Skip Navigation

Dr. Mark Philbrick

DOE participant plays integral role in advancing the water-energy nexus, a new initiative

Water is used in all phases of energy production, while energy is needed to obtain, transport and treat water for a variety of human uses. This water-energy nexus, as it is referred to in a new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) initiative, is that important relationship that exists between our present-day water and energy systems.

While DOE and its labs have conducted research in both water and energy for years, DOE had not undertaken a systematic approach to understanding how they are connected prior to the recent formation of the Water-Energy Technology Team (WETT), for which Mark Philbrick, Ph.D. serves as the technical coordinator. Some of the priorities of WETT include optimizing water use in providing energy, advancing energy-positive water resource recovery facilities and creating resilient water-energy systems for the future.

Mark Philbrick, Ph.D.

Mark Philbrick, Ph.D., discussing DOE water-energy initiatives at a Johnson Foundation “Charting New Waters” event in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread)

Philbrick serves in this role through a research participation program with DOE's Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.

Philbrick, who holds a doctoral degree in environmental science, policy and management from the University of California, Berkeley, had previous experience at DOE before his participation in the research participation program, but has been able to gain more through his involvement with WETT. Most recently, he was the lead author of “Technology Research, Development, Demonstration, and Deployment Challenges and Opportunities,” a chapter of DOE's recent report, “The Water-Energy Nexus: Challenges and Opportunities.”

As follow-on to this report, Philbrick is also aiding DOE in further refining its research priorities in collaboration with other federal agencies and external stakeholders.

In particular, Philbrick is helping to coordinate an “energy-positive wastewater treatment facilities” workshop and companion report with the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Environmental Protection Agency, with input from several key non-profit organizations such as the Water Environment Federation, the Water-Environment Research Foundation, and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies. Collaborations with NSF and others are also anticipated for the non-traditional use of certain waters, such as brackish groundwater and treated wastewaters, in energy applications.

Though he had a steady job in consulting, Philbrick, now age 53, decided to go back to school at age 44 to earn his doctoral degree because he wanted his career to do more to help society. He chose environment and energy policy, with a focus on water and energy, because the two are some of the most important resources on our planet, and understanding how to efficiently use and develop them is essential for the future of society.

As a research participant, Philbrick has learned it is possible to make real change happen. “Three years ago, the water-energy nexus was not a priority at the DOE,” he said. “Now, it is an area of interest both domestically and internationally for the Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz. I've played just a small role in helping to make that happen, but even that has been incredible.”

In the future, Philbrick hopes to continue developing solutions to water-energy problems. He has recently moved, in part, to DOE's EERE Bioenergy Technologies Office, where he will focus on producing biofuels and co-products from organic wastes, both municipal and industrial. This is just one example of how DOE hopes to translate its water-energy nexus report into tangible action, and both Philbrick and WETT are actively seeking other pathways.