The University Record, May 6, 2002

U-M part of Governor Engler’s alternative energy plan

By Laurel Thomas Gnagey

Although U-M researchers don’t yet know the particulars of their involvement with Governor John Engler’s plan to position the state as a leader in the development of alternative energy sources, they do know that one of his primary objectives, to establish a U-M-affiliated center for research and technical assistance, will fit nicely with the work the University already is doing in the area of alternative fuels.

Engler announced his plan for a $30–50 million NextEnergy initiative just over two weeks ago. The plan calls for creation of a center that will serve as a clearing house and information resource on alternative energy. The center also will provide technical assistance to industry and be a major hub for industry-university research collaborations.

The governor’s proposal includes development of a 700-acre parcel in York Township, near Ypsilanti, as a NextEnergy Zone where fuel cell and other alternative energy companies can locate tax-free.

In making his announcement, the governor said development of alternative fuels is essential for the nation to reduce dependence on foreign oil, to improve the environment and to strengthen the economy. He also said it is critical that Michigan be a leader in order to save the jobs of some 200,000 autoworkers and to retain the state’s position as the world’s leader in automotive technology.

“We are supportive and enthusiastic about the governor’s plan,” says Interim President B. Joseph White. “It’s good for economic development, good for the environment, and a critically important area of research and education for the future.”

Gary Was, associate dean for research in the College of Engineering, says the governor’s NextEnergy plan, coupled with President George W. Bush’s endorsement of hydrogen as a fuel, are welcome developments for the University. “It raises the visibility for the whole area, which creates opportunities for us to grow our research,” Was says.

With 17 sponsored research programs on advanced and alternative energy systems in Ann Arbor, plus several projects at U-M-Dearborn, the University already is established as a leader in development of alternative energy, says Fawwaz Ulaby, vice president for research.

“We are well-positioned for this role because of our current research in this area,” says Ulaby. “Additionally, our relationships with the automotive industry and our geographic location make U-M a logical participant in this important initiative.”

facts about fuel cell technology

Fuel Cells:

  • generate electricity by harnessing the chemical energy of hydrogen and oxygen

  • use any hydrogen-rich material, including fossil fuels (natural gas, petroleum distillates, liquid propane and gasified coal), biomass (trees and plants) and waste gases. Also run on hydrogen extracted from water using sunlight, wind and geothermal energy

  • are pollution-free when using solar-derived hydrogen and are 70–90 percent cleaner than conventional gasoline vehicles when using other forms of fuel

  • are highly efficient, using up to 85 percent of a fuel’s energy as

    opposed to the 15 percent or less from gasoline

  • are used in automobiles and electronic devices, and provide energy for homes and businesses

  • were first introduced in 1839 by Sir William Grove, a Welsh scientist

  • were used by NASA in the Gemini and Apollo spacecraft in the ’60s, and they still provide electricity and water for the space shuttle

  • were first tested in an auto by DaimlerChrysler in 1994 with the commitment from the car company that fuel cell passenger cars would be available to the commercial market by 2004

    Source: Breakthrough Technologies Institute/Fuel Cells 2000