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July 21, 2004

'Planet-X' symposium explores technology innovations toward a sustainable environment


How can we sustain our planet's life-support systems to meet humanity's needs both today and tomorrow? Under the aegis of the Stanford Institute for the Environment, the School of Engineering and the School of Earth Sciences are hosting a symposium to explore innovative solutions to some of the most pressing environmental challenges.

The symposium, called "Planet-X: Technology Innovations Toward a Sustainable Environment," will take place Thursday, July 29, from 1 to 7:30 p.m. in the Arrillaga Alumni Center. Registration is required:

"We have two large challenges before us in the 21st century," said Richard G. Luthy, the Silas H. Palmer Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and faculty adviser for the event. "[They are] how to provide the basic needs for society to function -- in terms of food, water, energy, shelter and clean air -- and how we do that in a way that preserves the basic cycles on Earth on which all life depends." Luthy said he hopes the symposium will help participants learn "how to optimize both of those objectives so ... we can have a win-win situation and not [make] extreme sacrifices for one good versus some other good."

Luthy said the department he chairs, Civil and Environmental Engineering, is redefining itself around the theme of sustainability. Besides enhancing well-being for all people, a sustainable environment may also reduce war and terrorism, which "come about in part because of desperate people whose basic needs are not met," Luthy said. His department addresses issues such as how to use energy efficiently and renewably in the built environment (buildings and infrastructure) and how to manage water resources in a way that meets the competing needs of people, agriculture and ecosystems.

Speakers and panelists

Jim Plummer, the Frederick Emmons Terman Dean of the School of Engineering, will welcome guests to the symposium and introduce the keynote speaker, Warren Staley, chair and CEO of Cargill Inc., an international provider of food, agricultural and risk-management products and services with 101,000 employees in 60 countries. Staley will speak about Cargill's efforts toward sustainability, including the sale of 16,500 acres of Cargill Salt's San Francisco Bay Area property to the state of California and the federal government for the largest wetlands restoration undertaken in California history.

Two panel discussions will address issues critical to sustainability. Led by moderator Pamela Matson, the Chester Naramore Dean of the School of Earth Sciences, the first panel will examine the key technology and policy issues for sustainable global climate and energy systems. The second panel, moderated by Luthy, will look at similar issues for sustainable global water systems.

Following is a list of faculty panelists:

Chris Edwards, associate professor of mechanical engineering and deputy director of the Global Climate and Energy Project, conducts fundamental research for advanced energy technologies, such as theoretical and experimental studies of sprays and combustion processes related to advanced combustion engines. His research focuses on establishing new ways to conduct the energy-transformation process so that the conversion process is cleaner, more efficient and more controllable than has been possible with traditional technologies.

Larry Goulder, the Shuzo Nishihara Professor in Environmental and Resource Economics and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for International Studies and the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, examines the environmental and economic impacts of U.S. and international environmental policies. He focuses on policies to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, and on "green tax reform" -- revamping the tax system to introduce taxes on pollution and reduce taxes on labor effort or investment. In other work, he has examined connections between environmental policies and technological innovation.

Richard Luthy teaches and conducts research in environmental engineering and water quality. His interests include physicochemical processes and remediation of contaminated soil and sediment. One project involves how to make San Francisco Bay, which contains toxic chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), safe for fish and the people who eat the fish. PCBs, persistent pollutants in the bay, are no longer produced in the United States but are found in about one-third of the National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency. Luthy's research shows that carbon sorbents added to the top layer of sediment can bind PCBs so they are no longer passed up the food chain.

Gretchen Daily, the Bing Interdisciplinary Research Scientist in the Department of Biological Sciences, is an ecologist who works to develop a scientific basis -- and political and institutional support -- for managing Earth's life support systems. Her efforts span basic science, environmental policy analysis, teaching and public education. Her most recent book is The New Economy of Nature: The Quest to Make Conservation Profitable, co-authored with journalist Katherine Ellison (Island Press, 2002).

