The Cornell Energy Institute

Tackling sustainability challenges with innovative research and education

The Cornell Energy Institute is the Cornell Engineering's lead organization for technology-based research and education in energy. The Energy Institute is uniquely positioned to tackle the planet’s most pressing and intractable challenges in the area of clean and sustainable energy technology discovery and development.   While the Institute is based within Cornell Engineering, collaborations across Cornell with faculty from a wide variety of social, physical and natural sciences are essential to our mission.

The Institute focuses on: 1) education through the development and delivery of energy related curricula, 2) technology- based energy research leading to scalable, sustainable energy solutions, 3) connecting energy education and research in a “living laboratory”, and 4) outreach to promote energy literacy and responsible deployment of sustainable energy options. 

The Energy Institute  utilizes a growing network of external partnerships with individuals; institutions; federal, state and international agencies; industry; and communities, to achieve practical outcomes across a landscape with local, regional, national, and global impacts.

The Energy Institute also works closely with the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future (ACSF, see: www.acsf.cornell.edu).  ACSF   is the lead Cornell organization in convening and connecting internal and external stakeholders and in seeding new collaborations across the broad and interconnected themes of sustainability: energy, environment and economic development.  Under the broader ACSF umbrella, the Energy Institute often plays a leading role in managing multi-investigator projects focusing on energy technologies within Cornell Engineering, while working with ACSF, the other colleges and external organizations to engage the capabilities and expertise necessary for developing and implementing sustainable solutions at scale.    

The Core of the Energy Institute;
Connecting Education and Research in a Living Laboratory:

Education: The educational mission of the Energy Institute is to deliver curricula designed to create a new generation of “energy literate” graduates across the undergraduate, professional, and research based degree programs, experts who have the breadth and depth of understanding to become future leaders and key contributors to the implementation of energy and sustainability goals.  For example, the Energy Institute's NSF Earth Energy Integrative Graduate Education, Research and Training (IGERT) Program brings together students seeking degrees in engineering and in geosciences through a unique program to find solutions to the coupled energy-environment challenges, while providing both communities of students with skills, knowledge, and a common language to address our energy challenges.  “Energy-IGERT” Fellows learn to work at the interface of engineering and geosciences, and to appreciate, anticipate, and communicate about risks, benefits and economic issues of importance to communities. The graduates emerge ready to join and on track to lead the advanced energy workforce America needs to transition to a sustainable energy future. Simultaneously, the faculty participants become part of an integrated engineering- geosciences team, able to continue beyond this project to train future interdisciplinary leaders.  (http://www.earthenergyigert.cornell.edu)  

Research:  The mission of the Energy Institute’s research platform is to develop context-informed solutions that evaluate options for the efficient capture, storage, conversion and utilization of both fossil and renewable energy resources. Research outcomes can be used by policy makers and other stakeholders, as well as entire communities to make critical decisions about energy transitions within a varied framework of sustainability objectives. 

Enabled by our close association with ACSF, a distinctive feature of the Energy Institute is that the economics, environmental tradeoffs, policy requirements and public acceptance issues often associated with deployment at scale can be integrated into the research at the outset.  Together, Cornell’s 10 colleges and schools and many centers and institutes offer a range of world-class capabilities, from materials science and nanotechnology to the unique work of the Lab of Ornithology, allowing the Institute to draw from a wealth of resources and talent to address complex issues.  

Faculty associated with the Energy Institute, many of whom are ASCF fellows, are currently engaged in collaborative research for developing suites of integrated approaches to energy transitions and sustainable communities.  A portfolio of energy technology expertise enables this undertaking.  Current research areas include wind and hydrokinetic power, district heating and distributed co-generation using geothermal resources, energy and fuels from cellulosic and algal-based feedstocks, thermal energy management and storage, scalable solar photovoltaics, and establishing best practices for unconventional shale gas and oil.   Early outcomes already include improved transportation fleet management, quantitative assessment of lower grade geothermal resources in the eastern US, novel applications for distributed heating, cooling and co-generation in hybrid applications utilizing geothermal and biomass resources, and cell tower and data center energy efficiency improvement recommendations.  Initiatives have already benefited partners from a broad range of industry sectors.

Living Laboratory:  The Energy Institute’s research and educational missions combine in the implementation of a “Living Laboratory” approach.  First initiated by the spectacularly creative and innovative Cornell Facilities group, the “living laboratory” envisions, creates, deploys and assesses sustainable solutions through action-oriented partnerships between faculty, students, staff, and off-campus partners. 

“Living laboratory” implementations on campus include lake source cooling, a high efficiency gas-fired combined cycle co-generation power plant to replace an inefficient coal-fired  system, and geothermal heat pump cooling of a cell tower installation.  Future plans call for additional implementation of creative energy solutions in Ithaca as well as in rural New York State and on the New York Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City. These programs will provide ongoing opportunities for an integrated approach to research and curriculum in the built environment.  A longer term goal is to expand the Living Laboratory concept on the Ithaca campus by working with industrial and government agency partners to create a sustainable energy research park that will enable the evaluation and testing of a range of integrated renewable energy technologies.