WWU faculty receive new grant to research electric-vehicle usage

The BioPhysical Economics Institute (BPEI) has awarded a $125,000 research grant titled “Energy and Carbon Impacts of EV and PHEV Deployment” to Western Washington University faculty members Charles Barnhart and Imran Sheikh to compare electric vehicles and traditional internal combustion engine vehicles in terms of energy and emissions, using real-world driving behavior.

The goal is to establish the comparative effectiveness of these types of vehicles from a full energy life cycle perspective; the two Western faculty members will work with collaborator Adam Brandt from Stanford University on the study.

While the efficient conversion of energy in the vehicle from fuel or electricity into motion is critical, to obtain a true picture of energy effectiveness – and emissions – it is essential to examine the considerable energy consumption embodied in vehicle manufacturing, maintenance, and end of life reuse, recycling, and disposal.

BPEI anticipates that this project might thereby extend the frameworks used for analysis of energy return on energy invested (EROI). Most EROI studies end their analysis by assuming the output of the system under study is an energy carrier such as gasoline or electricity. In this project BPEI seeks to extend that boundary to the useful work output performed by vehicles during their use phase in comparison to the energy embodied across their entire life cycle.

This work will deliver new knowledge that will inform policy makers, vehicle manufacturers, transportation planners, and power grid operators. It will also aid in the education of a graduate student versed in net energy analysis.

“We are delighted to be collaborating with these prominent researchers for this independent study to cut through the noise and look at the underlying physics, with the potential to inform both public policy and corporate investment decisions on major topics in the energy transition," said Jan-Pieter Oosterom, president of BPEI.

Barnhart thanked BPEI for the support to make the research happen.

“We are grateful for BPEI’s unique opportunity to study the transition to electric vehicles from a systems-level perspective that tracks energy throughout the vehicle life cycle. Energy resources and natural capital are the lifeblood of society, not money. Through the lens of net energy analysis, society can better provide energy services while remaining cognizant of the Earth’s biophysical boundaries,” said Barnhart.

This project fulfills one of BPEI’s goals which is to advance energy system analysis and scholarship that produces novel research, student training, strengthened research networks, and dissemination of findings to inform decision-making for businesses and government policy.

Charlie Barnhart is an associate professor of Environmental Sciences at Western Washington University’s College of the Environment. As a member of Western’s Institute for Energy Studies, he teaches courses and conducts research in energy systems analysis, greenhouse gas mitigation and life cycle assessment. Barnhart was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University’s Global Climate and Energy Project. He holds a doctorate in planetary geophysics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, a bachelor's degree in physics and a bachelor's degree in astronomy from the University of Washington.

Imran Sheikh is an associate professor in the Institute for Energy Studies and Department of Environmental Sciences at Western Washington University. His research interests include understanding various pathways to decarbonize residential space and water heating systems. He holds a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and a master's degree and doctorate from the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley. Prior to graduate school he was a consultant at Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) where he helped industrial clients make their plants more efficient through whole-systems design and compared the economics and climate impact of nuclear power, micropower, and energy efficiency. While in graduate school he worked with the Global Energy and Sustainability team at Johnson Controls on developing the next generation of building control systems. He has also held various research appointments at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Adam Brandt is an associate professor in the Department of Energy Resources Engineering, Stanford University. His research focuses on reducing the greenhouse gas impacts of energy production and consumption. His primary research interests include life cycle assessment of petroleum production and natural gas extraction, as well as testing and techno-economic assessment of methane emissions detection technologies. He also works on optimization of clean energy technologies such as gas-to-electric transitions optimization, solar PV forecasting, and optimal integration of variable renewable resources. He holds a doctorate and master's degree in Energy and Resources from UC Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in environmental studies with an emphasis on physics from UC Santa Barbara.

About WWU:

Western Washington University is a public comprehensive institution dedicated to serving the people of the state of Washington. Together our students, staff, and faculty are committed to making a positive impact in the state and the world with a shared focus on academic excellence and inclusive achievement. As Washington's third largest public university, Western Washington University is a beacon of higher education, offering a comprehensive array of academic programs at our main campus in Bellingham, as well as at other sites across the State. With a strong commitment to pushing boundaries and fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, WWU stands at the forefront of cutting-edge research across various fields. Our distinguished faculty and motivated students engage in a wide spectrum of projects, from sustainable technologies and environmental studies to healthcare advancements and social sciences.

About BPEI:

The BioPhysical Economics Institute is a non-partisan, non-profit, multidisciplinary organization of scientists, economists, investment experts, corporate & project finance analysts and policy professionals, who are working together to bring the natural sciences into economic analysis and decision making. Specifically, BPEI aims to incorporate the analysis of energy efficiency into assessments of various strategies to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, while supporting our natural habitats and human flourishing. www.bpeinstitute.org.



Contact: Linda Guild

Administrative director, at info@bpeinstitute.org

(781) 397-8870



Contact: Johnathan Higgins

Director, WWU Communications, higgin55@wwu.edu or (360) 650-3350