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Every form of energy exploration and development, every choice in energy infrastructure and consumption, affects our land, water, and air. Duke researchers are at the forefront of efforts to understand and measure the environmental impact of energy production and use, and to find affordable, scalable and sustainable ways to meet growing global energy demands.

Our researchers examine materials, tools and processes that supply energy around the world and at all points along the production chain. The goal is to develop economically viable technologies and practices that will ensure a steady supply of energy into the future, while protecting human health and the environment.

With funding from ARPA-E, a Pratt laboratory has set out to revolutionize mass spectrometry, developing a portable and affordable device with specific applications to detect leaks of methane, one of the most important greenhouse gases, during energy production. Mass spectrometers are used to detect and differentiate elements and chemicals. They’re extremely sensitive devices—and also quite large, which means they are usually stationary. The team, led by professor of electrical and computer engineering Jeffrey Glass, has applied a “coded aperture” design that reduces size and cost while increasing sensitivity. This new device will be used as a tool to check for leaks at natural gas platforms, leading to increased production efficiency and reduced emissions.

Learn more about the Glass Laboratory’s project.

Microbial cultures are crucial to a wide variety of modern industrial processes, from chemicals production to manufacturing pharmaceuticals. Michael Lynch, an assistant professor in the Pratt School’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, is attempting to genetically engineer a standardized system of “dynamic metabolic control” that will optimize microbial cultures for all types of industrial and medical uses. His project holds strong applications for bioenergy production, focusing on the conversion of methane and natural gas into longer-chain fuels.

Learn more about Lynch’s research program.
As the shale gas boom spreads worldwide, exploration has begun to move into regions affected by water scarcity. The water-intensive nature of the hydraulic fracturing process has led to water supply concerns in dry regions, potentially limiting drilling. Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at the Nicholas School of the Environment, has formed an interdisciplinary group to investigate the network of scientific and policy issues surrounding shale plays in North America, China and South Africa. Vengosh and his colleagues are examining hydrological conditions, water-allocation policies and environmental regulations that affect resource availability at each site. By studying alternative sources and novel technologies for water treatment and reuse, the team aims to identify environmentally sound solutions to challenges driven by limited water supplies.

Read more about the Vengosh team.


Mailing Address

Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability
Box 90467
Durham, NC 27708

Street / Delivery Address

Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability
140 Science Drive
Gross Hall, Suite 101
Durham, NC 27708