Resnick Institute

Energy Efficiency

  • McKeon Group
  • vortices
  • photonic crystals


One of the most direct ways of cutting greenhouse gas emissions is through energy efficiency. This can be accomplished through improvements in the production, transformation and final use of energy. It happens across the supply chain and in the performance of finished goods and via novel improvements to the built environment.

An Efficient Power Grid

Former Resnick Fellow Masoud Farivar developed new power saving, scalable, control algorithms to cope with the fluctuations that occur in power networks with a high penetration of solar energy. His simulations have shown over a 3% increase in grid efficiency—and according to the DOE, if the grid were 5% more efficient it would reduce power generation equal to fuel and GHG emissions of 53 million cars.

Reducing the Heat Island Effect

By fusing synthetic chemistry, polymer physics and applied optics Resnick Fellow Raymond Weitekamp’s research has led to unique polymer architecture that enables paintable photonic crystals, which act as tunable optical filters. Advised by Professors Robert Grubbs and Harry Atwater, his team has been able to achieve reflection in the near infrared and is now working to apply this technology towards making heat-rejecting window films and paints to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and vehicles.

Improving Transportation Vehicles

Professor Beverley McKeon and Resnick Fellow Subrahmanyam Duvvuri explore the physics of turbulence and wall-bounded flows. Subrahmanyam is investigating the complex non-linear mechanisms of turbulence to gain new insights into the behavior of perturbed boundary layers that control skin friction drag. He aims to apply this understanding to reducing turbulent drag in transportation vehicles, such as ships and aircraft, which could yield powerful reductions in fuel consumption and associated CO2 emissions. It is estimated that a 30% reduction in aircraft drag could potentially save $85 billion annually by 2020.


Thermoelectric materials allow the direct conversion between thermal and electrical energy. As heat is a waste product in the transformation of energy, for example in electric power generation or transportation, thermoelectric devices can hedge this otherwise wasted resource and generate power from it, thereby improving the net heat to electricity efficiency.

Caltech’s thermoelctrics group is led by Dr. Jeffrey Snyder. He investigates novel thermoelectric materials and has developed the concept of thermoelectric compatibility for design and optimization of segmented generators. He has also developed empirical and analytical models for calculating thermoelectric performance.

Former Resnick Fellow and thermoelctrics group member David Brown's work focused on characterization of high temperature material transport properties. His goal was to understand the mechanism by which phase transitions can lead to enhanced thermoelectric efficiencies and to apply that understanding toward the development of materials with record thermoelectric efficiency and low cost.

Campus Resources