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Energy Management and Alternative Technologies

We use optimization, economics, and decision analysis to plan, operate, and analyze power systems and their environmental effects, and ecosystem restoration. In the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, students study a range of systems analysis, economics, and statistical methods, which  are widely used for private sector decisions (especially operation and design of engineered systems, power supply); public infrastructure (transport, water supply); and public policy (simulating how private market efficiency and pollution emissions will respond to public policy changes, and the incidence of benefits and costs). Our policy analysis work is rich technological and environmental detail. Such detail permits more realistic understanding of how policy can affect, for instance, costs, air emissions, land use decisions, and fuel use in the electric power sector.

Research Highlights

Models to Optimize Transmission Grids for Renewable Energy

We develop models for optimizing transmission grids for renewable energy that recognize the large uncertainties we face concerning where, what types, and the amounts of renewable sources that will be developed. In particular, we use two-stage stochastic programming to ask: what transmission investments should be made now, and which ones should be delayed, given the uncertain response of the power market to policy, technology, and economic changes? We applied this method first in the UK and now in the Western U.S. We found that disregarding uncertainty results in significantly inferior solutions, wasting money and decreasing the economic and environmental benefits of renewable power.

Optimal Sediment Diversions to Restore the Mississippi River Delta

What are the optimal sediment diversion sizes and configurations for restoring the Mississippi River Delta? We apply integer programming together with detailed models of water and sediment diversion and land building to identify cost-effective portfolios of so-called engineered avulsions. Design parameters include the width, depth, and vertical placement of each structure in the river's levee. The analysis shows that large avulsions reaching deep in the water column are essential for building large amounts of land.

Recovery of Nutrients and Energy from Waste Streams

Numerous municipal, agriculture, and industrial wastewaters contain substantial levels of organic carbon and residual nutrients, especially nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). The release of these chemicals into the waste streams represents a loss of critically scarce resources that must then be replaced from fresh resources, such as by obtaining P from limited land resources or generating the N fertilizers by ammonia synthesis. The goal of our research is to involve biological recovery with algae and yeast to capture N and P from dilute liquid agricultural waste streams and then concentrate these elements as biomass. The algae, yeast, and organic carbon are then subjected to anaerobic biodegradation to generate biogas (e.g., methane) as an energy source and to release the N and P in a more concentrated form for recapture.

Associated Faculty