The Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment is working to transform the ways we generate and use electricity and fuels around the world. The center combines Princeton’s strengths in materials science, environmental science, policy, and engineering—and adds a measure of entrepreneurial creativity—to develop practical technologies and affordable products that can provide renewable energy and mitigate damage to the environment.
“My goal is to preserve the planet for future generations by working to transition the world off of fossil fuels,” said the center’s founding director, Emily Carter, the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and applied and computational mathematics. “That’s not going to happen through a snap of the fingers.”
Carter’s vision of a clean-energy planet demands the dedicated efforts of researchers working across disciplines. The center, established in 2008 with a gift from Gerhard Andlinger ’52, brings together natural scientists, engineers, social scientists, industry leaders, and government officials to exchange ideas, collaborate on research, shape more effective public policies, and move new technologies from the lab to the marketplace.
A hub for innovative teaching as well as research, the center offers an undergraduate certificate program in partnership with the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education. In the Program in Technology and Society, students in the humanities and social sciences explore the development, uses, and trade-offs of different energy sources. The certificate dovetails with the Program in Sustainable Energy, currently administered by the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, which allows science and engineering students to analyze and design innovative energy systems and technologies that support sustainable economic growth, energy security, and biological diversity.
Creating Energy-Efficient Materials
The center’s research focuses on four areas:
- making more efficient use of energy in transportation and buildings
- developing sources of renewable energy, including fusion, and storing energy that comes from natural, intermittent sources such as sunlight and wind
- the energy-water nexus, including sustainable natural gas as a bridge to renewables
- climate adaptation and carbon sequestration
This work often involves creating new materials with energy-saving properties that could form the basis of revolutionary new products. New kinds of semiconductors could allow solar cells to be produced inexpensively and in vast quantities. Improved heat-resistant coatings could enable conventional power plants to burn fuel more efficiently. Materials engineered to generate less friction could reduce drag, making ships more fuel efficient. And cars made of lighter, stronger metals could go farther on less fuel.
Energy solutions will not come from isolated research in a single discipline. More than 100 faculty members in almost 20 departments and programs—from chemical engineers to computer scientists to behavioral economists—are working in areas related to energy and the environment. The center collaborates with the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the Princeton Environmental Institute, the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials, and the School of Architecture. Two federal labs affiliated with the University—the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory—create opportunities for related research.
The center’s collaborations also reach beyond the University. According to Carter, the center works with industrial partners in its Princeton E-ffiliates Program on research, and with government leaders on policy. The goal is for the world “to look to us for talent, but also for ideas,” she said.
In 2015 the Andlinger Center will move from its current home in the Engineering Quadrangle to a nearby complex of interlinked teaching, research, and lecture hall facilities designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. Now under construction on the corner of Olden Street and Prospect Avenue, the 129,000-square-foot space will house specialized equipment for experiments to create new materials. In laboratories sunk into solid bedrock—because the instruments are so sensitive that the slightest vibrations, including the rumble of cars driving by, can throw them off—Princeton’s scientists will soon be able to see, measure, and manipulate materials on an atom-by-atom level.
The architectural design focuses on open space and natural light, in a park-like setting that reflects Princeton’s historic campus. Apart from the building’s classroom, lab, and think-tank functions, its purpose is to model environmentally conscious ways of living and working. The University aims for the equivalent of a Silver rating from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a globally recognized independent certifier of energy-efficient construction. The design features green roofs, stormwater retention and re-use, and heat recovery systems to conserve energy and reduce impact on the environment. No other building on campus will so well embody its own mission, as the work conducted within its walls helps accelerate the pace of discoveries that can lead to a healthier planet.