Posted Jun 17, 2012 | Atlanta, GA
Tim Lieuwen spent five summers with the U.S. Forest Service working and hiking in the wilderness of Alaska and northern Idaho. That experience helped foster an appreciation for the planet's uniqueness that has driven his work as a professor and combustion engineer in Georgia Tech's School of Aerospace Engineering.
Effective August 1, Lieuwen will become executive director of Georgia Tech's Strategic Energy Institute. There, he expects to be a "systems integrator," bringing together the many elements of Georgia Tech science, engineering, computing and policy research to address the planet's most pressing energy challenges.
"We want to work on the problems that really matter," he said. "We want to do the fundamental science and be great engineers and great scientists, but we want to address real-world problems that will serve society."
Georgia Tech operates a broad range of energy-related research initiatives, including power generation and distribution, power electronics, fuel production, water management, materials, transportation, sustainability, urban systems and atmospheric sciences. Beyond these interdisciplinary strengths, a key differentiator for Georgia Tech is its ability to collaborate with industry.
"One of the things that industry respects about us is that we not only develop the fundamental science, advancing our mission as an education institution, but we also tackle the tough applied problems that they face today," he said. "We are building strong linkages to leverage our strengths to build on the science and engineering base we already have."
The Strategic Energy Institute is playing a vital national and international leadership role in developing energy solutions and transitioning them to the marketplace, said Steve Cross, Georgia Tech's executive vice president for research.
"Energy cuts across almost everything we do as a society, affecting national security, the economy, our environment and quality of life," Cross said. "Through the Strategic Energy Institute, Georgia Tech is bringing its considerable resources to bear on energy challenges, in collaboration with partners in industry and government."
Lieuwen, who also has a faculty appointment in Georgia Tech's George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, received a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech in 1999. He specializes in low-emissions combustion and energy systems.
"I get to make fire and to make noise for a living, which is a lot of fun," he admitted. "A lot of what I do is to focus on combustion as applied to gas turbine systems, which are important for power generation facilities as well as aircraft engines."
Lieuwen emphasizes that human behavior — as expressed in policy and sustainability issues — is a key part of energy solutions.
"My natural inclination as an engineer is to look for an engineering solution — such as higher efficiency — to an energy problem," he said. "But decisions people make about energy play a key role in affecting issues such as air quality. We need advanced technology for that, but we also need to address the human side of that."
In addition to leading his own research program, Lieuwen has been part of planning Georgia Tech's new Carbon Neutral Energy Solutions (CNES) Building, which will serve as the headquarters for the Strategic Energy Institute when the building opens this fall. Lieuwen has also served on the sustainable energy task force, a strategic initiative that focused on charting a new course for Georgia Tech's energy programs.
Beyond his appreciation for the outdoors, Lieuwen is a self-proclaimed "soccer dad" who has four daughters ranging in age from 18 months to 11 years.
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Writer: John Toon