Energy & Sustainability Initiative

Our world today would be unimaginable without energy on demand

Power at our fingertips to fuel everything from computers and appliances to motorcycles and jetliners–modern civilization depends on it.

Yet, the 21st century presents a myriad of challenges concerning energy: Where will the power we need come from? How much will it cost? Will there be enough to sustain a rapidly expanding world? And can it be harnessed with the least amount of harm to the environment? Indeed, energy issues have emerged as one of the key grand challenges facing our society.

The University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering  pursues research in various areas of the energy challenge. This site summarizes the research centers and programs, and the educational programs that are part of the VSoE Energy Initiative.

The Viterbi School’s activities fit into a broader panorama of research at the University of Southern California.

Spring 2010 Viterbi Magazine: The Viterbi Energy Tableau

Dean’s Message

Transforming, transmitting and utilizing energetic content, from kinetic to internal energy, is at the heart of energy engineering: from wind turbines to combustion to nuclear reactors to the capture and transformation of solar energy. At the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, energy research addresses sides of the energy equation: On the supply side, by focusing on solar energy systems, on carbon capture and sequestration and on improving efficiencies in energy extraction. On the demand side by improving efficiencies in utilization in various settings, particularly transportation and urban systems.

One major change has entered the field in recent decades. The breathtaking advances in information technology in the recent decade and the continuous unlocking of mysteries at the nano- and biomolecular scales promise unprecedented discoveries that will lead to a much needed overhaul of the energy field. Smart solutions in the information age demands the use of information-age tools. These tools are now in our hands. We need to use them.

Our research involves specific energy-targeted projects, as well as generic research in materials science and in biochemical engineering, with specific examples detailed below. Our strategy leverages Viterbi faculty strengths in specific fields, including materials science, reacting flows, information technology, electrical engineering, reservoir engineering, systems engineering and computer engineering and computer science. It also considers USC’s location in a metropolitan, mega-city environment — where the sun shines brightly, but its energy falls almost unused.

We hope this overview of what we are doing in the field is useful.

Yannis Yortsos, Dean, Viterbi School of Engineering 

Viterbi Research Topics

Energy Networks

Information and power itself must move over wide geographical areas. The systems that permit this are complex and have grown without systematic plan and efficiencies are often possible. Sensor networks monitoring structures and areas can provide instant notice of issues and problems – but themselves have to designed to minimize power consumption.

Faculty: John Heidemann (ISI), Bhaskar Krishnamachari (EE), Psounis, Ramesh Govindan (CS), Edmond Jonckheere (EE), Urbashi Mitra (EE), Giuseppe Caire (EE), Michael Neely (EE)


The engineering issues around large urban areas are a major focus at the Viterbi School’s Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering — and a large portion of these problems deal with energy, including transportation of goods and people, energy-efficient ways to build energy-efficient structures, urban pollution resulting from fuel burning and others. The Viterbi School is also a part of METRANS, a US DOT funded center for study of urban transportation issues.

Faculty: Sami Masri (CEE), Jean-Pierre Bardet (CEE), Roger Ghanem (AME), Behrokh Khoshnevis (ISE), Daniel Dapkus (EE), Ramesh Govindan (CS), Bhaskar Krishnamachari (EE), Melvin Breuer (EE), Sandeep Gupta (EE), Viktor Prasanna (EE), Massoud Pedram (EE), Constantinos Sioutas (CEE), Denis J. Phares (AME), Theodoe Tsotsis (Chems)

Nano Solar

Certain materials generate electricity when energized by light, while other chemically related materials do the opposite, generating light when energized by electrons. 1. Deep understanding of the processes at work at the molecular level potentially allows design and actual synthesis of materials optimized in both directions. The 2009 creation of the new DOE Energy Frontiers Research Center for Materials for Solar Energy Conversion and Solid State Lighting is accelerating research in this field, building on existing Viterbi and USC strengths in nano-technology.

Faculty: Daniel Dapkus (EE), Anupam Madhukhar (Chems), John O’Brien (EE), Hai Wang (AME)

New Fuels & Engines

Fuels are substances used as sources of chemical energy, now the main source of electrical power and vehicle propulsion in our society. A range of Viterbi initiatives are working on synthesizing new fuels to supplement fossil fuels and creating new machines, including fuel cells, that use them (and fossil fuels) more efficiently.

