Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Michigan kicks off new energy research center

U-M moves ahead with energy research site
Institute could put U-M, region at forefront of development
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
BY MIKE RAMSEY News Business Reporter
The University of Michigan is expected to announce today a $20 million energy research center at its former nuclear reactor facility that could put the university and the region at the forefront of energy research in the United States.

The Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute located on U-M's North Campus will pull together research spread across different laboratories, add new disciplines and put an emphasis on bringing technology to the marketplace. . . .

"The energy institute is really something that is happening at a perfect hour for a region that desperately needs it, and this university is primed to do it,'' said Stephen Forrest, vice president of research at U-M.

With $35 million in energy research already under way at the university, it is among the leading research institutions in the nation. The new center is expected to help the university land research funding and spin off technology into start-up companies. . . .

Forrest and others think the state of Michigan is ideally suited to be a leader in energy research and development because it is the home of the auto industry, which uses 50 percent of the petroleum consumed in the U.S., and is also a major producer and user of electric power.

Areas of focus will include alternative fuel development aimed at the transportation industry, solar technology, wind, hydrogen fuel, geothermal and nuclear energy. The institute also would tackle the spectrum of energy research and plans to partner with other Michigan research universities that have stronger programs in certain areas.

For example, Michigan State University has a strong biofuel research program and U-M does much less work in that field.

As it stands, no area of the country has a clear lead in alternative energy research and development, but many universities - seeing the opportunity in energy research - already have established centers like that of U-M. . . .

The creation of the institute is the result of a recommendations made by the Michigan Energy Research Council, a group made up of university faculty and administrators and led by former U-M president James Duderstadt.

"If I look around at the major initiatives that the university is spinning up, it's hard to find a more important one,'' Duderstadt said. "The hope is a lot of (energy development) is spawned in the Ann Arbor and southeast Michigan area. We see this as a very important economic driver.'' . . .

Gary Was, one of Michigan's top nuclear engineering professors, has been named as director of the institute. U-M has one of the best - if not the best - nuclear engineering programs in the world. He said U-M will start out ahead of other universities that have fledgling programs of their own.

"We have a depth and breadth of research that's hard to match, and we have a clearer plan of where we are going,'' he said.

Included in that depth is a strong nuclear engineering program and hydrogen fuel cell development. While nuclear energy had fallen out of favor in the 1980s and 1990s, it may hold more promise in the future as safety technologies have improved and the demand for alternatives to coal-burning electricity plants increases. . . .

The institute also will be working closely with NextEnergy, the Detroit-based energy company business accelerator.
Jim Croce, CEO of NextEnergy, said his agency already is working with the university. The new institute will give important new emphasis to energy research, but he also hopes its leaders will work to establish strong contacts with other universities.

"It's going to take everybody pulling together on a statewide basis, and perhaps be a little less competitive and more collaborative across universities,'' he said.

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