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Plan II Honors

Michael Webber

Associate ProfessorPh.D, Stanford University



Michael E. Webber

Michael Webber is the Deputy Director of the Energy Institute, Josey Centennial Fellow in Energy Resources, Co-Director of the Clean Energy Incubator at the Austin Technology Incubator, and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, where he trains a new generation of energy leaders through research and education at the intersection of engineering, policy, and commercialization. He has authored more than 200 scientific articles, columns, books, and book chapters, including an op-ed in the New York Times and features in Scientific American. A highly sought public speaker, he has given more than 175 lectures, speeches, and invited talks in the last few years, such as testimony for hearings of U.S. Senate committees, keynotes for business meetings, plenary lectures for scientific conferences, invited speeches at the United Nations and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and executive briefings at some of the nation's leading companies.

As a professor, Dr. Webber has taught undergraduate and graduatecourses at The University of Texas at Austin since 2007 across departments as diverse as mechanicalengineering, chemical engineering, liberal arts, business, geosciences, public affairs, and undergraduate studies. His teaching has been honored three separate times with major awards from the University of Texas System. Dr. Webber's research focuses on the convergence of policy, technology, and resource management related to energy and the environment. Government agencies such as the Department of Energy and non-governmental organizations such as UNESCO have featured Dr. Webber's research in their policy-making decisions. His expertise, opinions, and research have been published, cited or featured in many media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, NPR, PBS, The Daily Telegraph, BBC, ABC, CBS, Discovery, Popular Mechanics, New Scientist, MSNBC, and the History Channel.

Since launching in March 2013, his syndicated television special, Energy at the Movies, has been telecast more than 140 times on more than 75 PBS stations in 25 states as of July 2013. The special bridges the gap between academic discourse and popular culture by synthesizing expert analysis of Hollywood films into digestible lessons on the science and history of energy. Energy at the Movies reaches over 37 million households in the United States, with a follow up series in development.

His capstone class "Energy Technology and Policy" is scheduled for distribution as a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) titled "Energy 101." The course will launch in Fall 2013 through a partnership with edX. More than 5000 students signed up for the course during the first three days of its registration period, and within four months 30,000 students from around the world were registered. The global scope of the Energy 101 MOOC fits in with Webber's motto of Changing the Way America Thinks About Energy. He has also offered the course as part of executive education programs in Austin, Houston, Washington DC, and in Durham, North Carolina.

Dr. Webber received his B.A. with High Honors in Plan II Liberal Arts and his B.S. with High Honors in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. He then received both a M.S. and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Stanford University where he was a National Science Foundation Fellow. He then served as a senior scientist at Pranalytica, where he invented sensors for homeland security, industrial analysis, and environmental monitoring. He holds four patents as a result of his research. He then transitioned to the RAND Corporation studying energy, innovation, manufacturing, and national security. Dr. Webber is one of the originators of Pecan Street Incorporated, a public-private partnership in Austin, Texas, running the nation's largest smart grid experiment.

Selected Publications

  1. C.W. King and M.E. Webber, "The Water Intensity of Transportation", Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, Vol. 42, (2008), 21, pp. 7866-7872
  2. A.S. Stillwell, M.E. Clayton and M.E. Webber, "Technical analysis of a river basin-based model of advanced power plant cooling technologies for mitigating water management challenges", Environmental Research Letters, (2011), pp. 1-11
  3. C.M. Beal, C.H. Smith, M.E. Webber, R.S. Ruoff and R.E. Hebner, "A Framework to Report the Production of Renewable Diesel From Algae", Bioenergy Research, Vol. 4, (2010), 1, pp. 36-61
  4. T.M. Thompson, C.W. King, M.E. Webber, and D.T. Allen, "Air Quality Impacts of Using Overnight Electricity Generation to Charge PHEVs in the Texas grid", Environmental Research Letters , Vol. 6 , (2011), 024004, pp. 1-11
  5. A.D. Cuellar and M.E. Webber, "“Wasted Food, Wasted Energy: The Embedded Energy in Food Waste in the United States”", Environmental Science and Technology, (2010), July 21, 2010

