Purdue News

July 29, 2005

New Purdue center to energize the future thanks to Lilly Endowment, Lugar

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University announced today (July 29) the creation of a new Energy Center, which already has been designated to share $85 million in federal funding with centers in Illinois and Kentucky.

Scott Meyer and Cyril Jos
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Created from seed money from Lilly Endowment, the Energy Center will focus on the development of economical and environmentally sound energy sources and help change policies and perceptions about the way we use energy.

The federal funding is part of an energy bill, which passed the Senate today, having earlier cleared the House. The bill was drafted, in part, by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

"This is exciting news for our state and Purdue University," Lugar said. "The Energy Center will expand Purdue's important research into clean coal technologies by using plentiful Indiana coal to decrease America's dependence on foreign oil."

The Energy Center is the third of four new centers Purdue will create thanks to a $10 million grant from Lilly Endowment.

"The Energy Center will consolidate current Purdue research projects to investigate next-generation energy technologies," said Purdue President Martin C. Jischke. "We will not only discover solutions, we also will grow and attract new business and industry for our state."

The other two centers selected for development so far will focus on the environment and cancer, and the fourth center is expected to be identified next month. All centers are based at Discovery Park, the university's hub for interdisciplinary research.

The Energy Center will bring together more than 75 Purdue experts. Initially, they will focus on development of bio-fuels and clean coal research because Indiana provides an abundance of these natural resources, said Jay Gore, Vincent P. Reilly Professor in Mechanical Engineering and the interim director of the new center. The center also will enhance the university's expertise in storage technologies such as those involving hydrogen, batteries, power electronics and renewable energy devices such as solar cells. Researchers also will work to harness the wind and make nuclear energy safer.

The goal is to shift the country's dependence from oil as the primary source of energy, said Gore, who is also the associate dean for the Purdue College of Engineering.

"Crude oil prices are at a record high, and accelerated production is not affecting the prices because a peak in supplies has been reached or is about to be reached. Our challenge is to prepare for a transition from the imported fossil fuels to other energy sources and energy independence."

Nancy Ho
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A key source for future energy needs is bio-energy, transforming renewable plant materials into transportation fuels.

"The U.S. ethanol fuel industry represents an ongoing success story for the production of renewable fuels, and demand for fuel ethanol is expected to increase," said Michael Ladisch, distinguished professor of agricultural and biological engineering. "In addition to ethanol, 40 chemicals and chemical feedstock have been identified as potential fuel products of renewable plant biomass.

"Through bio-engineering, Purdue's Laboratory for Renewable Resource Engineering within the Energy Center will help turn agricultural waste into transportation fuels."

These bio-fuels include ethanol derived from corn, cellulose and corn waste, as well as diesel fuel made from soybeans. In addition, research includes the transformation of biomass, ethanol and soy-diesel into sources of hydrogen.

One of the Indiana Department of Agriculture's strategic plans is to maximize the state's competitive advantage in bio-energy. The department is committing $75,000 in unrestricted funds to the Energy Center.

"Not only does this mean increasing processing and consumption of bio-energy products, but also looking to the next generation of agriculturally derived fuels," said Andy Miller, director of the Indiana Department of Agriculture. "I believe the funding we pledged toward the Energy Center of Discovery Park shows our enthusiasm for supporting research into the new sources of bio-fuels."

Scott Meyer, Zachery Thicksten, Jim Sisco & Jason Wennerberg
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Clean coal

The Energy Center's Coal Transformation Laboratory will make better use of another of Indiana's natural resources.

"This laboratory will develop technology to convert coal into combustible gases and liquids that can be burned away cleanly while meeting the demand for electric power, heating and transportation," said Tom Sparrow, professor of industrial engineering and the director of the Center for Coal Technology Research, established at Purdue in 2002.

Ronald Rardin, a professor of industrial engineering, is a researcher at the center.

"Our state is fortunate to be part of several Midwestern states involved in the world's leading coal-chemical enterprises – the Tennessee/Eastman regional coal chemical complex in eastern Tennessee," he said. "This complex is an important resource to draw upon as we develop aspects of coal transformation technology."

The federal energy bill supports a collaboration among the Energy Center at Purdue with the Southern Illinois University Coal Research Center and the University of Kentucky Applied Energy Center to develop transportation fuels from the Illinois Coal Basin. This research and development program involves the production of Fischer Tropsch transportation fuels and other liquid fuels from coal.

