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Front Page » February 25, 2010 » Carbon County News » USU research program brings more to table than name change
Published 1,613 days ago

USU research program brings more to table than name change


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

If things go according to plan, the merger between Utah State University and the College of Eastern Utah, expected to be approved soon by the Utah State Legislature, will bring more than a name change, some new instructors and a number of regular and advanced degrees to the Price area. It may also bring some research and development wings of the Logan school here as well.

"I am here today to ask Carbon County to work strategically, in coordination with us and other partners, in moving ahead with projects that could benefit the entire region," said Robert T. Behunin, a special assistant to USU President Stan Albrecht, and one of the key players that have made the Uintah Basin campus of USU so successful. "We are putting together a consortium of organizations to work toward utilizing the Western Energy Corridor, and with CEU coming to be part of USU we believe the group will become that much stronger."

The Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Energy put together the 6,000-mile corridor that travels across 11 western states, in 2005. It was formed as part of the 2005 Energy Act. The agencies finished a "programmatic" environmental impact statement in 2008 after taking public comments in 2006 to that first draft. The Department of Energy says that 82 percent of the corridors are on BLM land, 16 percent are on U.S. Forest Service land and the other 2 percent are on National Park land, Bureau of Reclamation land or Department of Defense property.

Energy corridors, under the legislation, may accommodate multiple pipelines (such as for oil, gas, or hydrogen), electricity transmission lines, and related infrastructure, such as access and maintenance roads, compressors, pumping stations, and other structures. They may also include renewable energy resources, although some renewable advocates and environmentalists say that the Western Energy Corridor has not made enough provisions for those kinds of energy in the plan, but instead has concentrated on expanding traditional sources of energy. A lawsuit was filed in July 2009 citing those concerns, along with others relating to environmental damage and possible wildlife habitat damage.

That corridor is a key to many kinds of development in eastern Utah, and Utah State and its partners want to take advantage of it.

"We want to network eastern Utah communities into working together to do research and development in the energy field," said Behunin. "Three counties are key in this; the two in the Uintah Basin and Carbon County. We have been working strategically on this since 2006. Partners already on board for a lot of the ideas and upcoming projects include USU, the University of Utah, Idaho National Labs, the Oakridge National Lab and others.

Behunin, who was making the presentation during a special meeting of the Carbon County Commission, pointed out that what has already been done with some of the research centered on the Uintah Basin campus is not just blue sky, but actually involves working systems that are now being utilized by industry and have capitalization behind them. One of those projects includes a system that removes pollutants from a processing procedure having to do with energy production in the Basin.

"The money put into by investors who believe in it has been substantial," said Behunin.

Research universities, such as USU, also stand to benefit from any science and the technology that results from any research, because, once it is established and used in industry, a percentage comes back to the school in the form of royalties. USU is benefiting from a number of such technologies.

The Logan school is also well known for many other kinds of developments outside of the energy field. They have completed a number of projects relating to water processing, which are being used in various places, but their best known is the satellite technology and construction they have done.

"Did you see that our satellite that was built at USU recently went into space?" asked Behunin. "We are very proud of what we have developed and are presently working on another satellite that will go into space within the next few years."

Behunin said that the larger the group in the consortium and the more unified they are, the more money they can pursue for research and development.

"Before we started to do this, everyone was going after their individual projects which meant some couldn't find funding," he said. "Working together will make the efforts much more successful. And part of this is involving local government. When asking for money, the Department of Energy wants to be sure local governments are on board."

In Uintah County, the school has had great support from the county, and that is what Behunin was looking for on Tuesday. He asked for no money, but only support he said.

The situation with an idled Western Energy Training Center was also addressed. Behunin said they are interested in that facility for a possible research site because of its proximity to the power plant, a substation and its location.

The Uintah Basin already has the Bingham Entrepreneurship and Energy Research Center and adding the WETC facility in conjunction with that could provide some substantial possibilities.

"It (the WETC facility) seems to be in the right spot for development for such things as fuels research," said Behunin.

The two commissioners present liked the ideas that Behunin put forth (Commissioner Bill Krompel could not attend) and said they would give support to the concepts.

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