Patzek receives distinguished Erasmus Award

Portrait of Dr. Tadeusz Patzek, KAUST professor of energy resources and petroleum engineering, and recipient of the EAGE Desiderius Erasmus Award, 2020. Photo credit: KAUST

Dr. Tadeusz Patzek, KAUST professor of energy resources and petroleum engineering, is named the EAGE Desiderius Erasmus Award recipient, 2020. The annual award, given by the Netherlands-based European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers, recognizes Patzek for his "outstanding and lasting achievements" in the field of energy supply research.

EAGE is a professional association composed of geoscientists and engineers from around the world. The award, named after Dutch humanist scholar Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), consists of a medal and certificate.

EAGE Awards Committee Chair Dr. Anton Ziolkowski commented, "Dr. Patzek has won widespread respect, not only for his analysis of the life-cycle of shale gas and biofuels, but also for fearlessly articulating the grave threats to the planet from climate change, deforestation and other environmental damage, while exposing the fallacies of many of the proposed solutions to these problems."

Patzek currently serves as director of the Ali I. Al-Naimi Petroleum Engineering Research Center at KAUST. With expertise that spans the oil industry, university teaching-research, and environmental activism, he has leveraged his knowledge of fossil fuels to scrutinize existing energy models and advance sustainable strategies.

"People sometimes ask me, 'Why do you care about the planet if you work for the oil industry?'" Patzek said.

"They separate these areas and don't see them as related, whereas I move between these worlds, back and forth. I want people to ask, instead, 'Why are you working on petroleum recovery and also sustainability, and how do you relate the two?"

Patzek uses satellite and field data, primarily from shale oil and gas production, to assess how fossil fuels might evolve based on use and decline, and impact social and ecological systems—from water, air and land resources to food production, supply chains and global transportation.

Dr. Tadeusz Patzek engages in an energy engineering project with a fellow researcher in the Ali I. Al-Naimi Petroleum Engineering Research Center. Photo credit: Anastasia Khrenova / KAUST

His research extends to agrofuels, such as palm oil biodiesel, corn-ethanol and sugarcane. According to Patzek, the data show that plant-based fuels are inefficient, impossible to scale, and accelerate ecological harm. They require large tracts of land and soil at the expense of food crops, and significantly contribute to deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and increased carbon emissions.

His work in this field helped change European Union policy on the use of plant fuels from the tropics, resulting in stricter criteria for carbon dioxide emissions and the way agrofuel plants are grown, harvested and produced.

In addition to his published body of research papers and books, Patzek writes a blog, LIFEITSELF, on the "environment, ecology, energy, complexity, and humans" with themes that underscore his interest in "human self-delusions and mad stampedes to nowhere." He hopes that attention received from his winning the award will bring focus to the topic of global energy systems, and spur regulations aimed at offsetting environmental impacts, transitioning to more sustainable energy supplies, and increasing investment in low carbon initiatives.

"Scientists have a responsibility to speak the truth of what we know," Patzek said.

"Consumer demand for goods and energy comes with a hefty price tag. A small fraction of our planet produces most of what we use every year, and as we use more and more of it, we leave less and less, which means we are killing nature, which means we are killing ourselves. Knowledge must be coupled with action. People must make do with less and participate in forging a sustainable future."

Patzek will receive the Erasmus award at the EAGE 2020 Annual Online Conference in December 2020.

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