UM scholar touts ‘energy-grant’ label

Posted Jan. 29, 2009, at 9:01 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Professor James McClymer’s areas of research at the University of Maine are physics and astronomy.

Some of McClymer’s colleagues at UM, however, are focused on research into energy sources and are among the nation’s leaders in applying their specialties to energy research.

That led McClymer to come up with an idea he now plans to take all the way to President Obama. McClymer believes the federal government should start an energy-grant designation for major public research institutions, just as it has done for institutions doing research into agriculture, sea and space.

The UMaine faculty senate, of which McClymer is a member, unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday calling for the federal government to designate certain institutions as energy-grant universities. The designation would be similar to designations for land-grant and sea-grant institutions, of which UMaine has both.

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UMaine is believed to be the origin of the push for an energy-grant designation.

“We believe in the state motto of ‘Dirigo,’” said McClymer, referring to the Latin for “I lead.” “This idea originated here to seek the support of the other universities. Now that it’s been accepted by the [UMaine faculty] senate, we’ll prepare letters to go out to other universities, start to make contacts with other universities, ask-ing if they’re interested in going along with this.”

McClymer plans to notify policymakers and politicians such as Gov. John Baldacci, Maine’s congressional representatives, newly appointed Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and President Obama. McClymer said other major public research universities would be notified of the proposal.

According to the faculty senate resolution, the designated universities would conduct research into scientific principles and technologies that would unlock new energy sources; work to realize concepts and ideas; assist private industry in energy technology development; serve as test sites for promising technologies; and develop models that can be transferred to larger communities.

The federal government’s contribution would include grants and support to develop projects and underwrite campus programs, and agreements with participating universities to provide return on investment by sharing income from patents and licensed products.

“Universities have the knowledge base and research power to develop new technologies and serve as microenvironments in which to test these innovations,” the resolution states. “Energy [grant] legislation would expand their capacity to conduct this important research and create models of sustainability, the knowledge from which could be transferred to the broader society.”

Each energy-grant designee could invest its money in its strong areas. For the University of Maine, those areas include onshore and offshore wind power, tidal energy, geothermal energy and renewable forest-based energy.

“The money will come to each state to invest and deal with the issues they are best able to deal with,” McClymer said. “Each state has tremendous research going on. This will give it some direction and bring it together. We want some way that the research we do leaves here and actually gets applied.”

Scott Johnson, a UM professor of structural geology and tectonics who is a faculty senate member, said the energy-grant designation program has the potential to spark more research. There are already pieces in place through the school’s marine sciences, earth sciences and engineering programs.

“We need to develop technology and we also need money to start implementation and application of these [programs],” Johnson said. “If we had the funds to kick-start a program like that, the sky’s the limit.”

It was congressional action in the 1860s that led to “land-grant” universities. Federal land was granted to individual states to help them establish schools for agricultural and mechanical education. In later years, federal laws added the now-familiar experiment stations and Cooperative Extension programs.

The sea-grant program started in 1966 to find ways to take advantage of and save ocean resources, and the space-grant program was developed in 1989 to assist in the exploration of space.

UM is affiliated with the space grant through the state’s space-grant consortium.


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