RMI Alumnus Drives Change (Using Advanced Vehicles)

This is the third in a series of blogs about RMI alumni.

Many Rocky Mountain Institute interns come here through their love and concern for the environment. David Anderson isn’t your typical greenie, though. He’s more engineer than environmentalist and was attracted to RMI because of his interest in energy, which stems from his love of racing cars.

He got his first car after college and did some tweaking on it here and there. Then he started autocrossing the car (racing against the clock rather than against another car). Eventually, David bought a racecar and took it to the track. “As an engineer, I’m fascinated by vehicle systems—the powertrain components, the control systems which operate them, the kinematics of the suspension.”

In 2007, David had a successful career as a semiconductor engineer, but was intrigued by the relationship between the country’s energy and transportation systems, the economy, and our environment. He left his job in order to explore opportunities in energy and hopefully, vehicles, at Duke University’s Nicholas School.

The next year, he took a summer internship at RMI. While his wife and kids spent the summer playing in the abundant nature around Old Snowmass, David was hard at work improving RMI’s capabilities in vehicle energy storage and researching advanced automotive batteries. David’s summer research led directly to his master’s project work, “An evaluation of current and future costs for lithium-ion batteries for use in electrified vehicle powertrains.”

Like many RMI interns, David landed an energy dream job after graduation from Duke and is now with the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Program. There, he manages a portfolio of projects that develop and deploy technologies to reduce fuel use in the nation’s vehicle fleet. David works on technologies related to electrification, although the Vehicle Technologies Program has a wider scope, also working with hybrid electric systems, advanced materials, advanced combustion engines, and alternative fuels. As a Technology Development Manager, David manages projects with the national labs and automotive industry partners.

As an engineer, David is in a great position at DOE. He can appreciate the advances that make the 21st century automobile what it is today, and see the opportunities for improvement. According to David, “Automotive engineers have done incredible things with vehicles over the past couple of decades, and while cars have certainly become more efficient (they’re moving a lot more mass, and doing it a lot faster, producing a lot more power than before), they’re still using about the same amount of fuel that they did 20 years ago. If the trend continues, we’ll all be driving 400-horsepower, 6000-pound tanks that get 24mpg. Which is impressive. But I don’t think we need that.”

David’s work at DOE mirrors RMI’s Reinventing Fire vision. “It all comes down to petroleum use,” he says “Transportation is responsible for two-thirds of our nation’s petroleum use, 80 percent of which is for on-road vehicles. That equates to about 12 million barrels of oil per day. Nearly half of that is imported, leading to economic concerns. Much of it comes from regions of the world that aren’t friendly to us, and we use our military resources to ensure that it gets here, leading to national security concerns.”

And, he continued, “Occasionally but inevitably, something goes wrong when we extract it, leading to environmental concerns beyond those related to what happens when we burn it. Anything we can do to reduce our dependence on oil, so that it is no longer such a strategic commodity, has benefits in all three of these areas. At DOE, we’re working on technologies that will allow us to use less overall energy for transportation and less petroleum by offering fuel choice.”

David’s research on batteries helped RMI understand energy storage, which was pivotal for our successful 2009 Smart Garage Charrette. The Smart Garage Charrette eventually led to Project Get Ready, our initiative to accelerate the electric vehicle industry. Four years later, he is continuing to make a big impact in the transportation sector through his work at the Department of Energy.

Highlighted Resources
RMI Alumnus Using History To Change Our Energy Future

RMI Alumni Help Spread the Vision


Reinventing Fire: Transportation (Video)