energy

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Professors in the College of Natural Sciences have developed a laser that, when completed, would be the most powerful of its kind in the world. 

The laser, which is currently being developed in Prague, is set to be completed in 2017. It will be used to help with research in physics and natural sciences. The laser is part of a project associated with National Energetics, an independent company that UT professors in the Texas Petawatt Laser program started.  

Group director Todd Ditmire said the Texas Petawatt program was created in 2001 to observe high power pulses on only a single spot of matter. These tests involve high temperatures and deal with particle acceleration.  

“Within this research, there are similar application to nuclear fusion,” said Ditmire, president and co-founder of National Energetics. “It is similar to the fusion we see from the sun in that it might be possible to have a clean source of energy.”

Erhard Gaul, associate director of Texas Petawatt and co-founder of National Energetics, said these small amounts of
energy are not always useful but are practical for medical fields such as cancer therapy.  

“Short pulses create less energy, which is not always the best for particle experiments,” Gaul said. “[But] we could use it in applications such as x-rays.” 

Michael Donovan, associate director of the Texas Petawatt program and designer for National Energetics, said the research in Prague would not be realistic for the University because of lack of funding. One technique the Petawatt laser includes is a mixed glass chirped impulse, which is similar to bandwidth in phone technology.

“This method keeps pulses short while increasing energy — while maintaining optical bandwidth,” Donovan said. “People don’t realize that the bandwidth in our phones send short signals, which allow us to send more messages at a faster rate. For our purposes, the bandwidth allows us to have more shorter pulses.”

Ditmire said the 10 Petawatt project is similar to the Texas Petawatt program, but the former is 10 times more powerful.

With funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a government program, the researchers will repair the laser’s pulse contrast, which prevents faulty experiments, Donovan said. 

“When the laser is shot, we end up with some impulses reflecting early,” Donovan said.  “Sometimes the pulse is strong enough to destroy the target … before the pulses even get there.”

When Mumford & Sons replaced their suspenders and banjos with leather jackets and electric guitars during the Saturday Night Live show on April 11, the “gentlemen of the road” gave fans a taste of their new rock and roll veneer. Along with the banjos and accordions, Mumford & Sons locked away their folk vibes in favor of a rock sound for their new album Wilder Mind, released May 4.

The album is part of the band’s attempt to reestablish its image. While original fans may be disappointed the group is turning away from the signature banjo that played a role in its rise to fame, Wilder Mind proves Mumford & Sons holds its own in the rock realm. 

The group supplements the tracks with a variety of guitar riffs and drum beats not heard on previous Mumford tracks. In altering their sound, Mumford & Sons displays similarities to other rock groups. They fill songs such as “Believe” with strong atmospherics found in Coldplay tracks and incorporated short, repetitive beats in songs such as “Ditmas” and “Wilder Mind” that resemble instrumentals from The Strokes. 

Despite the changes, Wilder Mind maintains the powerful lyrics and energy apparent in their previous albums, Sigh No More and Babel. In typical Mumford & Sons fashion, the songs on Wilder Mind start off with soft and slow intros. At the chorus, lead singer Marcus Mumford delivers his explosive vigor, especially in anthems such as “The Wolf” and “Just Smoke.”

Their lyrics, which are known for religious and literary references, take a more honest, questioning approach to love and belief in Wilder Mind. In past songs such as “Sigh No More,” Mumford croons to the line: “Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you; it will set you free.” In the new song “Only Love,” the band members seem to question the validity of that statement when they sing, “Didn’t they say that only love will win in the end?”

While Mumford repeats the Shakespeare quote “Serve God, love me and mend” in “Sigh No More,” Wilder Mind is filled with skeptical lines, such as “I don’t even know if I believe” in the song “Believe.” The album’s change in perspective could be because all band members, two of whom had just gotten out of long-term relationships, played a role in writing the lyrics. For past albums, Mumford handled most of the writing.

They continue to evoke a sense of a new belief system in the song “Cold Arms.” While in “White Blank Page” from their first album, Mumford belts the line: “lead me to the truth, and I will follow you with my whole life,” in “Cold Arms,” with a quiet, resigned tone, Mumford declares: “maybe the truth’s not what we need.” Listeners will appreciate the new, bold honesty apparent in these tracks.

