Powering society with biofuels

Hopefully, the state will help out the University in funding this research program.

College of Biological Sciences Dean Bob Elde has a history of championing new research facilities and bringing together different departments and schools at the University – and now, he’s at it again, pushing for a National Center for Biofuels Research on the St. Paul campus.

The center, which is currently nothing more than a proposal, would cost approximately $30 million and provide a central area for scientists working on renewable energy research to collaborate and conduct their research. Currently, such research facilities at the University are spread among departments on the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses, and communication can be difficult.

Elde hopes the building will be a national center for biocatalysis – turning renewable resources such as farm and forest products into biofuels that would perform like fossil fuels.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has cited renewable energy as a top priority for Minnesota. While the University will seek primarily federal funding for the center, this is a chance for Pawlenty to put his money where his mouth is and push for support of the project at the State Legislature.

If the state wants the University to remain a top public research institution, it must support facilities for this type of research. Renewable energy research is becoming more important every year, as our country tries to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, particularly foreign oil. The more efficiently the University can contribute to renewable energy efforts, the more prestige it will receive for its efforts.

A better, more efficient facility with room for proper equipment and laboratories will also attract the most qualified scientists and students – more factors in building the University’s reputation as a top-notch research institution.

Initial plans for the building’s design will hopefully be in the works within a few months; faculty members will work with architects to come up with the best design for the project. The University has received money through the state and Xcel Energy’s conservation fund to conduct renewable energy research, and a state-of-the-art facility would make that research much more effective.