April 28, 2005
By Andrea Gibson
Congressman Ted Strickland, representative for Ohio's 6th District, toured Ohio University research facilities Monday to learn more about how university engineers and scientists are studying air pollution and water quality issues and developing new energy sources that are friendly to the environment and economy.
The university's Consortium for Energy, Economics and the Environment (CE3) invited the congressman to campus to highlight the unique ways Ohio University is tackling environmental and energy issues. The university recently named CE3 as one of three research priorities that will help the institution become a nationally prominent research center. The initiative is a partnership of faculty and staff from the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology, the Voinovich Center for Leadership and Public Affairs and the College of Arts and Sciences.
On the first stop of the tour, Strickland visited the Center for Air Quality's monitoring station - located high above Athens on a scenic ridge top - which is the only facility designed to track air pollutants within the Ohio River Valley region. The region is notable for being home to the nation's most highly concentrated area of coal-fired power plants and chemical refineries, with 42 plants clustered between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, Pa., according to Kevin Crist, center director and an associate professor of chemical engineering. Scientists argue, however, that the region also produces air pollution that impacts Americans from New York to Texas. To examine that issue from within the industrial heartland, Crist and his colleagues use sophisticated monitoring equipment to track health hazards such as mercury and identify specific sources of pollution.
In a laboratory at Stocker Center, engineer Gerardine Botte next showed Strickland how her research team is studying how ammonia might be used as an energy source for fuel cells. Botte and graduate student Purusha Bonnin illustrated the concept by pouring ammonia and water into a canister attached to a toy plastic car, which fueled its movement across a desktop. Ammonia is about 200 times more efficient than gasoline, and the research team is examining ways to make it work in a bigger, faster car, said Botte, an assistant professor of chemical engineering.
David Bayless, director of the Ohio Coal Research Center and associate professor of mechanical engineering, also spotlighted a project that uses sunlight and algae originally harvested from Yellowstone National Park to neutralize the carbon dioxide emitted from coal-fired power plants. Algae are a natural, environmentally friendly substance that can be re-used as biofuel when the project is complete, Bayless noted.
Strickland also met with faculty and staff at the university's Voinovich Center for Leadership and Public Affairs to learn about studies aimed at improving water quality in southeastern Ohio.
Representatives from the CE3 initiative highlighted future plans for their work, including the possible construction of an environmentally friendly facility that could house research and provide a unique learning environment for students. The congressman also asked the engineers for expert feedback on energy and environmental issues facing America today, such as energy consumption and global warming.
"The academic community can bring to the discussion the reality of what we're facing, how soon we're facing it, and viable realities of what we can focus on," Strickland remarked.
In the last few years, Strickland has helped secure about $6 million in federal appropriations for research related to Ohio University's CE3 initiative, including $1.1 million earlier this year for the Ohio Distributed Hydrogen Project, which aims to create a low-cost automotive fuel by powering fuel cells with synthesis gas from coal, biomass or municipal solid waste.
Andrea Gibson is the Director of Research Communications.