A complete and sudden change in image might deter some old fans from listening to the album, but Mumford & Sons certainly caught people’s attention with Wilder Mind. Not only was their alteration attention-grabbing, it also shows they can succeed without the novelty of jamming on a banjo. Their former image may have been fleeting, but their strong song writing and energy are not going anywhere soon.

 

Album: Wilder Mind

Artist: Mumford & Sons

Tracks: 12

Rating: 8/10

Douglas Arent, executive director of the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis, speaks about the energy sector at a lecture held in the Peter O’Donnell building Thursday evening.
Photo Credit: Michael Baez | Daily Texan Staff

The head of a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting sustainable energy discussed the challenges and opportunities the energy sector faces as a result of impending climate change.

In order to help the U.S. combat the effects of climate change, the energy sector must reduce its carbon footprint and reduce the amount of energy needed to power the domestic economy, according to Douglas Arent, executive director of the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis.

“Carbon productivity must rise three times as fast as labor productivity did during the Industrial Revolution in order to reach the world’s demand for energy,” Arent said.

The Department of Energy asked Arent’s team to conduct research, and the team found the United States could meet the bulk of its 2050 projected electricity demand using renewable energy, meaning that renewable energy will represent anywhere from 30 to 90 percent of energy consumption, Arent said.

According to Arent, older people tend to invest more in clean, renewable sources of energy because of their desire to create a sustainable earth for younger generations.

“The older people get, the more they care about their children and grandchildren,” Arent said. “When you look at people’s purchasing behavior for solar systems in California, it actually skews to older people, and it is not because of the availability of money.”

Finance sophomore Trong Nguyen said he believes that carbon productivity could rise to the levels necessary to sustain the world’s energy demand in the future.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if future technological innovation allows society to easily reach the carbon productivity levels that would meet the world’s demand for energy,” Nguyen said.

With the decarbonizing initiative gaining more traction, energy investments are being increasingly allocated to clean and sustainable energy, Arent said.

“Bloomberg Energy Finance forecasts a decrease in fossil fuel investment globally for the next 20 years and a continued and relatively significant increase in investment in clean energy technologies,” Arent said.   

Public health freshman Jonathan Tran said that he believes increasing research should be devoted to finding more feasible sources of renewable energy.

“Adopting an increasing amount of renewable sources of energy will help us address both the long-term problem of energy sources, as well as limit nonrenewable energy’s harmful impact on the environment,” Tran said.

As SXSW's music events take over the festival, we'll be reviewing some of the top acts. Here are our takes on Laura Marling and Milky Chance, who both performed Wednesday:

Laura Marling

Folk rock singer-songwriter Laura Marling is Twiggy if Twiggy could play with the ferocity of Alanis Morisette. The British darling performed seven-song set as a part of Santa Monica radio station KCRW’s Radio Day Stage.

With no introduction, Marling started with the heady song “False Hope,” a song from her fifth album Short Movie. Her guitar-heavy set contrasted her dainty look. Her second song was the darker love song “I Feel Your Love.”

Her set veered on the edge of Mumford and Son’s meets Alanis Morisette — the acoustic guitar skills of a Mumford son and the vocal range and playfulness of Morisette.

Overall, the performance was lackluster. Marling’s vocals were superb and demanding but the energy was lacking. She barely moved from behind the mic and said a total of nine words in 45 minutes.

It’s hard to say if it was the conference room atmosphere that deterred experimenting or if Marling just prefers to play it safe. Marling and her three-piece band will perform from 1 – 1:45 a.m. at the Mohawk on Thursday and from 8:45 – 9:30 p.m. at St David's Historic Sanctuary on Friday.

Listen to Laura Marling perform "I Feel Your Love" here:

Milky Chance

In the comfort of an air-conditioned Austin Convention Center ballroom, the German duo Milky Chance capped off KCRW’s Radio Day Stage line-up. Celemens, the lead singer and guitarist, Philipp Dausch, the percussionist and

The set began with the sultry “Stunner” that drew a large crowd to the front of the room. The song exemplified the band’s ability to write and perform catchy pop ballads.

