Environmental Science Division (EVS)a Division of Argonne National Laboratory
Predictive environmental understanding

The Renewability of Everything: Updating Commercial Energy Taxonomy for True Sustainability

Thursday, May 9, 2019

John Mulrow
Ph.D. Candidate, University of Illinois at Chicago
Thursday, May 9, 2019
11:00 A.M. – 12:00 P.M.
Argonne National Laboratory
TCS Building 240
Room 1404

Every commercial energy technology depends on at least two materials or processes that provide the available energy for driving useful work. These two sides of the equation typically involve renewable and non-renewable components. In the case of fossil fuels, oxygen gas — a naturally renewable resource — is consumed in a combustion reaction. In the case of photovoltaic panels, non-renewable materials are required for most energy transfer and storage components.

As the commercial energy mix diversifies, the renewable vs non-renewable labels commonly used today need to be replaced with a language that speaks more fully to environmental impacts. Tools such as life cycle assessment and ecological footprinting have allowed for a more nuanced comparison of energy system impacts, yet sustainable energy discourse continues to treat alternatives as simply “renewable” or “clean.”

A novel framework is proposed for categorizing the renewability of commercial energy systems. This framework will be presented, with application to vehicle transportation technologies. This research builds on an initiative to update energy science curriculum presented to graduate students at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Department of Civil & Materials Engineering.


John Mulrow is a Ph.D. Candidate in Civil Engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His research is focused on measuring the ecological impacts of emerging technologies in transportation and energy use.

As part of the Complex and Sustainable Urban Networks (CSUN) Lab, John has worked on machine learning-based models of transportation mode choice and energy demand. He has also developed a lecture and workshop series titled “Energy: Physics, Chemistry, Technology and Society,” which he is working to publish.

John holds an M.S. in Civil Engineering from UIC and a B.S. in Earth Systems from Stanford University. He has previously worked in corporate environmental consulting and climate policy advocacy, and was the Executive Director of Plant Chicago, an environmental education non-profit. He is also a member of the Illinois Army National Guard.

John Mulrow
John Mulrow
portrait of Konnie Wescott
portrait of Heidi Hartmann