securing ohio's energy future
The Venturi Buckeye Bullet
, the world's "magical electric car," can reach 300+ miles per hour. As it rocketed through Utah's bone-dry Bonneville Salt Flats in Speed Week 2010, it scorched all previous records. Engineers are now working on the next gen of this vehicle -- which is slated to be even faster.
The groundbreaking vehicle was developed by a student-run team at the Center for Automotive Research
at the Ohio State University, which President Obama visited during a recent tour to promote alternative energy development.
To develop a ground-level understanding of our nation's advanced energy future, he couldn't have selected a better place to visit. This cutting-edge, 35,000 square foot research facility partners with industry leaders to develop the cars of the future and train the next generation of engineers and scientists.
In fact, in university research labs across the state, private and public institutions are teaming up every day to strengthen the advanced energy economy in Ohio. Institutional leaders say they're conducting research that will aid alternative energy use across the U.S. while helping to grow Ohio's economy.
"We see a lot of really important research being done in Ohio," says Jane Harf, Executive Director of the University Clean Energy Alliance of Ohio (UCEAO
), an organization that was formed in 2007 by 15 Ohio research institutions to promote commercial development of alternative energy research. "Our universities can contribute to what's going on at the national level through their research."
The UCEAO exists to build partnerships between business and academia. Additionally, the organization acts as a source of unbiased data about the alternative and clean energy economy for policy makers and the general public. "We want to see these technologies contribute to the economy," says Harf.
Several weeks after hosting President Obama's visit, OSU played host to the UCEAO's sixth annual statewide conference, entitled "Securing Ohio's Energy and Economic Future." The conference featured keynote speaker Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, who is the President of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE
During the conference, UCEAO members and partners hosted panel discussions and demonstrated new research in shale energy, renewable energy, smart grid systems, bioenergy, energy policy and workforce development. The two-day event drew 300 industry leaders, government officials, researchers, faculty and students to discuss linkages between energy and economic security.
OSU is not the only Ohio institution that is conducting groundbreaking energy research. The University of Dayton Research Institute
is currently developing algae technology that is being deployed by the U.S. Air Force, for example.
"This work focused on many aspects of clean energy, including treatment of waste water, CO2 utilization for algal growth, conversion of algae to biofuels and high-value products such as omega-3 oil food supplements," explains Dr. Phillip Talyor, a research scientist at the University of Dayton's Environmental Engineering Group. Taylor also serves on the Board of Governors for the UCEAO.
Other examples are plentiful. At the University of Cincinnati, faculty and researchers at the School of Energy, Environmental, Biological and Medical Engineering
are working with GE Aviation
to develop low-emission bio jet fuels. Kent State University
has launched a research and development initiative around a new photovoltaics technology enabled by flexible materials. Case Western Reserve University
and local companies are undertaking a research project to improve the durability of solar panels, while the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University
are breaking new ground in wind turbine research.
An array of state and federal institutions collaborate with the UCEAO, including the Ohio Board of Regents, the Ohio Department of Development, Ohio Third Frontier
, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology and the federal Department of Energy. Yet despite Ohio's central role in developing an alternative energy future for the world, UCEAO members cite retrograde public policy as an impediment to advanced energy research.
"There is currently a lack of widespread federal support for subsidies for the development of technologies that require technological breakthroughs to make them economically viable," says Taylor. "Our elected officials need to understand the importance of clean energy and make this a continual budget priority."
Promoting clean energy commercialization as a budget priority is central to the UCEAO's mission, says Dr. Tim Keener, Special Assistant for Industry Outreach at UC's School of Energy, Environmental, Biological and Medical Engineering.
"Research funding is sporadic," explains Keener, who is also on UCEAO'S Board. "Ohio did not receive any of the large-scale federal grants for energy-related centers that were awarded within the past three years. This is very disappointing. In addition, the state is not supporting research of biofuels and biogas at a high enough level considering the importance of energy to Ohio's economy."
Nonetheless, Keener and other leaders see progress being made in Ohio's efforts to secure a more prominent place in the advanced energy economy. Keener cites a recent $172 million proposal to the U.S. Department of Energy by the University of Cincinnati, University of Dayton, Wright State University and others.
"We were able to bring [other institutions] into the proposal because of UCEAO connections," he says. Although the collaborative effort was not the winning proposal, the process exemplifies how collaboration can help members.
In addition to greater collaboration, UCEAO members agree that greater public education is needed to advance Ohio's role in the new energy economy. UCEAO's Energy Knowledge Bank
is a free resource for businesses seeking research partners as well as individuals looking for a career in these industries.
"Within clean energy, there are workforce needs at every educational level," says Harf, including jobs requiring only a certificate or two-year associate's degree and positions demanding a four-year degree, master's degree or doctorate degree.
The vision for a vibrant advanced energy economy in Ohio will be realized once fuel cells, clean coal technology, biofuels, solar and wind energy technologies can compete with traditional energy production in cost and reliability, she adds. If universities can help to make this happen – and signs suggest that we're getting there – the clean energy economy in Ohio and the U.S. will really take off.
"People in general want a clean environment. They want to have energy independence," says Harf. "It's a matter of finding that balance between maintaining a lifestyle, and where our sources of energy come from."
Photos Credits (Ben French):
1. University of Dayton senior Mike McArtor works with the photobioreactors at the University of Dayton Research Institute. The work is being done by the Bioenergy and Carbon Sequestration group of the ETM division.
2. Dr. Phil Taylor of the University of Dayton
3-5. University of Dayton research
6. The Ohio State University Center for Automotive Research
7. The Buckeye Bullet
8. UCEAO Conference