Top process systems engineer Christos Maravelias joins the faculty, expands energy systems research

By Molly Seltzer
October 06, 2020

Christos Maravelias, an expert in process systems engineering, has joined the Princeton faculty as of September 1 as the Anderson Family Professor in Energy and the Environment and a professor of chemical and biological engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.

He joins the University after more than a decade at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center. At Princeton, Maravelias will apply his experience in systems analysis and optimization to energy systems, and will develop new models and methods to design and evaluate emerging energy technologies. 

Maravelias has studied many systems from industrial supply chains and chemical processes to frameworks for identifying new materials. Some of his best-known studies are systems-level analyses of biofuels. For those, Maravelias created models to evaluate the economic and environmental impact of factors including plant location, pricing, and the efficiency and energy requirements of various processes to convert bio-based feedstocks into fuel. The research demonstrated the importance of identifying areas of the system that can be adjusted to drive down the cost of production for both new and existing technologies.

“It's not only a piece of the puzzle that's important, it's also how the different pieces and technologies fit together,” said Maravelias.  

“Maravelias’ fundamental strength in systems analysis complements and builds on the expertise of our Energy Systems Analysis Group and will help inform relevant policy decision-making and investments in new and existing energy technologies that will underpin our transition to a low-carbon society,” said Yueh-Lin (Lynn) Loo, director of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment and the Theodora D. ’78 and William H. Walton III ’74 Professor in Engineering.

Loo, a professor of chemical and biological engineering and also ­­an expert in solar technology, said Maravelias’ modeling approach and experience creating processes and identifying constraints is critical to quickly forecasting bottlenecks to an energy transition and areas where policy interventions or technological innovation will be useful.

According to Maravelias, working on renewable energy systems provides the opportunity to innovate and push the boundary of how optimization methods can be used to study these systems.  For example, unlike oil refineries, which count on a steady supply of petroleum, solar-based systems must be designed taking into account the highly variable availability of solar energy, based on the season and the climate. In that way, the field requires new methods for modeling that account for variability and uncertainty. Similarly, the way that refineries or chemical manufacturing plants historically were designed and optimized, and the methods to support those operations, are not applicable to emerging renewable resources, which do not always operate at a steady state.

Maravelias said that working on solar power, electricity production and storage, and renewable energy systems broadly is very exciting both because it’s a new field for him and because it is an interesting and critical area of study. He said he looks forward to contributing to Rapid Switch, a global decarbonization effort spearheaded by the Andlinger Center.

“Renewable energy provides a rich playground for developing new models for the design, optimization and analysis of these emerging systems. And at the Andlinger Center, there is a strong community of systems scholars where together we can contribute to reimagining the energy economy of the future,” said Maravelias.

The Anderson Family Professorship was made possible through the generous support of Dwight W. Anderson ’89. Anderson is the founder of Ospraie Management, LLC, a New York City-based asset management firm founded in 1999 that invests in commodity markets and basic industries worldwide.