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Updated 12:30 PM February 14, 2007
 

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U.S. energy secretary applauds U energy initiative

Students at the nation’s leading research universities are “voting with their feet and energy is the leader, the focus of the day ... something that captures the interest and imagination of today's students,” U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman told a U-M crowd at the start of a major two-day energy symposium.

Bodman used his U-M keynote address to announce that his department is releasing a draft Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle Technology Management Plan to guide federal research efforts over the next several years.

The symposium kicked off the recent establishment of a multidisciplinary initiative in energy research. In September, the University announced creation of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, which will serve as the umbrella for its energy research on campus. The initiative is a significant expansion of the energy research effort on campus, which already boasts a $35 million portfolio across many schools, units and colleges.

Bodman said he was most excited by plans to spend $375 million over five years to establish three “innovative bio-energy research centers that we hope will achieve significant breakthroughs in systems biology for the cost-effective production of renewable energy.”

“In other words, we hope to put the biotech industry—arguably America’s most competitive industry—to work, not just on drug development but on our energy problems,” Bodman said. “Our department’s 2008 budget requests $75 million—$25 million per year for each center—to fund what we hope or expect will be consortiums of the best people from universities, national laboratories, nonprofits and private industry.’”

The energy secretary said he knew of at least 15 applicants trying to become home to one of the three centers, but could not say whether any of the potential applicants were from the state of Michigan. A department spokesperson said they expect to choose the three center sites this summer.

Bodman, who previously worked at MIT and had a long career as a venture capitalist, said he’s seeing more interest in investing in clean energy technology development “than I have ever seen in my lifetime.’’

Bodman likened the current energy crisis to the fear and anxiety that swept the nation in 1957, 50 years ago this October, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite. He recalled it as an era when Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev told a group of Western ambassadors: “We will bury you.”

That anxiety fueled an American resolve to enter and win the space race, and massively invest in research and education, he noted, saying the surge in oil prices over the past six years has created a similar anxiety, fueling a new national resolve to develop alternative energy technologies.

The symposium, "Energy Science, Technology, and Policy: Facing the Challenge,” brought together influential leaders from government, industry and academia to present their views on science, technology and policy with regard to energy issues. The experts included top researchers from the U.S. auto industry, U-M, Michigan State University, Wayne State University and others working to design the cars of the future and new ways to satisfy the nation’s energy needs.

Bodman praised The U-M Phoenix Memorial Energy Institute, noting the University is “not only one of our nation’s premier research universities, but it is also a partner with our department in some important automotive and energy research projects.”

For more on the institute, go to www.mmpei.umich.edu.

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