2014 ACEEES International Education Forum on Environment and Energy Science
This post has been updated with more conference details after I came back in December.
I attended the Third International Education Forum on Environment and Energy Science, held on December 12-16, 2014 in Perth, Australia. This international forum is sponsored by the “Academy for Co-creative Education of Environment and Energy Science (ACEEES)” at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, a leading research university in Tokyo, Japan. The forum covers a variety of multidisciplinary topics related to the environment and energy sciences, such as fuel cells, urbanization and environment, advanced materials for energy and environmental products, solar cell and other renewable energy technologies, nuclear technologies, and socio-economic aspects of energy and sustainability. About 200 professors and students from all over the world attended the forum. The forum had a history of over ten years with the original focus on the “technical” side of the energy-environment nexus, but there was a growing interest in the social science of energy and environment issues, and I feel privileged to be selected to be part of it.
Multi-disciplinary Research Presentations
The major component of the forum is the presentation of current research by faculty and students from all over the world. Each morning began with an invited speech from prominent professors and practitioners who lectured on their respective research and work in countries such as Japan, U.S. and Australia. For instance, Prof. Okazaki from Tokyo Tech spoke on Japan’s “green innovation” and international collaboration under its Strategic Energy Plan, in areas including clean coal, hydrogen energy, carbon capture and storage.
The student presentations throughout the forum were also broad in both disciplinary and geographical scope. For instance, I was assigned to the “Social science and Engineering” section on the first day, and in our session alone we had presenters who came from Japan, China, Thailand and Switzerland. It was also an interesting mix of current topics (climate change, airline accidents, renewable energy, tsunami warning system etc.) that would not only appeal to those of us who study energy issues in graduate school, but also be of interest to the general public. My own presentation was entitled “Critical Minerals for a Clean Future: China’s Rare Earth Dominance and its Geopolitical Implications on Global Alternative Energy Development”. I presented on my research on the relevance of rare earths to the clean energy production chain, China’s policies on regulating the upstream production, and discussed the prospects of international collaboration across the supply chain.
International Collaboration in Student Workshop
What sets this forum apart from most research conferences is the emphasis on young researchers and graduate students to think globally on environmental and energy problems. ACEEES generously provides funding for travel and lodging for student participants. The conference organizer put all students in assigned rooms so that we would have roommates from different continents. For instance, I had two roommates, Suzue Yoneda from Tokyo Tech and Hannah Bloomfield from University of Reading in Britain.
As student participants, we not only gave our own individual presentations in respective sessions, but also worked together for the “student workshop”, another component rarely seen in research-oriented conferences. The student workshop requires students in each room to work together on an assigned issue in energy and environment, and present the findings/solutions in a 5-min presentation and 5-min Q&A on the third day of the forum. My room was assigned to research policies, standards, and infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles in U.S., Japan and Germany, and make predictions on the adoption of FCVs in 2020 and 2030. We each researched part of the problem (for instance, as I am most familiar with the U.S., I researched the U.S. FCV policies and infrastructure) and exchanged our findings to gauge a coherent theme. We then put together the powerpoint slides, did rehearsals and then did the actual presentation.
I think this is a great way to promote exchange of ideas and collaboration among students from different countries with distinct cultures and education systems. It is also a good exercise for us to do collaborative work on an issue in a short time and communicate the results to people succinctly and effectively.
Another highlight of the conference is the technical tour to the Rottnest Island, an A-class reserve island off the coast home to several distinct Australian species. We boarded a ferry to the island, and on the way a local staff member working on the island gave us a presentation on the conservation efforts taking place. Specifically he talked about the efforts to develop sustainable energy use (wind energy, solar energy) and good habitat for the animals on the island. The island itself was a beautiful and quiet place, with fine beaches, lovely animals (look at the cute quokkas!) and picturesque tropical scenery.
Again I give my thanks to the ACEEES (through funding from Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) of Japan) which sponsors this international interdisciplinary conference and generously provides full funding for my participation.