August 18, 2008

Center for Advanced Energy Studies in Idaho Creates Synergy for Alternative Energy — Community Focus

By Wilcox, Mark

Hoping that great minds think alike, Idaho State University, Boise State University, the University of Idaho and the Idaho National Laboratory have teamed up to create the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, or CAES.

In the past, Idaho's three research universities and the national lab have kept largely to themselves. They will now converge in the new $20.6 million, 55,000 square-foot facility in Idaho Falls which is set for dedication in October. The building is high performance and built under the strictest "green" standards. The collaboration, they hope, will energize alternative energy research in Idaho.

"That synergism, especially in a small state like Idaho," said Dr. John Freemuth, director of the energy policy institute at CAES, "is almost vital if you're going to move things along."

And the state of Idaho recently kicked in another $2 million for the building, bringing Idaho's total tab to $10.6 million - more than half the cost of the cavernous edifice. Private investors and the federal government have provided the rest.

To make the big money going into the project seem palatable, Freemuth said cooperation between Idaho National Lab and the three research universities is paramount.

"Collectively, we're all doing energy," Freemuth said. "If we started fighting over office space, money, etc., we look like idiots to the taxpayers and investors."

Luckily for CAES, no such fighting has occurred, though the building is nearing its August completion date.

"We're getting a lot of Kudos for playing well together," Freemuth said. "It's been enjoyable."

The goals for CAES are as big as its 55,000-square-foot housing. Freemuth compared CAES to a new Silicon Valley - a setup that would trickle in young talent to the area and eventually land thousands of valuable spin-off companies in Idaho.

"That's the big vision of it all," Freemuth said. He said the facilities will bring in scientists from all three universities, fund graduate studies, study local economies and increase visibility and prestige for Idaho's research universities.

The accomplishment of the wide array of goals CAES has set will ultimately depend on sound research.

"I think the goal is more sort of going to the next generation of energy technologies," Freemuth said. "This is more of an applied research for the future - not if I can get more miles per gallon in our car or something like that."

Hence the "alternative" in "alternative energy studies."

"To be successful with nuclear energies, the goal is to build a new generation of reactors," Freemuth said. "The things they want to do are visionary."

Scientists and students researching these visionary technologies will be focused on making cleaner technology and reducing over- reliance on oil while stimulating job growth in these new sectors.

"Without sounding too sappy," Freemuth said, "it kind of fits into the whole American ideal of rolling up your sleeves and solving problems."

The problem solving at CAES will be aided by the interdisciplinary atmosphere. Between 40 and 50 grad students will occupy small office areas at any given time, and policy makers will share space with corporate interests and research scientists. The building itself is about half laboratory and half office space.

According to Dr. George Imel, Idaho State's CAES representative, the goals of CAES are to both promote and perform energy research. He said he hopes the new center will spur additional energy research in the state, which is currently a net importer of electricity.

Not only that, but Imel said it will be a great place for students to do graduate studies.

"If I have a student who's going to be doing energy research," Imel said, "I'll put him in CAES with access to the computer systems interacting with other students - a nice atmosphere for collaboration."

There's that "C" word again. The unique environment CAES will provide for scientists, students and private companies will hopefully push the alternative energy envelope over some vast techno- political chasms.

"You're pushing technology to come up with alternative energy," Imel said, mentioning a lot of economic and policy issues also stand in the way. "To get more efficient systems you really have to push the limits on technology."

A hydrogen lab will be one area where CAES scientists hope to find new energy sources. Other labs CAES will have range from advanced modeling and simulation labs to materials preparation areas for nuclear experiments conducted off site.

Whatever the case, with worldwide energy demands soaring, the research will likely be welcome and needed.

"Energy demands are at an all-time high and as the population of the world continues to increase, the global energy demands are projected to further rise," said Dr. Kevin Kostelnik, deputy director at CAES. "The U.S. - and the global population - will need a variety of energy technology systems if these energy demands are to be met."

What alternative energy systems will be studied at CAES?

"The facility will provide necessary office and flexible laboratory space to accommodate energy projects and experiments involving chemistry, radiochemistry, hydrogen, carbon management, advanced material science, high-performance computing and simulation/ visualization," Kostelnik said. "CAES is working to deliver innovative, cost-effective, credible energy research leading to technology-based economic development."

And the development, Kostelnik said, is sure to come.

Credit: Mark Wilcox

(Copyright 2008 Dolan Media Newswires)

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