Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Engineering projects to enable research that could boost economy

Cleaner energy and safer bridges are among the research goals the College of Engineering can pursue in more depth thanks to federal stimulus funding and other grants — part of the university’s growing, coordinated effort to accelerate economic recovery.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, visited campus Friday to highlight these projects and underscore their potential to help transform the region.

The projects include:

• A $19.5 million center where researchers will develop improved materials for solar energy. It is funded by the federal stimulus bill.

• A $19 million endeavor to create smart bridges that can monitor their own structural integrity.

• A $1.2 million partnership with the city of Ann Arbor to build a wind turbine nearby for energy generation and research.

The basic research these projects enable will build the foundation for new products and services that will help transform Michigan’s economy from its manufacturing past to a high-tech future, officials say.

“As we work to rebuild the economy here at home and across the country, it is clear that new and innovative approaches are needed to boost economic activity,” Dingell says. “I am pleased to be able to do what I can to help the University of Michigan College of Engineering work with the Ann Arbor community as a partner.

“The work being done at U-M not only serves as a recruiting tool for the city, but its spinoffs also help to create jobs and new technologies right in Southeast Michigan. If our goal is to make Southeast Michigan a national leader in green jobs then we must invest in clean energy and infrastructure safety as a part of the effort.”

Wind energy is receiving increased attention and this new partnership with the city will be a boon for U-M researchers. Professors say measurements from a nearby operating wind turbine will enhance teaching opportunities and enable a wide range of studies that rely on live data.

 “Wind is a resource with vast potential to generate affordable, renewable energy right here in Michigan,” says David Munson, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering. “We are keen on partnering with our city and industry to provide our faculty and students with test-beds to help turn potential into reality.”

The partnership is funded by $1 million awarded to the city from the U.S. Department of Energy, plus a $200,000 contribution from the CoE. The site of the planned turbine has yet to be determined, but it will be within 50 miles of the U-M campus.

“This project will not only help us meet our own renewable energy goals, it will serve as a testing ground for innovative new wind energy technologies,” says City Administrator Roger Fraser. “The city of Ann Arbor has been and continues to be a leader among America’s cities in environmental management, energy conservation and applications of alternative energy technologies.”

The CoE and university are undertaking a broad range of clean-energy research projects. At the new stimulus-funded $19.5 million Energy Frontier Research Center, scientists and engineers will study new materials that could more efficiently convert solar energy into heat and electricity.

Funded by the EnergyDepartment, it involves 22 U-M faculty members from the CoE and beyond. The principal investigator is Peter Green, the Vincent T. and Gloria M. Gorguze Professor of Engineering and chair of the Materials Science and Engineering Department.

In addition to projects sparked by stimulus funding, the university is advancing other national priorities through activities such as the $19 million bridge-safety project to create the ultimate infrastructure monitoring system.

It is funded in large part by nearly $9 million to the university from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Remaining funding is from cost-sharing among the partners: The CoE, the U-M Transportation Research Institute, the Michigan Department of Transportation, and five engineering firms. The principal investigator is Jerome Lynch, associate professor in the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

“Even as we celebrate these advances, the university is moving to pursue further opportunities and solutions to some of our nation’s most pressing challenges, such as providing cleaner energy sources,” says Stephen Forrest, vice president for research.

“We’re pursuing ways to forge new partnerships that more quickly transform science into solutions. We’re proving time and again that research and development at universities is the new path to progress, productivity and prosperity for Michigan and the nation.”