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Plans underway for energy resources institute

by Karen A. Grava - February 19, 2007

A multi-disciplinary Institute for Energy Resources is being formed at the University as a catalyst for the development and growth of a renewable energy industry in Connecticut.

The state and the other New England states are “energy debtors” that import nearly all of their fuel.

However, new technologies are making alternative fuels viable, such as fuel cells, solar energy, biofuels, and others.

A center that performs research on those options can become a resource for national energy policy makers, says Gregory Anderson, vice provost for graduate education and research and dean of the Graduate School.

The institute would integrate the resources of the Connecticut Global Fuel Cell Center, the BioFuel Consortium, and faculty from bioscience, physical science, engineering, materials sciences, chemistry, and economics, along with experts from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources on remote sensing, sustainable and controlled environmental agriculture, and plant biotechnology.

Plans for the institute were developed by a committee including faculty, staff, and administrators, and chaired by Anderson and Bruce Carlson, chief of staff at the Health Center and managing director of the Office for Technology Commercialization.

The institute would help the state reduce its reliance on imported electricity, which costs $400 million a year; reduce the 8.5 million gallons a day of petroleum imported into the state at a cost of $7 billion a year; and reduce carbon dioxide and other emissions.

In addition, the institute would work to reduce health care costs incurred by the use of $20 million a year in fossil fuel consumption; increase jobs in Connecticut’s fuel cell industry; revitalize agriculture; and train the work force for professions in biofuels, solar, wind, and fuel cell technologies and other alternative energy systems.

The research activities will provide UConn with projects that can be commercialized, and will provide the state with products to fuel new industries, says Carlson.

The institute will also perform economic analyses of regulatory and other policies with regard to new fuels; perform technology-related cost-benefit analyses; perform the research and development to yield integrative or breakthrough technologies for energy systems; and support implementation through prototype development and full commercialization.

Anderson says the institute will be able to provide intellectual property for licensing; develop 25 multidisciplinary graduate-level workers per year; and provide education both to the public and to K-12 teachers and students through curriculum packages.

The cost of the center would be $10 million in 2008 and another $10 million in 2010 to support the hiring of new faculty and to fund research.

The University is seeking public and private funding for the initiative.

“We want to invest new funds into research on the core technologies that will help jump-start a renewable energy industry in the near term, and develop new expertise at UConn that will draw to Connecticut opportunities benefiting our state and regional industries and institutions, and further our public policy goals,” Anderson says.

Members of the committee included Patricia Bergman, executive program director, Connecticut Global Fuel Cell Center; Scott Brohinsky, director of university relations; Donna Cyr, director of technical licensing, science and technology commercialization; Gail Garber, director of government relations; John Hanson, program manager, Technology Incubation Program; Nicholas Leadbeater, assistant professor of chemistry; Yi Li, associate professor of plant science; Harris Marcus, professor and director of the Institute of Materials Science; Rich Miller, director of environmental policy; Richard Parnas, associate professor and director of chemical engineering; Kenneth Reifsnider, professor and director of mechanical engineering; Kathleen Segerson, professor of economics; Benjamin Wilhite, assistant professor of chemical, materials, and biomolecular engineering; and Rita Zangari, executive program director, Technology Incubation Program.

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