Faculty: Fokion Egolfopoulos (AME), Paul Ronney (AME), Petros Ioannou (EE), Konstantinos Psounis (EE), Hai Wang (AME)

Smart Oil & Gas Extraction

The Viterbi School and its industry-funded Center for Interactive Smart Oilfield Technologies, established in 2003 is a world leader in use of IT to guide more efficient extraction of oil and other fossil fuels.

Faculty: Fred Aminzadeh (Chems), Farnoush Banaei-Kashani, Chung, Iraj Ershaghi (Chems), Gomadam, John Granacki, John Heidemann (ISI), Rajiv Kalia (Chems), Behrokh Khoshnevis (ISE), Craig Knoblock (ISI), Jeff La Coss (ISI), Florian Mansfeld (Chems), Jerry Mendel, Aiichiro Nakano (Chems), Neches, Ulrich Neumann (CS), Luciano Nocera, Ortega, Viktor Prasanna (EE), Joe Qin (Chems), Raghu Raghavendra (EE), Cyrus Shahabi (CS), Milind Tambe, Mark Taylor, Priya Vashishta (Chems), John Wills, Ke-Thia Yao, Yanis Yortsos, Suya You, Don Zhang, Xiaoyan Zhang

Carbon Dioxide Sequestration

Each kilo of carbon burned as fuel creates about 4 kilos of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Geological structures exist in which these vast quantities of CO2 could theoretically be immobilized permanently but daunting theoretical problems of geochemistry remain, along with practical ones of cost, transportation and security. The Viterbi School is assembling specialists in the field.

Faculty: Don Zhang


Tapping the earth’s own warmth is a promising but environmentally complex challenge.

Faculty: Fred Aminzadeh (Chems)

Ocean Wave Energy

U.S. Pacific coast waves could provide the equivalent of five nuclear power plants worth of completely clean energy.

Faculty: Gordon Roesler

USC and Viterbi Energy Centers

USC Energy Institute

The USC Energy Institute (USCEI) is a university-wide integrated research endeavor that facilitates a dialogue among researchers which enables research teams to inform stakeholders and decision-makers in the government, private sector and the public about conventional and alternative fuels, energy efficiency, the impacts of climate change and pollution, and the economic and policy implications of the transition to a new energy paradigm over the next decade.

Energy Frontiers Research Center

P. Daniel Dapkus of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering directs the Energy Frontiers Research Center for Emerging Materials for Solar Energy Conversion and Solid State Lighting. The DOE plans a five-year grant totaling $12.5 million.

Center for Interactive Smart Oilfield Technologies

The Center for Interactive Smart Oilfield Technologies is a joint University of Southern California and Chevron Center of Excellence for Research and Academic Training. Established in December 2003, CiSoft includes participation of research scientists from the Viterbi School of Engineering and Chevron.

Smart Grid Demonstration Cooperative Project

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Board’s $43 Million Smart Grid Demonstration Cooperative Project will have USC collaborating with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and other research entities

USC Induced Seismicity Consortium

The USC Induced Seismicity Consortium (ISC) addresses a very critical and under-developed aspect of environmental safety associated with hydraulic fracturing operations, waste water injection, fluid production and disposal wells, enhanced geothermal resource development, and EOR/CO2 sequestration. The proposed collaborative effort will uniquely integrate efforts of scientists from the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC), the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), and the Petroleum Engineering Program at the University of Southern California with industry and concerned regulatory agency partners.

Resources for Faculty

Funding Opportunities: Department of Energy (DoE)

White Paper on Energy and Fuels: Strengths and Voids in the Viterbi School of Engineering

2009 DoE Energy Budget

Energy Relevant NSF Division Plan for Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (CBET)

Business Technology: Green Software Is Being Deployed by Start-Ups, Big Businesses

Distributed Energy: Post Petroleum Energetics Conference/Workshop – 06/17/2008

The Status of PV in 2008 and a Look Ahead – 06/17/2008

Current Power and Energy Landscape – 06/17/2008

A presentation by Pat Dehmer, deputy director of science programs for the Office of Science in the Department of Energy, includes the agency’s fiscal year 2010 budget request to Congress. May 2009