Indiana annually mines more than 35 million tons of coal, or about 3.5 percent of U.S. coal production. Indiana is part of the Illinois Coal Basin deposits, which hold more than 130 billion tons or 25 percent of the total coal reserves in the country – enough to meet current U.S. coal demands for more than 100 years.

Wind turbines

The Energy Center will further develop high-efficiency wind turbines.

"Current technologies for wind power are based on conventional propeller technology," said Sanford Fleeter, the McAllister Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering. "We are working with the new physics of 'unsteady aerodynamic phenomena.' Our goal is to improve the performance and decrease the noise of conventional wind-turbine designs."

Kyong-Shin Choi
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Nuclear power

Currently, nuclear power provides about 20 percent of the nation's electricity and may provide more as the country shifts from its dependence on oil.

Research by Mamoru Ishii, Purdue's Walter Zinn Distinguished Professor of Nuclear Engineering and director of the Purdue Institute of Thermal Hydraulics, involves a computer tool that can help ensure the safety of future nuclear power plants. The tool will help engineers design nuclear plants that have "passive cooling systems," which do not require pumps and will keep running during electrical-power interruptions.

Lefteri Tsoukalas, head of the Purdue School of Nuclear Engineering, has worked for nearly two decades on research to upgrade the nation's power grid. He and other researchers have proposed a system that might contain hundreds of relatively small, interconnected segments that could be better controlled and isolated from the grid if a problem occurs in any one segment. Such a method could prevent catastrophes like the one that occurred during the summer of 2003, when a series of problems originating in Ohio led to widespread power failures in other parts of the nation.

Karen Vierow, an assistant professor of nuclear engineering, is leading research to improve three computer programs needed to prevent disasters such as the Three Mile Island accident in 1979. The complex programs, or "reactor safety codes," are used to simulate severe accidents and, in the process, provide data needed to ensure that power plants are designed properly.

Acoustic fusion or "bubble fusion" research is led by Rusi Taleyarkhan, Purdue's Arden L. Bement Jr. Professor of Nuclear Engineering. Research on acoustic fusion being done at Purdue and elsewhere may someday have the potential to produce electricity and yields little or no pollution. This method bombards a liquid, called deuterated acetone, with sound waves to create tiny "bubbles" or "cavities" of heavy hydrogen, and thus produces very high temperatures and densities that can fuse the heavy hydrogen into helium. That fusion releases enormous heat that could be used to create steam and drive a turbine to produce electricity.

Solar, electrochemical, hydrogen

Solar energy holds the promise of being inexhaustible because it could be used to produce hydrogen for transportation without the emission of greenhouse gases and is environmentally safe.

Purdue's research on solar-cell technology involves low-cost fabrication of thin-film solar cells that collect sunlight in a number of modules soldered together to generate electric energy. Current technology provides about 18 percent cell efficiency in laboratory environments.

"This efficiency drops to 10 percent when the solar cells move into public usage, and a challenge in this research is to find out why this happens and to increase the efficiency of solar cells in different environments," said Rakesh Agrawal, Purdue's Winthrop E. Stone Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering. "Another challenge is to reduce the size and cost of solar cells."

The Energy Center also will explore advanced electrochemical methods and hydrogen energy systems that change the way we generate, store and use energy. The electrochemical methods can reduce the cost and improve the performance of electric machines and power electronics used in ships, aircraft and military tactical ground vehicles.

Public attitudes

To help inform the public and change attitudes about energy, the center will provide learning and educational outreach activities through workshops, energy camps for pre-college students, energy displays in science and technology museums and community energy festivals.

"Changing public attitudes about the way we use energy and the types of energy we use is a key to this endeavor," said Heather Cooper, assistant professor of mechanical engineering technology. "Why don't we carpool more often? Why don't we buy more fuel-efficient cars? Why don't we turn off the lights when we leave a room? These are just a few of the questions we will address."

Other Purdue energy research

Some of the other Purdue energy-related research projects involve:

• Purdue Propulsion Center of Excellence at the Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories, funded by the state of Indiana, Indiana 21st Century Research and Technology Fund, Office of Naval Research, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, NASA and Rolls-Royce Corp.

• A hybrid vehicle laboratory, funded by the Purdue College of Engineering, Ford Motor Co. and Cummins Inc.

• A hydrogen storage and fuel cells laboratory, funded by General Atomics, U.S. Department of Energy, General Motors Corp. and the Purdue College of Engineering.

