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MU colleges join forces to pursue sustainable energy

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MU colleges join forces to pursue sustainable energy

Research that Mizzou Engineering's Verne Kaupp is conducting to help leaders forecast energy demands is among the existing projects that the new MU Center for Sustainable Energy aims to support by encouraging coordination and collaboration.

University of Missouri’s College of Engineering and College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources are seeking campuswide participation in a new center focused on developing renewable energy resources.

The MU colleges jointly launched the Center for Sustainable Energy last spring in hopes of establishing Missouri as a leader in the nation’s search for energy sustainability. Center organizers aim to support and coordinate cooperation among campus as well as statewide researchers and educators.

“We’re trying to be more than the sum of our parts,” said Gary Stacey, the MU center’s director and a plant sciences professor. “We’re really trying to catalyze and synergize.”

Center leaders sought to jump-start that cooperation during a Sept. 24 introductory meeting in which they invited MU colleagues to help develop strategies for collaboration. Organizers also have started campaigning for statewide collaboration on sustainable energy matters, proposing partnerships and sponsoring a workshop in which they sought to enlist researchers from throughout Missouri in a cooperative effort to harness the energy potential of algae microorganisms.

The center’s blueprint calls for expanding that coordinating role to cover a number of fronts.

MU’s new sustainable energy center will support initiatives in research, education, public service, energy-related technology commercialization and policy and resource management, said Robert Reed, a College of Engineering research associate professor who is helping Stacey develop the center.

Campus faculty members have been working for years on energy-related initiatives, Reed said. Coordinating that work will multiply its effectiveness, center leaders believe.

A sampling of existing MU energy-related projects includes:

  • Verne Kaupp’s effort to create a Web-based tool capable of predicting the effects of climate change on regional weather variables—such as rain and temperature—a season or two ahead to help public and private leaders forecast energy demand and manage resources. Kaupp, an electrical and computer engineering research professor, leads an intercollegiate team that will use NASA satellite data and model forecasts to design the weather tool.
  • Jinglu Tan’s work to improve how Missouri uses biomass by developing a systemic model designed to enhance sustainability while minimizing environmental impacts. Tan, chair of MU’s biological engineering department, also seeks to develop biomass technologies that will fit in well with state resources and constraints.
  • Centers led by Bin Wu and Marie Steinwachs that help Missouri businesses and industries reduce their energy consumption and minimize their effect on the environment. Both the Industrial Assessment Center led by Wu and the Missouri Environmental Assistance Center led by Steinwachs also offer internships that provide students with experience in on-site environmental and energy assessments and research.

As they work to enhance these and other existing programs, center organizers hope to help supply a sustainable energy-savvy work force. They are proposing an energy minor for engineering students that would provide theoretical and practical training in a wide range of energy-related subjects.

“Recent employment forecasts and federal budgeting indicate a continuing increase in employment for engineers in the energy sector,” Reed said. “So this minor will make our students more competitive with graduates from other universities.”

Other MU education efforts will target broader audiences. For example, Stacey said renewable energy center faculty members are leading an upcoming University of Missouri Extension workshop series focusing on how farmers should respond to the growing bioenergy industry.

Much of the center’s mission involves gathering and analyzing information so that new or growing energy providers can organize effectively. Biomass, wind, thermal and solar energy producers require energy efficiency and demand data, and the university is uniquely positioned to provide it, Reed said.

“There’s a huge need out there that’s not being met,” Stacey said. “And that’s what we’re trying to address.”

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