Like most states, Utah faces some unique energy problems, but thanks to the new Utah Energy Research Triangle (UERT), several high priority issues will be addressed with seven research projects receiving grant funding.

Awarding these research grants represents further progress on the Governor’s 10-Year Strategic Energy Plan, which called for not only the creation of an Office of Energy Development, but also an Energy Research Triangle to build cooperation among Utah’s top universities to advance energy innovation in the State. The Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR), the Department of Workforce Services (DWS), the Office of Energy Development (OED) and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) all contributed to these one year grants, which address wide-ranging issues including energy transportation and infrastructure, environmental quality, resource management and responsible energy development.

The $445,000 in state funding will be divided between projects associated with Utah’s major research universities, including Utah State University (USU), Brigham Young University (BYU) and The University of Utah (U of U), to support and inspire the next generation of Utah talent to focus on energy research.

The seven grant projects cover a wide variety of energy issues. University researchers will collaborate on topics ranging from Uinta Basin air quality to the conversion of carbon dioxide to liquid methanol, which can be used as a valuable chemical feedstock or transportation fuel additive. A third project will examine the flow characteristics in pipelines for Utah’s waxy crude oil traveling from the Uinta Basin to refineries.

In addition to providing grants for collaborative energy research, the Utah Energy Research Triangle is working to cultivate Utah’s next generation of scientific talent by offering grants to Bachelor’s, Master’s and Ph.D. candidates at the partner universities to pursue applied energy research. The student led projects include exploration of new photovoltaic solar technology opportunities, a study of electric vehicle battery performance in cold weather conditions to analyze how well these new vehicles will fare in Utah’s climate, an exploration of magnesium compounds (Utah is the largest magnesium producer in the US) to learn how to use waste heat to produce electricity through high-performance magnesium nanostructures for thermoelectric materials and a look into the mechanics behind solar-powered hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Al Walker, the Director of UERT says that collaboration between the research universities in Utah will highlight complementary capabilities. “Sometimes, universities don’t fully pursue collaboration outside their own campuses,” said Walker. “For the Uinta Basin air quality project, USU was looking for a collaborator at BYU. The USU-led research team connected with a BYU scientist who they had never previously worked with, but who had the ideal capabilities to complement the team’s capabilities.”

Walker says that although there were some guidelines for the applicants, the committee left it open for researchers to pick the areas of focus.

“We wanted collaborative proposals said Walker. “So we told them they needed to tie in other university partners and be focused on Utah specific energy issues. We were open for them to come up with their own ideas and figure out what they wanted to do.”

As the organization that supports Utah’s economic engine through initiatives that help employers and job seekers, DWS also recognizes the value of such cross-cutting research partnerships. Nic Dunn from DWS says, “As one of the most important economic sectors in the State, energy bears special relevance for Utah today and for generations to come. And the only way to keep advancing as a high-tech economy is to keep innovating in our energy sector. To that end, DWS provided funds to the Energy Research Triangle to aid in this innovation that will chart the course of our energy sector and our economy–and ultimately will create jobs and economic growth.”

Grant awardees will be recognized at the Governor’s Energy Development Summit on June 4th at the Salt Palace Convention Center. See http://energy.utah.gov/ for more information.