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 Tuesday, April 22, 2008 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


Every day is Earth Day at CU
Chancellor G.P. "Bud" Peterson

As we celebrate Earth Day today, many know of the University of Colorado's long history of being environmentally conscious and of our leadership in the creation of the 14-month-old Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory, a partnership between CU-Boulder and three other institutions including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

But far fewer are aware of the many examples of the breadth and scope of the stellar research in energy, sustainability and conservation conducted under the broader CU Energy Initiative (pdf). Led by EI Director and Professor Carl Koval, the work within the EI extends beyond the bounds of the Collaboratory and incorporates areas outside of traditional research, including educational programs, market research, energy security, environmental journalism, tourism practices, energy policy and law, energy transformation in societies and much more. Of particular interest to our university community is the work being done on critical curriculum development.

These are all very exciting projects and will have lasting impacts on the way we produce and utilize energy within our society. Here I would like to focus on just a few of the more than 43 research projects underway as part of the CU Energy Initiative.

Control of wind turbines: Lucy Pao in Electrical and Computer Engineering is working on improving the efficiency of wind energy with advanced controls for turbines. Modern turbines have a number of control systems and advanced control methods can make a significant impact on efficiency. In related research, Rodney Frehlich in the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) is developing new techniques for measuring key properties of wind that affect turbine performance and longevity.

Energy transformation refers to systemic changes in the social, economic, legal and political forces and institutions that influence energy use. Patricia Limerick and her colleagues at the Center of the American West have produced two reports that explore these forces. What Every Westerner Should Know about Energy and What Every Westerner Should Know about Energy Efficiency and Conservation are available on the website.

Energy efficiency of electronics: A trio of researchers in the Colorado Power Electronics Center (Dragan Maksimovic, Regan Zane and Robert Erickson) are looking into improving the energy efficiency of electronics, seen in all aspects of society: personal computing and communication, residential and office buildings, large data centers, aerospace and biomedical electronics, and transportation systems, to name a few. They determined that up to 70 percent efficiency improvements are possible, which would save 4.1 million kilowatt hours in annual energy consumption at 2004 levels.

Energy policy and law: Lakshman Guruswamy and Kevin Doran in the School of Law's Center for Energy and Environmental Security have produced a remarkable database containing 1,800 international treaties dealing with energy. The International Sustainable Energy Assessment database includes all 192 countries in the world and covers some 45 energy-related subject areas. Energy security and climate change are global issues and this project is designed to improve international cooperation.

Energy efficient building designs: A team from our Building Systems Program led by Mike Brandemuehl is working with NREL to improve building energy performance and develop software to evaluate multiple building energy design options. This team also supervises the CU Solar Decathlon teams.

Intermittent renewable energy storage: Sometimes the wind blows and the sun shines—and sometimes they don't. Frank Barnes of Electrical and Computer Engineering is investigating a method of storing intermittent power provided by the wind and incorporating it into the electrical grid.

Renewable Energy Tourism Initiative: A Leeds School of Business team including Richard Wobbekind and Steve Lawrence developed a series of best practice manuals that outline the costs, benefits and tips for successful implementation of innovative energy practices within the tourism industry. This initiative was funded through a 2006 CU/NREL Seed Grant.

Conversion of biomass to syngas or hydrogen:  Alan Weimer and Christopher Perkins from Chemical and Biological Engineering are researching the production of synthesis gas from biomass. Syngas is a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen that can be converted into liquid fuels. 

We should be enormously proud of the ongoing research under the umbrella of the CU Energy Initiative, including the Collaboratory's second formal center, announced Monday, the Center for Revolutionary Solar Photoconversion (CRSP), which will lay the foundation for the development of future solar technologies. 

The legacy of what we leave our children will require that we not only advance the science of energy production, sustainability and reduction of the carbon footprint of society, but also that we find ways to heal the damaged spacecraft we call Earth. Under the leadership of the CU Energy Initiative and the marked success of the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory, we can continue to make every day "Earth Day" at CU, throughout the nation and around the world. Our efforts in this arena are just one more shining example of the vision we have established in our recently completed strategic plan, Flagship 2030: Serving Colorado, Engaged in the World.

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