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10 Questions for a Senior Scientist: Michael Wang

July 21, 2011 - 4:33pm


Senior Scientist Michael Wang uses his favorite tool at Argonne -- the GREET tool he helped develop. | Courtesy of Argonne

Senior Scientist Michael Wang uses his favorite tool at Argonne -- the GREET tool he helped develop. | Courtesy of Argonne

At Argonne National Laboratory's Center for Transportation Research (CTR), Dr. Wang's work spans a wide range -- from transportation fuels to advanced vehicles technologies. His team also developed GREET (Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions and Energy use in Transportation), a computer model for analyzing energy and the environmental effects of these technologies and fuels. In the latest 10 questions, learn more about GREET, CTR and how all these acronyms are working together to develop next-generation vehicle technologies.

Question: Why did you pursue a career in science?

Michael Wang: Science has always been a primary interest. In fact, when I went to college I studied meteorology. That was in China. When I came to the U.S. to pursue graduate study I changed to the environmental sciences, and so I’ve been working in this area since then.

Q: At Argonne you manage the Center for Transportation Research’s Systems Assessment group. What led you to this position?

MW: Well, I’ll put it this way – I consider myself an accidental manager. I have always worked in technical areas as a researcher. I still consider myself a full-time researcher and a casual manager. In fact, I would see myself as more of a technical leader, rather than a manager. I interact with staff in my group on the technical issues we should pursue more than a typical manager.

Q: What do you enjoy about the Systems Assessment group’s work?

MW: Well, the Systems Assessment group does technology evaluation for transportation fuels and advanced vehicle technologies. Through our research we get exposed to the new developments in the fuels area and vehicle technology area. Our research efforts help us understand the technology trends, their potential and the hurdles for some technologies to get into the marketplace. Our work gives us opportunities to interact with technology developers, policy makers, and the public. This gives us the unique opportunity to understand what people are doing in the field and the implications to the broad energy and environment context.

Q: What projects are you working on right now?

MW: We are evaluating some emerging transportation biofuels such as algae-based biofuels. We are continuing our examination of the first-generation biofuels and the potential of second- and third-generation biofuels.

We are also examining conventional fuels such as gasoline and diesel and the new crude supply and environmental impacts. We examine new natural gas production from shale gas and use of compressed natural gas in vehicles. So that’s on the fuels side.

On the vehicles technologies side we are examining technologies such as hybrid, regular hybrid, battery-powered, and fuel cell. And of course we continue to examine the fuel efficiency technologies for gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Q: That’s quite a lot. Changing gears a little – do you have advice for students who may be interested in a career similar to yours?

MW: Yes, I do. Through my own professional experience, building a broad knowledge base is important. In fact, it is important for many other fields too, but since we’re doing technology assessment and evaluation, a broad knowledge base is very important and very useful. Also, as in any scientific field, always question, pursue, and think because that’s what scientific efforts are all about. Also, try to be open minded to understand others’ viewpoints.

Q: Do you have a favorite tool in the lab?

MW: Yes, but this isn’t objective by any means. My favorite tool was developed by my group – that’s GREET.
Q: can you tell us a little more about GREET -- how it was developed, what it is being used to analyze?
MW: GREET started very small. We did not have a grand plan for GREET. It started with a project we did for the Department in the early 90s. In the project, we developed a spreadsheet file to pull the pieces together. The whole point was to have something that if others are going to do the same they would not need to repeat the same steps as we did. So it started with that.
Then, over the course of the next few years, with Department of Energy support, we decided to expand the Excel spreadsheet to make it more comprehensive to cover more fuel production options and vehicle technology options. And then, researchers recognized the value of the model in addressing the Department’s needs, the National Labs’ needs and the needs of the general community.
Now, GREET has become well known globally. We have over 15,000 registered users worldwide and GREET has become a standard tool for life-cycle analysis of transportation tools and vehicle technologies.
Q: Where do you see these advanced transportation technologies and fuels in terms of market potential?
MW: We see some fuels as having benefits in petroleum reduction and emissions reduction. There are other factors such as cost and infrastructure. In my opinion, we do not have a silver bullet to solve our energy and environmental problems in the transportation area. We need to pursue multiple paths to see what technologies will emerge as the most promising technologies.
Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
MW: Jogging, swimming, hiking on nature trails. Those are the activities that get my mind switched to a completely different space to refresh myself.
Q: What is on your reading list right now?
MW: As you know I grew up in China and my primary education was in China, but these days I feel strongly that I do not have enough understanding of Chinese history so I’m reading some Chinese history books. I’m reading about my own background, and it is interesting to relate it to Western history. Comparing the Eastern and Western histories is fascinating.