It’s apparent that that lead singer Clemens Rehbein has a heavy Germany accent, but when he’s singing, it’s more charming than confusing. In between the first and second songs, the crowd was quiet which prompted the percussionist Philipp Dausch to call everyone out.

“It’s pretty much like a library in here.”

By the end of their second song, the crowd of bobbing heads doubled. The psychedelic folk songs aren’t lyric heavy making them perfect dance tracks. “C’est Necessaire Oui,” the third song of their set, did not depart from Milky Chance’s beat-based formula that delivers a beat-drop every 15 seconds.

“Well I don’t want to tell you what the next track will be. Surprise,” Rehbein said before launching into fourth song, “Flashed Junk Mind.” It was clear the song is the band’s next hit when phones emerged from pockets.

They moved into the acoustic portion of their set, which meant a lot of harmonica and even more smoldering glances. While the song kept some of Milky Chance’s iconic electronic beats, it turned into a performance more characteristic of Ed Sheeran’s acoustic guitar ballads.

The set wouldn’t have been complete without the single “Stolen Dance” off their first studio album Sadnecessary. The version was a couple beats slower than the radio edit but brought a new level of energy to the older crowd.

Milky Chance played it safe and relied heavily on thumping beats to bring energy to the performance but there is no question the band will continue to make SXSW appearances.

The band will play again at Cedar Door on Wednesday from 8:20 — 8:45 p.m. and at Stubb’s on Thursday from 12:15 — 1:30 a.m.

Listen to "Stolen Dance" by Milky Chance:

Jackson School of Geosciences Dean Sharon Mosher

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of Q-and-A’s with UT’s deans. This interview has been edited and condensed. Sharon Mosher has been dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences since 2009.

The Daily Texan: Can you tell us a little bit about the school and some of the interesting projects going on right now?

Sharon Mosher: A little bit about the school:  We have one academic department and two major research units. Two-thirds of our school are research scientists. One-third are faculty and students. We are the largest academic geoscience program in the country. We graduate the most geoscience students at every level. We work on everything from the core to the atmosphere and also the planet. We work to increase students’ knowledge. We get them involved in internships so they can see what practicing geoscientists do. We even involve undergraduate students in research projects. By doing research, they learn how to solve problems and think quickly. We have a lot different projects going on. A lot of people working on the Texas drought. Everything from soil, soil moisture, interaction between land surface and atmosphere, rivers and river flow. We have large programs in Antarctica and also in Greenland.

DT: Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of the school?

Mosher: [Geologist and philanthropist] Jack Jackson bequeathed his estate to UT — it was worth $241 million then. He felt very strongly about two things. One was the importance of geoscience in terms of understanding energy, water, minerals and resources in the environment. The other thing  he felt strongly about was UT. In particular, it bothered him that UT’s geoscientists were spread out across several units. We didn’t report to the same people and interact. He felt like we were less than the sum of our parts and that if he could get us to become a school and work together, we could do amazing things. That’s the reason he donated the money.

DT: What is your primary goal for the school?

Mosher: My goal is to have the Jackson School be the best it can be. Or the best in geoscience education. And to have a school where people from different units work well together,  a school that is pushing the frontier of science but also very community based that can help the students meet their potential. We are asked to try to build a national community for future geoscience undergraduate education. 

DT: What is your greatest challenge as dean?

Mosher: The whole University is in severe financial straits at the moment. So one big challenge is to keep everything moving forward in a positive way and yet have less budget every year. Since we became a school, we doubled the size of the faculty, and we also doubled the size of each of the research units. We hire extremely collaborative, interdisciplinary people. My other biggest challenge is keeping other universities from stealing my staff and faculty away from me.

DT: Speaking of the shrinking state budget, do you find you have to fundraise more than you used to?

Mosher: I always fundraise. As of July I will have been dean for six years. Every year I have been dean, I have had to cut my budget. I fundraise all the time. I spend at least two days out of every month out raising funds. Some months more. 

DT: What do most students do after graduating?

