Dec. 21, 2005
By Andrea Gibson
Cleaner power, cleaner earth
From the debate over whether to drill for oil in Alaska and the introduction of environmentally friendly hybrid cars to concerns about global warming and dreams of solar-powered homes, Americans have long pondered our energy production and its environmental and economic impacts on the nation and world.
Ohio University researchers involved with the new Consortium for Energy, Economics and the Environment, dubbed CE3, are ready to tackle those issues, and they argue that they're in a prime location to study and propose solutions. The Ohio River Valley region is home to a heavy concentration of power plants that have been blamed for many of the nation's air and water pollution woes. Extensive coal mining in the 20th century was an economic boon to the region, but it left a legacy of watershed pollution and other environmental problems that scientists and engineers have been struggling to solve.
The new CE3 project unites faculty and students from the university's Voinovich Center for Leadership and Public Affairs who study regional watershed pollution and reclamation with those from the Institute for Energy and the Environment, which monitors air pollution and develops clean-coal technologies, including new varieties of fuel cells. They will tackle major energy and environmental issues, help legislators shape policy and provide new research opportunities to Ohio University students.
"You can't study processes this complex by being narrowly focused. No one discipline has all the answers," says co-investigator Gene Mapes, director of environmental studies and an adjunct associate professor of environmental and plant biology.
The research group will receive $600,000 over the next five years to bolster its studies of air and water pollution and environmentally friendly energy technologies. The new initiative will create a research niche for the university and a problem-solving resource for Ohio, says CE3 director Mark Weinberg.
"It increases our researchers' capabilities and allows them to go after projects they couldn't do on their own," says Weinberg, who also is director of the Voinovich Center and a professor of political science.
The Voinovich Center has received about $6 million from various sources for Appalachian Ohio environmental projects to mitigate the effects of acid mine drainage from long-abandoned coal mines on the ecosystems of rivers and streams. The Institute for Energy and the Environment, part of the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, manages some $10 million in state and federal grants for various projects. Examples include the monitoring of fine particulate matter and mercury emitted by coal-fired power plants in the Ohio River Valley, the study of the bioremediation of greenhouse gases and the development of new fuel cells that could create a more efficient, environmentally friendly source of power in the future.
Faculty members involved with CE3 also hope to aid legislators in economic and policy decisions. The state can draw on Ohio University scientists' knowledge to learn how to meet and comply with federal air and water quality standards. Researchers also can explore the economic returns on coal extraction and the economic benefits of cleaning up the environment, says Mary Stoertz, an associate professor of geological sciences. Those involved with the project agree that the research will meet pressing state and national concerns.
"Energy consumption and production will be one of the seminal issues for us as we move into this next century," says Scott Miller, a senior environmental project manager with the Voinovich Center and a co-investigator on the CE3 project.
Astronomers ponder how the universe began and how the cosmos creates new stars and galaxies. Chemists develop drugs that could help alleviate the complications of national health problems such as diabetes and cancer while researchers examine why Appalachians may not be able to afford or access such medical treatments. Engineers and scientists study toxins in our air and water and develop new ways to make the Earth cleaner.
These huge initiatives have one seemingly small thing in common: Ohio University researchers are tackling all of these issues right here on campus. While individual scientists and engineers have been involved in such work for more than a decade, a new initiative -- the University Research Priorities Program -- is pulling faculty and students from related fields together to help solve some of greatest questions facing our world today.
Three research priorities are featured in this series about faculty research that benefits the region, state and nation.
Andrea Caruso Gibson, BSJ '94, is director of research communications at Ohio University.