There was notable excitement surrounding the opening of the Global Clean Energy Action Forum (GCEAF) on Wednesday evening, September 21. The three-day event drew members of the global energy community to Pittsburgh to share their ideas on how to move toward a clean and sustainable future. Carnegie Mellon University was a co-sponsor with the Department of Energy (DOE) for hosting the GCEAF.
Farnam Jahanian, President of Carnegie Mellon University (photo at desk) welcomed hundreds of top local and global energy leaders, CEOs and innovators to Pittsburgh at a reception hosted at the Heinz History Center. He paid tribute to his fellow Pittsburgh-based host committee co-chairs who worked with the DOE to organize the event: Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County Executive, Ed Gainey, Mayor of Pittsburgh, and Stefani Pashman, CEO of the Allegheny lecture.
“The imperative we face couldn’t be more urgent, and I would say that at this pivotal moment, there is no more appropriate or inspiring place to hold these conversations than Pittsburgh,” Jahanian said. “Over the past three decades, this region has reinvented itself as the center of a new economy – and a model for the power of innovation.”
This first-ever event included a high-level plenary, thematic roundtables with energy and science ministers from 31 countries, CEOs and experts, expert roundtables, technology demonstrations and presentations, as well as as well as other activities, all focused on how to deploy clean energy technologies.
Ahead of the launch of the public program on Thursday afternoon, GCEAF attendees toured Mill 19, a former steelworks that now serves as a cutting-edge research facility shaping the future of advanced manufacturing and sustainable practices. As part of the tour, guests saw several demonstrations related to sustainable manufacturing and practices:
- Azadeh Sawyer, assistant professor of building technology at CMU’s School of Architecture, showed how she uses virtual reality to promote green building practices, allowing clients to explore the impact of different design elements on user experience and energy efficiency.
- Sandra DeVincent Wolf, Executive Director of CMU’s Manufacturing Futures Institute (MFI), presented a robotic wire-arc additive manufacturing process that uses less energy and reduces waste and costs compared to traditional manufacturing methods .
- The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) team showed attendees how a robotic arm can quickly and efficiently inspect complex turbine blades for flaws.
A panel of experts and venture capitalists heard from Pittsburgh-based energy and climate tech startups showcase their innovative technologies. Hosted by the DOE’s Office of Technology Transitions, many participating entities were created from CMU and/or led by CMU graduates or faculty. They included:
- CorePower Magnetics, a company using advanced materials and manufacturing to create finished power electronics (inductors and transformers) to operate with increased temperature stability.
- Farm to Flame Energy, a biomass solution that burns multiple agricultural wastes in a smokeless and odorless way.
- LumiShield, co-founded by Hunaid Nulwala, then assistant research professor of chemistry at CMU, which developed a process to stop corrosion without using toxic solvents.
- Integrated Silicon Technologies, a company that has developed an innovative continuous process to halve the cost of silicon-based solar electricity.
Several CMU faculty members, alumni, students, and administrators participated in panels during the two days of GCEAF.
Paulina Jaramillo, professor of engineering and public policy (EPP) at CMU and co-director of the Green Design Institute, moderated a panel discussion on the recently launched Open Energy Outlook (OEO), an initiative that aims to examine the future energy company to inform energy and climate policy efforts by applying the gold standard of policy-oriented academic modeling, maximizing transparency, and building a networked community. Katie Jordan, Ph.D. EPP student, presented the team’s methodology and results. The OEO is an initiative of the Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation at CMU in partnership with North Carolina State University and funding from the Sloan Foundation.
Valerie Karplus, Associate Professor of PPE, participated in a session titled “Massive Energy Transition: Ensuring Equity for American Workers and Communities.” The conversation included leaders from labor and non-governmental organizations, all recognizing that different parts of the world are dealing with their own energy transitions at different times. Karplus referenced the work of the Roosevelt Project, a research effort that examined the transitional challenges facing the southwestern Pennsylvania region in transitioning to a future with net zero greenhouse gas emissions. , with the aim of examining the community impacts of decarbonization policies.
Destenie Nock, Assistant Professor of PPE and Civil and Environmental Engineering, participated in an expert panel discussion on what is needed to achieve net zero emissions and how systems methods can enable a rapid and equitable energy transition for everyone. Nock encouraged the panel to consider ways to create a fair, sustainable and low-cost energy future at the same time, and not to leave thinking about how to make energy fair until the very end of the process of modelization.
Mr. Granger Morgan, professor of engineering at Hamerschlag University, joined two of his former PhD students. students, Sunhee Baik and Luke Lavin, and a PhD in progress. Student Angelena Bohman during a side presentation to discuss the resilience of the power system in the face of extreme events like terrorist attacks or events occurring in nature as a result of climate change. Baik, now with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, spoke about the problem of estimating the economic and societal costs of large, long-duration blackouts, while Lavin, now with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, presented his research conducted at CMU on the implications of the adequacy of the availability resources of the electric generator according to the temperature. Bohman, who will defend his thesis in December, shared his research on the strategies and effectiveness of improving the resilience of power systems.
On the final morning of GCEAF, President Jahanian hosted a fireside chat with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), which focused on how to protect workers at the center of the transition to a future clean, sustainable energy and the prospects of enacting permit reform as a way to reduce the time it takes to develop new energy technologies and help America better compete on the world stage. Jahanian concluded: “Ultimately, the energy transition must be people-centric, which means providing meaningful opportunities for our communities – including well-paying jobs, affordable energy and a better quality of life – especially for those who have been most affected by the environmental damage caused by legacy industries.”
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