Most Recent Publications

  1. S.M. Cohen, G.T. Rochelle, and M.E. Webber, "Optimizing post-combustion CO2 capture in response to volatile electricity prices," International Journal Of Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies, Vol. 8, (2012), pp. 1-16
  2. K.M. Twomey and M.E. Webber, "Evaluating the energy intensity of water in the United States," Environmental Research Letters , Vol. 7, (2012), pp. 1-11
  3. E.A. Grubert, F.C. Beach and M.E. Webber, "Switching fuels to save water: evaluating the regional lifecycle freshwater consumption associated with Texas coal and natural gas--In Press," Environmental Research Letters , (), pp. 1-10
  4. C.M. Beal, R.E. Hebner, M.E. Webber, R.S. Ruoff, F. Seibert, and C.W. King, "Compre- hensive Evaluation of Algal Biofuel Production: Experimental and Target Results," Energies (Special Issue: Algal Fuel), Vol. 5, (2012), 6, pp. 1-39
  5. C.M. Beal, R.E. Hebner, M.E. Webber, "Thermodynamic Analysis of Algal Biocrude Production," Energy, Vol. 44, (2012), 1, pp. 1-19
  6. C.M. Beal, A.S. Stillwell, C.W. King, S.M. Cohen, H. Berberoglu, R.P. Bhattarai, R. Connelly, M.E. Webber, R.E. Hebner, "Energy Return on Investment for Algal Biofuel Production Coupled with Wastewater Treatment," Water Environment Research, Vol. 84, (2012), 9, pp. 1-19
  7. C.B. Harris and M.E. Webber, "A temporal assessment of vehicle use patterns and their impact on the provision of vehicle-to-grid services," Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 7, (2012), pp. 1-9
  8. A.S. Stillwell and M.E. Webber, "A Novel Methodology for Evaluating Economic Feasibility of Low-Water Cooling Technology Retrofits at Power Plants--In Press," Water Policy, (), pp. 1-10
  9. A. K. Townsend and M. E. Webber, "An Integrated Analytical Framework for Quantifying the LCOE of Waste-to-Energy Facilities for a Range of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Policy and Technical Factors," Waste Management, (2012), pp. 1-12
  10. A.S. Stillwell, K.M. Twomey, R. Osborne, D.M. Greene, D.W. Pedersen, and M.E. Webber, "An Integrated Energy, Carbon, Water and Economic Analysis of Reclaimed Water Use In Urban Settings: A Case Study of Austin, Texas," Journal Of Water Reuse And Desalination, Vol. 1, (2011), 4, pp. 1-15


T C 357 • Water And Society

42995 • Spring 2012
Meets W 2:00PM-5:00PM MAI 220F


This course will give Plan II students an overview of water and its role in society. Topics will include an introduction to quantitative concepts in water, including the differences among treatment methods and technologies, but will primarily focus on the societal aspects, such as culture, economics, war, and international affairs. This course will cover brief snippets of water history, use real?world examples, look forward into the future, and benefit from guest speakers.

Emphasis will also be given to the role of water in Texas.


Course Materials:

Required Readings

  1. Peak Water, Alexander Bell
  2. Unquenchable, Robert Glennon (Chapters 16 and 17)
  3. Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner (Chapter 2)
  4. The Big Necessity, Rose George (Chapters 1, 3, and 7)
  5. Clean Water Act of 2005 (§1281 Wastewater Treatment, §1311 Water Quality Standards)
  6. Collapse, Jared Diamond (Chapters 4, 5, 12, and 13)
  7. Bottled and Sold, Peter Gleick (Chapters 1-4)
  8. “Energy vs. Water: Catch?22,” Michael E. Webber, Scientific American, October 2008
  9. “Water” special issue of National Geographic (1994)

10.  “Water” special issue of National Geographic (2010)


Optional Readings

  1. When the Rivers Run Dry, Fred Pearce
  2. Ogallala Blue, William Ashworth
  3. Water in Texas, Andrew Sansom
  4. “Thirst for Energy,” Carey King, Ashlynn Holman, and Michael E. Webber, Nature         Geoscience, 2008



  1. Chinatown
  2. Erin Brockovich
  3. FLOW
  4. Liquid Assets
  5. Rango
  6. Wild River


This course will also include some guest lecturers on various topics of water and society.  Students will participate in one to two field trips to Austin water and/or wastewater treatment facilities.

Assignments: 70% Individual research paper (outline due week 7 for 10%, draft due week 12 for 20%, final draft due week 16 for 40%)

10% Trip report for water/wastewater treatment plant tour

20% Class participation and discussion (roll will be taken daily and participation is mandatory)


About the Professors:

Dr. Michael Webber (a Plan II alumnus) earned his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering with a minor in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 2001. He joined the faculty of The University of Texas at Austin in 2006. He is the associate director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy, which seeks to inform the energy and environmental policy-making process with scientific and engineering expertise.

Ashlynn Stillwell earned her master’s degrees in environmental and water resources engineering and public affairs from The University of Texas at Austin in 2010 and is currently working on a Ph.D. in civil engineering.  She is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, a national honor.  Her master’s thesis “The Energy-Water Nexus in Texas” was the recipient the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA’s) Second Place Academic Achievement Award for the best Master’s Thesis (another national honor). Ashlynn’s research work focuses on the nexus of energy and water, including drought resiliency of power plants, use of reclaimed water, energy recovery from wastewater, and wind-powered desalination.


T C 357 • Energy And Society

43450 • Spring 2011
Meets W 2:00PM-5:00PM CBA 4.338


This course will give Plan II students an overview of energy and its role in society.  Topics will include an introduction to quantitative concepts in energy, including the differences among fuels and energy technologies, but will primarily focus on the societal aspects, such as culture, economics, war, and international affairs.  This course will cover brief snippets of energy history, use real-world examples, look forward into the future, and benefit from guest speakers.  Emphasis will also be given to the role of Texas as a leader (and laggard) in U.S. and world energy policy.



