Environmental engineers can help determine the most sustainable energy options using systems and life cycle analysis (LCA). This allows a comparison of energy use and environmental impacts over the entire life cycle of the system, such as from extraction of oil through refining, transport, and end use. This analysis is needed to determine which energy sources are the most compatible with the environment and are sustainable for the planet.
Environmental engineers can also turn traditional "waste" products into energy. For example, anaerobic digesters can be used to produce methane (aka natural gas) or hydrogen from municipal wastewater,various organics-laden industrial wastewaters, and animal manure.
Environmental engineers can design waste-to-energy incinerators to extract the energy content from municipal solid waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Plastics, tires, etc. have an energy content similar to coal! Environmental engineers can also design systems to extract methane from solid waste landfills. Environmental engineers are also exploring biofuels and other options.
In addition to turning wastes into energy, many forms of energy production require significant amounts of water and may generate contaminated water. Coal bed methane extraction generates huge quantities of water that is generally more saline than seawater and contains hydrocarbon contaminants that are detrimental when released into the environment. Hydrogen fuel cells require clean water. If the entire transportation sector's energy consumption in the US were powered by hydrogen, the amount of water needed is similar to the amount of water consumed by Los Angeles, CA, each day. Using currently available technology to biochemically produce ethanol per the DOE target in 2025 will require vast amounts of water. The new "in situ" oil extraction from oil shale that is being developed requires both an ice wall to prevent contaminating surrounding groundwater and it is extimated that it would take three barrels of water to produce one barrel of shale oil. Therefore, environmental engineers will be needed to treat available water supplies for use (and hopefully reuse) in the energy sector.
Finally, traditional environmental engineering projects consume energy. In particular, drinking water treatment and wastewater treatment and transmission are estimated to consume about 4% of all electricity in the US. In addition, electricity accounts for about 80% of municipal water treatment and distribution costs. Therefore, energy efficiency in water and wastewater treatment must be considered. As population continues to grow and stress currently used water resources, lower quality water supplies must be used. Desalination technology can turn seawater into drinking water, but this requires about 20 to 50 times more energy than using a high quality water supply (such as "mining" the groundwater). Therefore, environmental engineers will need to create more energy efficient ways of water and wastewater treatment.
Information on jobs in this area can be found at the company links below.
AREN 3130 Builing Energy Lab
CHEN 4838 Energy Fundamentals
CVEN 5020 Building Energy Audits
CVEN 5050 Advanced Solar Design
MCEN 4228 Sustainable Energy
MCEN 4228 Wind Energy
1. MCEN 3032 Thermodynamics 2 (required)
2. ECEN 3010 Circuits and Electronics (required)
3. One course from the following list:
Undergraduate Energy CERTIFICATE
You may want to consider applying to participate in the campus-wide certificate program. For more information see the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute website.
Electrical Renewable Energy Systems MINOR
You may want to consider earning a minor in Electrical Renewable Energy Systems. This requires 18 credits, many of which will count as option courses and technical electives. For more information, see the ERES Minor website
With careful planning, all of the minor course credits can apply to both the EVEN degree and the minor. GPA restrictions apply.
ECEN 2060 Renewable Sources and Efficient Electrical Energy Systems [required for minor; use as energy option course in EVEN]; spring course; pre-reqs PHYS 1120 Physics 2
ECEN 2250 Intro to Circuits and Electronics
ECEN 2260 Circuits as Systems
ECEN 3250 Microelectronics
Two of the following upper division courses, 6 credits:
- ECEN 3170 Energy Conversion 1; pre-req. ECEN 3000 or ECEN 3250; uses PSPICE, MATHEMATICA, MATLAB.
- EVEN 4167 Energy Conversion 2 (pre-req ECEN 3170)
- ECEN 4797 Introduction to Power Electronics; pre-req ECEN 3250 or ECEN 3000
- Power Electronics and Photovoltaic Power Systems Lab (pre-req ECEN 4797)
- MCEN 4228 Wind Energy
Note that the final upper division technical elective (3 credits) must be an Earth Science course.
Special Scholarship Opportunity: The ConocoPhillips SPIRIT Scholars Program
For students interested in pursuing careers in a energy-related field (including renewable/sustainable energy), the ConocoPhillips SPIRIT Scholars Program offers a unique opportunity.
The University of Colorado at Boulder is one of just 9 universities in the country that participates in the program.
- $5000/year scholarship for your academic career (BS/MS students
- participation in a mentoring program
- enrichment activities (about 4-6 activities per year)
- advantage when applying for ConocoPhillips internships
Prof. John Pellegrino
Prof. Jana Milford
Prof. Mike Hannigan
Companies that Work on Projects Related to Energy:
Trident Energy Services
Tetra Tech, consultants
Montgomery, Watson, Harza, consultants
Earthtech Energy, Inc.
Energy Alternatives LTD, Canada
Coal predominant energy source in Georgia, report from NewsHour, May 19,2009
Clean Coal debate, report from NewsHour, April 21, 2009
Fusion Energy: progress toward; report from NewsHour, March 17, 2009
Green Energy Limitations, a report from NewsHour, February 17,2009
Solar Energy industry during recession, a report from NewsHour April 14, 2009
Wind Farms Expand, a report from NewsHour, January 30, 2009
Wind Power, in-depth report from NewsHour, May 24, 2007
Energy Initiative at the University of Colorado
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Air and Waste Management Association
SEI Solar Energy International
Water consumption to make electricity
Water use for ethanol production, Aden, NREL
Water use for US Power Production, NREL, 2003