Mosher: It depends on if they are undergraduate or graduate students. A large percentage of undergraduate students go to graduate school. Up until this year, with the oil boom, a lot of the undergrads went directly into industry, working mostly for surface companies but also in environmental consulting and for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, different state agencies and the U.S. Geological Survey. Sixty to 70 percent of master’s students will go into energy. A small fraction will go into environmental consulting. The rest will go on for Ph.D.s. 

DT: Is there anything else you want students to know about the school?

Mosher: Two things. One thing in particular that makes us unique is that we are field-intensive. We make sure our students have the opportunity to go out not just locally, but internationally and really see geology. And we do that both at the undergrad and graduate level. That’s a really important part of their education. The other emphasis is students doing research. It’s a very vibrant and intellectually stimulating place. 

Kay Bailey Hutchison, former senator and president of the Texas Exes, spoke at the KBH Center Symposium Friday. The symposium offered an interdisciplinary take on Mexican energy issues, exploring UT’s potential role in drilling opportunities in Mexico.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

Former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison spoke at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center on Friday during the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center’s Symposium on North American energy security, an event designed to discuss geopolitical issues in North American energy. The symposium was part of UT Energy Week, a conference showcasing emerging research in the energy field. Hutchison discussed about the future of energy technologies and the effects of the energy reforms in Mexico. After the event, Hutchison sat down with The Daily Texan for a Q&A.   

Daily Texan: Where did the idea for the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center come from, and what unique perspective does a multidisciplinary study of the industry with business, law and engineering have to offer, specifically?

Former senator Kay Bailey Hutchison: Honestly, John Beckworth, associate dean of the UT law school, thought of a joint business and law school energy center. I immediately loved it because I have been general counsel of a corporation, and I know so often that the business people do not understand the legal needs to make sure everything in the transaction is right. Conversely, sometimes the lawyers do not understand the needs of the business people to complete a transaction in a timely way so that they do not lose their deal or their customer. So, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to have a joint center where law students in the energy field would learn about the business side and the business students would understand the legal side. [The Center] also has a particular focus on Latin America and the differences in the laws and legal systems. This could be very helpful for somebody who wants to explore or produce energy in another country. It was a perfect fit, and when they decided to name it after me, I was thrilled. 

DT: How would you gauge the success of the KBH center in achieving the goals that you mentioned?

KBH: Well, we have only been created since last summer, but we have come such a long way in a very short time. I think this inaugural symposium has been a huge success. We have had Mel Martínez, the former senator and cabinet member, and Bob Jordan, the former ambassador from the United States to Saudi Arabia. They have given great insights on international energy. Mel is the chairman of J.P. Morgan Latin America, so he showed us the corporate side. Bob Jordan was insightful because Saudi Arabia is doing so much right now to affect the price of oil globally. He also had some good insights on the new king and the new hierarchy in Saudi Arabia. The symposium has been a wonderful success. The panels have been good, the questions have been good. The audience is really asking questions and that is what you want in a good conference. 

DT: Has the KBH Center participated in the debate regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline?

KBH: I am a total supporter of the Keystone Pipeline, myself, but we have not taken a real position on that. It has been discussed in the symposium, and the [Obama] administration was represented here by an assistant secretary of state. The question has come up: Why would we not have a Keystone pipeline? Many in the room think that it would be an environmentally safer way to transport oil from Canada than the trucks that we are having to build new highways to accommodate. So that has been a real debate here and it has been very relevant.

DT: At a panel earlier this week, during UT’s Energy Week, experts agreed that for some issues, such as energy storage, regulatory agencies have fallen behind in developing regulation. Has the center tackled any of these issues and did you encounter any of these issues as a senator?

KBH: Absolutely. As a senator I encountered the new energy innovations. With solar energy, the biggest problem with using it was that it was so cyclical, and we could not store it. Even natural gas for cars. There has been so much that has emerged just in the last 10 years. I think the regulators are certainly trying to keep up with what is necessary in the regulatory field, but it is a work in progress. 

DT: Could you talk about some specific ways that you helped regulatory agencies catch up?

