Lude Rong, MS ’22
One step closer to a more sustainable energy future
Is it better to die in a fire and pollute the world with ashes or to rot underground for a thousand years and poison the land? This question must be constantly on the mind of Mr. Scarecrow, now that he is made of plastic.
The summer when I was seven, I came across Mr. Scarecrow, a bamboo pole decked in plastic bags. As a fan of the Wizard of Oz books, I had been imagining myself as Dorothy looking for my scarecrow. In the local paddy fields, I unexpectedly found him, an aberration amid the golden crops. The plastic bags were a washed-out red and vibrated rapidly in the wind.
Could this artificial thing in a plastic outfit be the scarecrow I was searching for? I could hardly conceal my dismay. His plastic head identified him as an intruder rather than a defender of the field.
Throughout the years, the disturbing image of plastic Mr. Scarecrow has stuck with me as a reminder to battle against pollution. Unfortunately, plastic isn’t the only problem coming out of the oil and gas industry, and carbon-intensive sectors are in urgent need of transitioning toward a more sustainable energy future. I have witnessed ubiquitous struggles to fight pollution and climate change across the globe, especially related to burning fossil fuel in the industrial and transportation sectors. That led to my decision to pursue a career that facilitates social change toward a more sustainable future, with a focus on clean energy and climate change mitigation.
I’m motivated by the powerful statistics I’ve learned, such as the fact that in the United States, the transportation sector contributed to 29 percent of the domestic anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, and medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (MHDVs) made up 24 percent of those emissions. While smaller cars are experiencing accelerating electrification thanks to advancing technology and declining costs, the rollout of electric MHDV fleets lags due to financial concerns such as high upfront costs, risks, and uncertainties.
To tackle the complicated and dynamic sustainable development challenge, I decided to pursue an MS in civil and environmental engineering with a concentration in atmosphere/energy. The interdisciplinary and challenging curriculum prepared me for more advanced classes where I got to focus on real-world problems.
In the summer of 2021, I worked remotely for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) as a vehicle electrification Schneider Fellow. Guided by science and economics, EDF tackles our most urgent environmental challenges with practical solutions. During the fellowship, I created a technical assessment report of the EDF Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) model for fleet planning, which compares the TCOs of diesel, compressed natural gas, and battery electric vehicle options. The report summarized lessons learned and recommendations to policymakers and fleet owners, also presenting best practices to fill in the financial and policy gaps to expedite fleet electrification. Additionally, I expanded the TCO tool by building energy cost projections and customizable electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure cost features. I also conducted break-even analyses of lifecycle carbon emissions from EVs and internal combustion engine vehicles.
EDF extended my internship into the academic year, and I continued to work on the buildout of the TCO tool as an energy transition analyst. I was able to redesign and simplify the model interface to help a larger business audience compare the long-term costs and benefits of investing in fleet electrification.
This experience helped me better understand current policy objectives regarding decarbonizing the transportation sector through vehicle electrification, as well as the initiatives in place and obstacles that local and federal agencies face.
I also grew personally through practicing independent thinking and working with autonomy. I was able to communicate my ideas effectively and collaborate with my team. I came away from my internship inspired to continue working in this field of EVs and distributed energy resources. My long-term goal is to fuel sustainable approaches across the world by bringing awareness and practical solutions to energy-intensive sectors.
I am grateful for the Schneider Fellows program and EDF because their support enabled me to get firsthand preparation for a professional career in the field of sustainability. I gained industry-specific knowledge and advanced my quantitative modeling skills by learning from professionals who are committed to sustainability.
For all these reasons, this experience will have a lasting impact on me. It has made me more passionate and curious about this field. After graduation, I will continue to work on clean energy products and sustainability. I want to integrate technical advancements with business strategies to hopefully spread environmentalism throughout the world. And somewhere in his golden field, Mr. Scarecrow will stand and smile.