  • The Prize, by Daniel Yergin
  • Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Select portions)
  • EIA Annual Outlook of 2007 (Summary, Introduction and select portions)
  • “A Tank of Gas, a World of Trouble,” special series by the Chicago Tribune, August 2006
  • “End of Cheap Oil,” National Geographic, 2004
  • Oil!, by Upton Sinclair


Potential movies include: Giant, Syriana, Inconvenient Truth, Who Killed the Electric Car, Silkwood, and Coal Miner’s Daughter



A research term paper (12 pages), field report after a field trip to a local power plant or other energy-related site (2 pages), participation in class, quizzes on the reading assignments, two op-eds (<600 words)


About the Professor:

Dr. Michael Webber (a Plan II alumnus) earned his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering with a minor in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 2001. He joined the faculty of The University of Texas at Austin in 2006. He is the associate director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy, which seeks to inform the energy and environmental policy-making process with scientific and engineering expertise.

Dr. Webber has led research projects for policy issues relevant to energy, innovation and national security. He has commercial experience at a start-up where he invented cutting-edge laser-based gas-sensing instrumentation for homeland security, industrial and environmental monitoring applications. While at Stanford, he developed diode laser-based gas sensors for applications such as monitoring environmental emissions, analyzing space station bioreactors and optimizing combustion. Webber has given more than 100 speeches and presentations to a range of technical and general audiences, as well as executive briefings to senior decision makers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the U.S. Department of Defense and Hondas American research and development center.

T C 357 • Energy And Society

43575 • Spring 2010
Meets TH 2:00PM-5:00PM CRD 007A

Course Outline and Description for
January 21, 2010

Course Title:     Energy & Society
Semester:     Spring 2010
Location:    CRD 007A
Day/Time:    Thurs 2:00-5:00 p.m.
Course listing:    T C 357    
Unique #43575

Instructor:         Michael E. Webber, Ph.D.
Office Location:    ETC 6.106 EA
Phone:     (512) 475-6867
Office Hours:     Tuesday/Thursday 1:00 to 2:00 p.m.

Teaching Assistant:     Amanda Cuellar
Office Location:    ETC 6.106D

This course could alternatively be titled “Energy at the Movies.”  The course will be very discussion-oriented, and will use popular readings and movies as the basis of discussion.  The format of the class is such that we will meet once weekly for 3 hours.  The weekly meetings will be comprised of 30-60 minutes of lecture to go over key concepts, facts, and historical events about energy, followed by watching a movie for 1-2 hours, which we will then discuss as a group.

Lecture topics along with proposed reading materials and movies, might include the following:

1.    Energy Fundamentals Overview
2.    Energy in Texas
3.    Fossil Fuels
4.    Nuclear Power
5.    Energy and Transportation
6.    Renewable Energy
7.    Energy & Food/Agriculture
8.    Energy & Water
9.    Energy & Economy
10.    Energy & the Environment
11.    Climate Change
12.    Peak Oil
13.    Energy & National Security
14.    Energy & Culture

General Reference Reading Materials:
1.    Annual Energy Review, 2008, EIA
2.    Annual Energy Outlook, 2004-2008, EIA
3.    International Energy Outlook, 2005, 2008, EIA
4.    Transportation Energy Data Book, 2008, DoE
5.    BP Statistical Review, 2007

Assigned books:
1) The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power by Daniel Yergin (928 pages)
2) The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes by  Bryan Burrough  (480 pages)

Description:  This course will give juniors in Plan II an opportunity to learn about the role of energy in society from the perspective of how our culture (particularly movies) reflects our worldview about energy.

Grades and Assignments:
80%    Individual research paper (outline due 3/11/10, draft due 4/15/10, final paper due 5/6/10)
20%    Class participation and discussion

Class participation and discussion:
Attendance is required and roll will be taken daily and participation is mandatory.  

Individual Research Paper:
Students will be responsible for writing a research paper on a topic that analyzes a particular facet of energy and culture. The goal is to integrate each of the papers as chapters of a book about energy in the movies (or energy and culture).  Upon completion of the course, publishers will be sought to turn the work of the students into a published monograph.

Observance of University policies: Standard University policies relating to accommodation for students with disabilities and to scholastic dishonesty will be followed in this course. Information regarding these policies may be found in the General Information Bulletin.
The University of Texas at Austin provides upon request appropriate academic adjustments for qualified students with disabilities. For more information, contact the Office of the Dean of Students at 471-6259, 471-4641 TDD or the College of Engineering Director of Students with Disabilities at 471-4321.

Measurement and evaluation:
Standard overall course/instructor evaluations will be administered at the end of the course, as well as periodic topical evaluations specifically focused on course improvement.

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    University of Texas at Austin
    305 East 23rd St
    CLA 2.102
    Austin, Texas, 78712-1250