KBH: Well, for sure, the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center will be able to shed light on what is coming up in regulation in terms of what might be needed, what might not be needed, what would be a better way to regulate. We want to allow for creativity to grow and progress. [We] do not want to stifle creativity by regulating something that is not there yet because it is not ready. There has to be balance to assure that the new kinds of energy, clean energy especially, are not regulated to death before they are able to be useful. For instance, the lack of battery storage for solar panels is a problem. If we allowed battery storage we would be able to run manufacturing plants consistently rather than have to lessen output in peak hours. Battery storage is an area where the federal government is doing more research and it’s very important to develop that. But, we want to make sure that as we do, there are environmental rules that assure that we are doing it safely and in an environmentally friendly way. We want the creativity to emerge so we can start using solar energy more efficiently. The new technologies would apply in other areas as well.

DT: Obama has supported an all-of-the-above policy that supports natural gas as well as nuclear and other forms of energy. So, a lot of different forms of energy are being researched. What energy innovation are you most excited about?

KBH: I think it is essential to make sure that we are getting the oil and gas in an environmentally correct way so that we become energy independent. It is going to make us more competitive globally because our businesses will have lower-cost energy. This is an area where America has led. We creatively produce new ways to get oil and natural gas out of the ground and out of the water. So, I think oil and natural gas is probably the biggest area where we can move forward and truly towards energy independence. Solar power and wind power are also very promising. We do not have the mechanics yet to make it a big percentage of our energy use, but Texas is doing quite a bit in wind, as well as solar, and it is very efficient once it is up and going. If we could get the battery storage, it is going to be a real part of our overall energy independence. I am excited about that, and I am excited about Texas’ role in producing these new options. 

There is also another option — using currents in the oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. [We] can use currents to generate energy for use on land. That is something that is being experimented in the Galveston-Houston Area. The University of Houston is doing work in that area, as well as others.

DT: Today’s symposium has an international focus of stabilizing North America’s energy. What are specific energy initiatives in Mexico by Mexicans, Americans or private actors that you look forward to see implemented?

KBH: The exciting part of energy in Mexico is that they are opening it up. It used to be just PEMEX, the national oil company, that was able to produce oil and gas in Mexico. But President Nieto has certainly made strides in saying, “We want to open it up, we want foreign investment and we want more out of the ground, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.” He is making it happen, and the [Mexican Legislature] is going along with it, and they are in the regulatory stage now. I think the American companies are going to want to be a part of this. They are going to want to work, in some cases, with PEMEX, and, in some cases, independently. [The companies] are going to bid on leases in the northern part of Mexico that would be the continuation of the Eagle Ford find in South Texas that we think continues on in North Mexico. But also, in the Gulf of Mexico, there is a lot of opportunity. American and European countries are bidding and winning in the Gulf of Mexico for drilling in the deep water, but it is very expensive so that may be down the road because the price of oil is so low right now. But, the big question mark out there is safety and the drug cartels. No foreign company is going to want to come in if they are not going to be able to be safe and also be able to do business in a transparent way because we have laws that require that. This large criminal element in the drug cartels is really hurting so much of the tourism in Mexico, most certainly, and in some ways, business as well. 

Kay Bailey Hutchison, former senator and president of the Texas Exes, spoke at the KBH Center Symposium Friday. The symposium offered an interdisciplinary take on Mexican energy issues, exploring UT’s potential role in drilling opportunities in Mexico.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

UT energy researchers and students will help discover new drilling opportunities in Mexico when the country opens up its industry to foreign investment in June, according to Jorge Piñon, interim director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy.

Piñon spoke at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law, and Business Symposium on Friday. The symposium involved representatives from geology schools across Texas, executive boards of energy companies, the U.S. government and Mexican environmental organizations.

UT’s legal agreements with Mexican universities will help fill the gaps in energy expertise that could stifle the success of the energy reforms, Piñon said.

“About two weeks ago, Provost Fenves was in Mexico City, and UT did sign three agreements with the National Autonomous University of Mexico,” Piñon said. “One agreement was a cooperation agreement on energy between the Cockrell School, the Jackson School and UNAM. We, the University of Texas, [are] moving forward in trying to establish academic bridges.”

Reforms in the past two years mark a stark shift in Mexico’s previous energy policies, which allowed only the national oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos, to drill in Mexico, according to Darcia Datshkovsky, public affairs and energy and earth resources graduate student.