Craig Criddle, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, focuses on environmental biotechnology. His research interests include biological processes for water-quality control, the fate of microorganisms in the environment and the fate of persistent contaminants. Some current research projects include a field-scale demonstration of uranium and nitrate remediation and studies of membrane bioreactors for water reuse.

Industry panelists include John Reinker, who leads General Electric Co.'s research initiatives in hydrogen, a clean fuel source that can be generated from coal, nuclear and renewable energy sources, including solar and wind turbines; Mary Ann Wright, who is responsible for Ford Motor Co.'s hybrid, fuel-cell and alternative-fuel technology development and was chief engineer of the 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid, the industry's first full hybrid SUV; Ronald L. Christenson, who as a corporate vice president and chief technology officer at Cargill influences diverse enterprises from fertilizer to food, salt to steel; and George Oliver, who leads GE's water and process technologies business.

Ralph Cavanagh, a lawyer who directs the energy program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization, will represent nongovernmental organizations on the panel. He is a former member of the advisory board to the U.S. Secretary of Energy, the Energy Engineering Board of the National Academy of Sciences and the Advisory Council of the Electric Power Research Institute. He is a current member of the National Commission on Energy Policy and vice chair of the Portland-based Bonneville Environmental Foundation and the Sacramento-based Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies.

After the panel discussions, Rachel Kyte, director of environment and social development at the International Finance Corporation, World Bank Group, will speak about the cultural, human rights and institutional sides of sustainable development and public/private investment in the developing world and emerging markets. She will be introduced by civil and environmental engineering Professor Ray Levitt, director of the Collaboratory for Research on Global Projects, a multi-university, multidisciplinary initiative to enhance the performance of global projects.

Growth can be made more sustainable, Kyte wrote in an e-mail interview, through appropriate private-sector actions in developing countries and strong financial markets that recognize and support sustainability. "Long-term profitability is dependent upon environment and social as well as economic performance, and we seek out opportunities to help companies and financial institutions to exploit that intersection," Kyte said. "Jobs, development, a clean environment and social justice can be attainable goals achieved in partnership between the public and private sectors."

Sustainability superstars and 'green chemistry'

The recent launch of the Stanford Institute for the Environment, directed by Professors Barton "Buzz" Thompson and Jeffrey Koseff, wasn't the beginning of Stanford's environmental efforts. The university has an impressive history of environmental innovation, through alumni such as Denis Hayes, '69, who helped organize the first Earth Day, and a long list of faculty pioneers including Paul Ehrlich, Donald Kennedy, Perry McCarty and Harold Mooney. World-renowned faculty including Peter Vitousek, Robert Dunbar, Lynn Orr, Roz Naylor and Steve Schneider continue to lead the university in new interdisciplinary collaborations.

One such collaboration pairs Luthy with David Epel, the Jane and Marshall Steel Jr. Professor of Marine Sciences, and Curtis Frank, the W. M. Keck Sr. Professor in Engineering, to study the environmental chemistry and biological fate of a persistent pollutant. While past projects have tried to "clean up sins of the past," Luthy said, this effort aims to "prevent sins of the future" by developing "green chemistry." With grants from the National Science Foundation and the Stanford Institute for the Environment, their new project looks at fluorinated organic compounds, used for coatings and lubricants on computer disks, to find out their entry points into the environment, their persistence in the environment and their toxic effects. "How can we redesign fluorinated organic compounds so they are not so toxic and bioaccumulative and persistent?" Luthy asked.

The Planet-X symposium is sponsored by Cargill, GE, Ford and the Stanford Center for Professional Development.

Editor Note:

The 'Planet-X' symposium will be held Thursday, July 29, from 1 to 7:30 p.m. in the Arrillaga Alumni Center. The program -- aimed at industrial researchers, Stanford faculty, graduate students, alumni and friends, and invited guests -- is free and open to the press but not the general public. Registration is required due to limited seating.



Bill Layton, School of Engineering: (650) 725-1539,

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