Researchers eye alternative energy opportunities

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Capital News Service
LANSING—Alternative energy: As one of the leading manufacturing states, Michigan isn’t idling on the road’s shoulder.
“We see this opportunity to diversify in manufacturing as a way to transform Michigan and the Midwest to be able to go from a rust belt to a green belt,” Gov. Jennifer Granholm said.
The shuttered Ford Motor Co. Wixom plant is undergoing renovation to make batteries, turbines and solar panels, but Michigan also has long-established alternative energy companies.
For example, battery manufacturer Cobasys is based in Orion and solar-energy panel manufacturer United Solar Ovonic has facilities in Rochester Hills, Auburn Hills, Greenville and Battle Creek.
“Cobasys is pleased to be part of Michigan’s growing leadership role in alternative energy research, development and manufacturing,” said Ray Wagner, vice president of marketing and communications. “Our energy storage solutions and engineering teams are enabling hybrid electric vehicles and have the potential to revolutionize emergency back-up power.”
While Cobasys’ nickel metal hydride battery is an improvement on a gasoline-powered engine, it’s not the final step for Michigan researchers.
For example, Professor K. Y. Simon Ng, director of alternative energy technology at Wayne State University’s College of Engineering, received a $2 million state grant for biodiesel fuel development.
Ng said he hopes to solve many of the problems that have made biodiesel a previously unviable fuel source, such as using bio-based additives to remedy the lack of flow in cold weather.
“My goal here is to increase the use of biofuel to lessen our dependence on imported fossil fuels and decrease carbon emissions,” Ng said. “But it’s a very long-term project.”
Detroit-based nonprofit alternative-energy group NextEnergy, a partner in Ng’s project, said the research is setting the standards for biodiesel fuels and giving companies the opportunity to guarantee product quality.
“We’re going to see all different kinds of alternative energy in the future,” said Jim Saber, public relations representative for NextEnergy. “It’ll reach a point where they won’t be alternatives anymore.”
To make that future a reality, other universities like Lawrence Tech, Grand Valley State and Michigan Technological have programs in alternative energy and sustainability research.
One is Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center (MAREC), a partnership among Grand Valley State and Muskegon-based organizations. It’s incorporated some new technologies in the design of its building in Muskegon.
The main source of its electric power comes from carbonate fuel cells and micro turbines. Photovoltaic (solar) panels coat the roof, adding to the electricity created by the fuel cells. The facility added a wind turbine as part of its offshore wind initiative.
MAREC’s project uses turbines that are a variant of older windmills called horizontal axis wind turbines, which need adjustment to the direction of the wind.
DTE Energy focuses its research on some other types of alternative energy. Currently, it is supporting projects in biomass and solar energy, along with operating the Hydrogen Technology Park demonstration project in Southfield.
“We are very excited about the role renewable energies like wind will play in Michigan’s future – and we look forward to hearing from companies that share our enthusiasm,” said Trevor Lauer, vice president of retail marketing for DTE Energy.
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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