitting rules, and business processes for installing solar energy systems.

Wood products part of winning carbon-emissions equation, researchers say

Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to grow, so forests have long been proposed as a way to offset climate change.

But rather than just letting the forest sit there for a hundred or more years, the amount of carbon dioxide taken out of the atmosphere could be quadrupled in 100 years by harvesting regularly and using the wood in place of steel and concrete that devour fossil fuels, producing carbon dioxide, during manufacturing.

Patel named Microsoft Research Faculty Fellow

Shwetak Patel has been named a Microsoft Research Faculty Fellow for 2011. MRF Fellows are nominated by their universities and represent a selection of the best and the brightest in their fields.

Local scientist a global expert on air-sea-ice interaction

Polar oceanographer and climate expert Miles McPhee, 64, may keep a low profile studying data on air, sea and ice interactions at his rural home near Naches, but he's a bit of a celebrity among colleagues in this complicated field of study.

"I think it's fair to say he's the world expert on that," said Jamie Morison, the principal oceanographer at the University of Washington's Polar Science Center in Seattle.

Read more at Yakima