“Until the reforms happened, Mexico had the most closed energy market in [the] whole world — more closed than even North Korea and Cuba,” Datshkovsky said. “Everywhere from production to distribution to refineries, there was absolutely no private investment. It was not just that it was not happening; it was forbidden by law.” 

Scott Tinker, director of the Bureau of Economic Geology, said opening energy investment to foreign companies holds promise because Mexico has the third largest reserves of shale oil and gas in the world, and most of it remains unexplored.

“In Texas, we have drilled over 1 million wells since oil was discovered around a century ago,” Tinker said. “In a larger area in Mexico, there are only 50,000 wells — exploratory and developmental combined.”

Opening up the energy sector could be risky for the Mexican government and its citizens, according to Melinda Taylor, executive director of the KBH Energy Center.

“The Mexican government is trying to strike a balance to ensure that even with foreign investment, they will get to keep the revenue they need and protect their environment and workforce,” Taylor said. 

Taylor said the symposium offered an interdisciplinary take on Mexican energy issues.

“The idea was to bring together people who would not ordinarily have been in the same room to discuss these issues,” Taylor said. “[Our program] is the first to consider the geopolitical perspective and the potential pitfalls for Mexico.”

Business professor David Spence spoke as part of a panel Thursday for the University's Energy Week. Spence is part of a research team creating an online calculator that looks at the efficiency of different sources of electricity.
Photo Credit: Michael Baez | Daily Texan Staff

Researchers are working on new ways to reduce global dependence on fossil fuels for energy, according to Benjamin K. Sovacool, director of the Danish Center for Energy Technology at Aarhus University in Herning, Denmark. 

Sovacool, a professor of business and social sciences at Aarhus University and associate professor of law at Vermont Law School, spoke Thursday about the progressive measures Nordic countries are taking to reduce carbon dioxide emissions linked to climate change. The lecture was part of the University’s Energy Week, a series of conferences designed to showcase emerging technologies in the energy field.

Nordic countries have harnessed the power of renewable energy sources, including wind and waste, which has created more energy efficient buildings, according to Sovacool. He said the countries have made use of carbon capture and storage technology, which captures 90 percent of carbon dioxide emissions produced by fossil fuels. 

Denmark has also worked to join its energy resources and make them more efficient, Sovacool said. 

“The country has a lot of combined heat and power facilities,” Sovacool said. “There’s talk about integrating systems together, so we can provide heat, steam and pressure [energy] in one go.”

While Nordic countries have made advancements in renewable energy, they still have to make more changes to energy consumption if they are to reach their goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050, according to Sovacool.

Sovacool said Nordic countries have worked on using renewable energy for decades, starting with the oil shock of 1973, when the price of oil spiked worldwide after an embargo by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries.

“There was a national push for independence and sufficiency,” Sovacool said. “There was a desire for job and technological innovation and a rush to experiment with local sources of energy like water and waste.”

While Nordic countries have taken great steps towards using renewable energy, the city of Austin has also worked towards positive change, according to Matt Weldon, a member of the board of directors for Solar Austin, an organization that works to promote renewable energy.

“Austin was an early investor in wind projects, [and] Central Texas has low solar rooftop installation costs,” Weldon said. “The city of Austin is arguably ahead of its renewable energy goals.”

Kevin Merrill, a graduate student at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, said he was concerned about the cost of implementing similar measures in the United States.

“We need to focus on our inefficiencies and focus on a better way of transporting electricity,” Merrill said. “We need to focus on what is suitable and feasible.”

Photo Credit: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

Nuclear energy could be the solution to providing the world with both clean and reliable power, according Kirk Sorensen, founder of Flibe Energy, during The Future for Nuclear panel discussion at UT Energy Week on Tuesday.

“[Nuclear energy] is our biggest contributor to clean energy, and the most important part that needs to be emphasized over and over again about nuclear energy is that it’s reliable,” Sorensen said.

Nuclear energy is efficient and reliable enough that it will likely replace coal in the future, Sorensen said.

An abundance of resources, such as uranium, available for sustaining nuclear energy is another reason for its feasibility, according to UT mechanical engineering professor Erich Schneider. The United States currently holds 7 million tons of conventional uranium resources, in comparison to 3 million tons in 1965, Schneider said. 

