Energy research “collaboratory” expandsPaula Aven Gladych
The partnership’s original mission when launched more than five years ago was to explore and develop renewable energy technologies that would harness the power of wind, sun and biofuels.
Stein Sture, the University of Colorado Boulder’s vice chancellor for research, said that both carbon management and fracking are important for the development of cleaner energy technologies, even though neither fits into the renewable research arena. Fracking, for instance, has allowed the United States to tap into a supply of natural gas it did not have the technology to reach economically in the past.
“Natural gas is probably among the cleanest of the traditional fossil fuels,” Sture said. “It’s a big issue to Colorado, so the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory has been discussing this for a couple of years.”
And while shale gas, derived from oil shale, is a fossil fuel, it is “relatively clean in many ways,” he said. “It does not have as many bad byproducts as traditional petroleum resources, and given the industry drive in Colorado across the political spectrum, we recognized that looking into and taking seriously this shale gas was something we should do.”
He added that shale gas will not last forever. Some people predict that formations could last 20 to 50 years, “but right now, in a transition to a full-fledged renewables arena, shale gas might save us in pollution and costs. Shale gases are better than coal.”
The University of Colorado Boulder received a $12 million National Science Foundation grant in October 2012 to study fracking; much of the research is aimed at finding ways to dramatically reduce the groundwater and air pollution associated with the process.
The Collaboratory also has embraced the science, economics and business aspects of carbon management.
Global climate change has made it imperative that countries find ways to reduce their carbon footprints and learn to sequester and harvest carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The CERC will look at ways to sequester CO2 emissions, either in deep geology, agriculture or other techniques, Sture said. Many manufacturing processes require CO2, so the center will look for ways to take any CO2 produced in the extraction of fossil fuels to use in the manufacture of other products.
“We are still primarily dependent on fossil fuels; as much as we want to move our energy system toward renewable energy, that’s a process likely to take decades,” said David Hiller, executive director of the Collaboratory. “In the meantime, we will do what we can do to make existing sources of energy and energy technologies cleaner, especially cleaner in reducing carbon emissions.”
Maintaining a Colorado partnership to study clean energy technologies makes perfect sense, since the state produces coal, oil, natural gas, sun and wind, he said. And while the state doesn’t have sufficient cropland to be a big biofuels producer, it does have energy experts who can help develop the fledgling industry.
Each of the Collaboratory’s centers works closely with industry partners to make sure that any key developments have an opportunity to be tested in the marketplace and eventually adopted.
“We’re excited to have the Carbon Management Center rolling out,” Hiller said. “We are in the midst of speaking with several dozen companies in the U.S. and around the world who have an interest in these issues. That includes oil and gas companies, coal companies, and technology companies working on solutions to the technological challenges in reducing carbon emissions.”
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