• Research in aeromechanics and propulsion at the Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories, funded by the U.S. Air Force, Indiana 21st Century Research and Technology Fund and NASA.

• The Indiana State Utility Forecasting Group funded by the Indiana State Utility Commission.

The Energy Center will have administrative offices at Purdue's Discovery Park, and much of its research will take place in facilities on the Purdue campus. Before today's announcement, Discovery Park, under construction on State Street on the west edge of campus, already had attracted more than $109 million in sponsored research, $100 million in contributions for buildings and now involves about 850 faculty members. The park has been a factor in forming eight start-up companies and at least 40 patent filings.

The park currently includes five buildings encompassing several other centers: Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, the Birck Nanotechnology Center, the Bindley Bioscience Center, the e-Enterprise Center, the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and the Discovery Learning Center. Included in e-Enterprise Center are the Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering and the Purdue Homeland Security Institute. The new centers will be based administratively at the park.

Lilly Endowment has awarded Purdue more than $51 million in support of Discovery Park.

Writer: Cynthia Sequin, (765) 494-4192, csequin@purdue.edu

Sources: Martin C. Jischke, (765) 494-9708,

Jay Gore, (765) 494-2122, gore@purdue.edu

Tom Sparrow, (765) 494-2351, fts@ecn.purdue.edu

Ronald Rardin, (765) 494-5410, rardin@purdue.edu

Mike Ladisch, (765) 494-7022, ladisch@purdue.edu

Sandy Fleeter, (765) 494-5622, Sanford.fleeter.1@purdue.edu

Rakesh Agrawal, (765) 494-2254, agrawalr@purdue.edu

Heather Cooper, (765) 494-9653, hcooper@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


Note to Journalists: Video is available by contacting the Purdue News Service at (765) 494-2096.


Related Web site:
Purdue University Home Page


Related news releases:
Sen. Richard Lugar energy bill news release

Lilly Endowment grants $25 million to Purdue's Discovery Park

Purdue to study making biofuel from corn residue

Coal research center issues proposals for new studies

Purdue energy experts list



From left, Scott Meyer, a senior propulsion engineer, helps Cyril Jos, a master's degree student in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, make final adjustments on a 1,000-pound thrust rocket-based cycle engine at Purdue University's Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories. The research is part of Discovery Park's new Energy Center, which will develop economical and environmentally sound energy sources. The rocket in this technology includes a more efficient engine that uses oxygen from the atmosphere instead of oxygen carried on board the vehicle. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)

A publication-quality photo is available at https://news.uns.purdue.edu/images/+2005/gore-rocket.jpg

The Energy Center at Purdue University will support research such as a genetically engineered form of yeast developed at Purdue's Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering. This yeast can produce about 40 percent more ethanol from sugars derived from agricultural residues that would otherwise be discarded or used as animal feed. Nancy Ho, a senior research scientist and leader of the lab's molecular genetics group, holds cultures of the new yeast strain (in the Petri dish) and a sample of ethanol. (Purdue News Service file photo/David Umberger)

A publication-quality photo is available at https://news.uns.purdue.edu/images/+2005/ho-energy.jpg

From left, Scott Meyer, a senior propulsion engineer, watches while graduate engineering students Zachery Thicksten, Jim Sisco and Jason Wennerberg conduct a test of a 1,000-pound thrust rocket-based combined cycle engine at Purdue University's Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories. The research is part of Discovery Park's new Energy Center, which will develop economical and environmentally sound energy sources. Research at the laboratory includes a more efficient rocket engines that uses oxygen from the atmosphere instead of oxygen carried on board the vehicle. Thicksten, of San Diego, and Wennerberg, of Chicago, are working toward their master's degrees, and Sisco, of Providence, R.I., is working toward a doctoral degree, all in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)

A publication-quality photo is available at https://news.uns.purdue.edu/images/+2005/gore-rocketcontrol.jpg

Kyong-Shin Choi, an assistant professor of chemistry, conducts research in her lab on photoelectrochemical cells that use solar energy to produce hydrogen-based energy. The research is part of an endeavor to develop economical and environmentally benign energy production systems at Discovery Park's new Energy Center at Purdue. The Energy Center is one of four new Discovery Park interdisciplinary research enterprises funded by a $10 million grant from Lilly Endowment. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger.

A publication-quality photo is available at https://news.uns.purdue.edu/images/+2005/choi-lab.jpg


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