“What’s happened is that consistently we have found more uranium than we’ve taken out of the ground,” Schneider said.

The United States produces 30 percent of the world’s nuclear generation of electricity, ranking the country as the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Many members of the public tend to overlook nuclear energy’s benefits because of a wide-spread misconception that nuclear waste damages the environment, according to Vicky Bailey, Nuclear Matters Leadership Council member.

“Public perception is very key,” Bailey said. “It can stop any project.”

In order to sway public opinion, people in the nuclear energy industry should focus on informing and educating policy makers, stakeholders and students about the benefits of nuclear energy, Bailey said. It’s also important to acknowledge and address public concern, Bailey said.

“You have to say they’re legitimate concerns,” Bailey said. “The effort will be to try to get fact and science-based information out as best you can.”

The University of Texas also contributes to the nuclear energy arena through research in the Nuclear and Radiation Engineering program with support from other areas of campus, such as the Ferguson Structural Engineering Laboratory and Jackson School of Geosciences, according to Steven Biegalski, director of the Nuclear Engineering Laboratory. Research focuses at the University include nuclear reactor development, structures and concrete for future nuclear builds, testing methodology and the future of resources. 

The state of Texas itself contributes to nuclear energy’s long-term feasibility, Biegalski said. Texas currently has two uranium mines that contribute to the world’s uranium supply. 

“I think there is a lot of nuclear play — not only within the University of Texas, but also within the state of Texas,” Biegalski said.

Bruce Zimmerman, CEO of UTIMCO, met with UTIMCO board members Thursday morning. The conference covered topics such as UTIMCO investments and how foreign oil activities may affect the University’s endowment and the Permanent University Fund.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

University of Texas Investment Management Company officials released a report Thursday detailing the effects of falling oil prices on the Permanent University Fund (PUF). 

The PUF is an endowment containing 2.1 million acres in West Texas that was created by the Texas Constitution in 1876 to benefit the UT and Texas A&M University systems.

According to Mark Warner, managing director of natural resources investments, falling oil prices over the course of the last four months slightly hampered the assets UTIMCO manages, which total $34.5 billion. Domestic oil prices declined by 60 percent from a peak in late April 2014 before bottoming out in late November 2014. However, over the five months, the endowment maintained a return of 4 percent.

Bruce Zimmerman, UTIMCO chief executive officer and chief information officer, said the investments made under UTIMCO are made safely to protect the funds that support the UT System schools.

“Our first line of defense is a diversified portfolio because, generally, not everything is going up at the same time, and, generally, not everything is going down at the same time,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said falling oil prices from April to November could actually help raise the endowment’s value.

“Our best guess, our best projection, is that the supply shock — excess supply, lower prices — is actually a slight positive for the endowment,” Zimmerman said. “Now, it’s clearly a negative for the energy industry, clearly a negative for the state of Texas … but this really gets at around 10 percent of our exposure is in energy; 90 percent is outside of energy.”

Zimmerman said only 10 percent of the total investments made by UTIMCO are in the energy industry. The other 90 percent of investments are made in sectors of the economy that ordinarily improve when oil prices decline. For consumers, lower oil prices mean cheaper gas, cheaper goods and more spending money to stimulate the economy.

“Our investment returns, we think, will be slightly helped by the reduction in oil because there are more consumers than producers, and the consumers get a benefit,” Zimmerman said.

Warner, the managing director of natural resources investments, said he looked at the correlation between the value of the energy portfolio, the investments in the energy industry and the price of oil. The report established that, when the price of oil drops, the value of the portfolio drops 10 percent of the price. 

Warner said he has watched the energy industry’s downturn closely.

“What I can tell you is that we’ve looked back at history, particularly the ’08-’09 time frame, and this is historic by any measure,” Warner said.

According to Warner, lenders are more willing to make investments in the current economy because it is much healthier than it was during the 2008 recession. Warner said this makes him feel optimistic about the energy portfolio’s future value.

“We’re hoping our partners are able to be opportunistic; this way, they have the money to do it,” Warner said. “We’re very encouraged by where we are in the cycle and by the partnerships that we have.”