I grew up in Southern Ontario, Canada. I received a Bachelor's of Applied Science (BASc) in Engineering Science (Infrastructure specialization) at the University of Toronto. This is a fairly unique program that places heavy emphasis on mathematics and basic science before practical application. Through my coursework, my internship at IBI Group in Toronto, and my experience working as an undergraduate research assistant for Prof. H. MacLean, I realized the importance of life-cycle thinking to engineers and to policy makers - both important decision-makers in society.
Now I'm at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, pursuing a joint PhD in Engineering & Public Policy and Environmental Engineering in the areas of life-cycle assessment, bioenergy, and decision-making under uncertainty, advised primarily by Profs. W. Michael Griffin and H. Scott Matthews. I'm also trying to figure out why people like football so much. So far, I've made some progress on both fronts.
Policy Implications of Uncertainty in Life-Cycle GHG Emissions of Biofuels
The United States mandates the use of billions of gallons of bio-ethanol each year, even as research reveals that evaluating life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels is more difficult than originally thought. This makes the assertion that biofuels reduce GHG emissions less certain.
My work in this area estimates probability distributions for life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions. Using only a point estimate to characterize fuels means you can only make a binary comparison - Fuel A is either better or worse than Fuel B - whereas comparing distributions allows one to make probabilistic comparisons - Fuel A has a 60% probability of being better than Fuel B - which better reflect the current state of knowledge. In a probabilistic framework, policy makers can design mandates or incentives in order to reduce or minimize a probability of policy failure (i.e., choosing Fuel B when Fuel A is actually preferable).
National Low-Carbon Fuel Standard
California currently has a Low-Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) in place, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector by incentivizing the use of fuels with lower carbon intensities than incumbent fuels such as gasoline and diesel. This project, a collaboration between several academic institutions, explores what a national LCFS might look like, and how this type of policy compares to others in the fuel regulation space.
The role of the Carnegie Mellon research group is to assess the uncertainty and variability in greenhouse gas estimates (building on our previous work in this area) of fossil- and bio-based fuels and evaluate how this type of policy can be designed to minimize the negative impacts of this uncertainty.
Energy Use by Video Game Consoles in the U.S.
Video game consoles present an interesting case study in energy efficiency of consumer products; market penetration is increasing rapidly, device power requirements are increasing with each console generation, and the market structure is somewhat of a natural monopoly. They are particularly difficult to include in traditional energy efficiency programs, such as ENERGY STAR, because their development cycle is long, and manufacturers produce discrete rather than incremental improvements as seen in appliance categories such as microwaves or computer monitors. In our peer-reviewed study, the first of its kind, we model energy consumption from video game console usage in 2010, estimate the impact of various power requirements or design features, and suggest cost-effective ways to reduce energy consumption, namely implementing an auto-power down feature through a simple firmware update.
Best Use of Biomass
Biomass is being encouraged as domestic energy source because it is reasonably flexible in terms of end uses and can offer fewer greenhouse gas emissions. At present, favourable policies consider only slices of energy flows so this single energy source may not be allocated optimally in terms of cost or environmental impact reduction. I am involved in a group at CMU looking to optimize biomass use across a number of competing demand sectors.