Energy research center knows no boundaries

North Dakota State Roundup

Published October 1, 1993  | October 1993 issue

Staff expertise at the University of North Dakota's Energy and Environmental Research Center (EERC) in Grand Forks is in great demand around the world these days.

The EERC's business is developing the technology to extract energy from natural resources and devising environmentally sound methods for efficient use of those resources. "[Energy and environment] are the two things on top of everyone's list," says Gerald Groenewold, EERC director.

To meet those needs, the EERC, which employs 260 people, works with government agencies and private business on a broad spectrum of projects globally. For example, the center's expertise on energy and environmental issues has reached as far as Taiwan, Thailand, Pakistan and India. Currently, center staff is involved with an Australian business group on an underground coal gasification project in New Zealand.

But the greatest demands for the EERC's technological assistance currently lie in Eastern and Central Europe where, until recently, little attention has been paid to energy and waste management issues.

What began with an energy and environmental conference in Prague in 1991, attended by 300 people from 26 countries, has resulted in a partnership between the EERC and a number of countries. Projects resulting from that conference include training groups of Czech energy officials and efforts to modernize inefficient, polluting central heating plants in towns in northern Bohemia and Bulgaria.

"The biggest problem so far is that they can't pay for these cleanups," Groenewold says. But he adds that US government agencies are beginning to address this issue, making it easier to do business.

The success of last year's Prague conference has generated plans for another in 1994. The planning committee consists of members from Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, with support from several US companies. "I want to see US industry invest technology in those countries," Groenewold says. "The EERC is playing the marriage broker role."

But there are returns to the EERC as well, for example, fees on its patented technologies. A less tangible by-product is the EERC's reputation. Recently, the Russian government approached the center for help in cleaning up Siberian coal-fired plants.

Kathy Cobb