"Research for a Thousand Years: Sustainability, Clean Energy, and Our Shared Future"

Energy Research Conference
Whittenberger Auditorium
August 6, 2009


Thank you, Paul.

Let me add my welcome as you begin what promises to be a very productive conference. This is a chance to continue and extend the long-standing and important dialogue about clean energy, environmental policy, sustainability practices, and related areas whose impact is felt the world over.

Let me add a special word of welcome to the campus, community, and business leaders who have joined us. I understand that Congressman Baron Hill will be speaking this afternoon and that Representative Matt Pierce hopes to join you as well. Their presence and yours, in such impressive numbers, is testimony to the importance of this event and the issues under discussion.

International and Collaborative

The global nature of such issues was reinforced three weeks ago, when U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu joined colleagues from China to announce plans to develop the U.S. China Clean Energy Research Center.

In his remarks, Secretary Chu said, “The U.S. and China are two great nations, and clean energy is one of the great opportunities of our time. Working together, we can accomplish more than acting alone.” 1

Secretary Chu highlights two of the most important aspects of clean energy research: its international and its collaborative nature.

Our shared goal, whether we are working in Indiana, China, or any number of places, is to solve what the Department of Energy calls the grand challenge of sustainable energy, and that is truly a global challenge.

I was reminded of this earlier this year while visiting Korea when I had a conversation with President Suh of KAIST, the Korea Advanced Institute for Science and Technology, one of the top universities in Korea. He described two projects that KAIST faculty and students were working on that aim to solve the problems of the twenty-first century: first, a mobile harbor project that dramatically expands the number of potential sites for loading and unloading large ships; and second an electric vehicle with a small battery that draws power from the power grid but relies on its battery when off the grid.

He mentioned Berkeley’s attempt to develop such a vehicle (and we could probably come up with a dozen or more other attempts), but he argued that the KAIST vehicle was much more efficient.

Competition and National Economic Progress

President Suh’s boast brings to mind another important aspect of clean energy research, and that has to do with competition.

In an effort to accelerate job creation, promote energy efficiency, and increase the nation’s competitiveness in the 21st-century marketplace, President Obama has made clean energy and the environment a major focus of his fledgling administration.

Indeed, just yesterday, during a visit to Elkhart County, the president announced a $2.4 billion grant program to develop more advanced, fuel-efficient vehicles. With seven grant-winning projects, Indiana will be the second-largest recipient of this new funding, which comes under the economic stimulus plan signed into law earlier this year. That plan contained more than $60 billion in clean energy investments. Among those investments were $11 billion for an enhanced grid that will move renewable energy from the rural areas where it is produced to the cities where it is consumed; over $6 billion for state and local renewable energy and energy efficiency projects; and $5 billion for low-income home weatherization projects. The stimulus bill also directs $3 billion towards the National Science Foundation to support basic research and spur innovation.

With an overall focus on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and green jobs, these investments are intended to help jump-start our nation’s economy and secure its energy future. As President Obama put it, “The nation that leads the world in creating a new clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy.” 2

The Indiana Economy

And, of course, the economic implications for Indiana of clean energy are enormous.

Within the last two years, Indiana ranked near dead last in a Forbes Magazine survey of “greenest states.” 3 That must change if the Hoosier economy is to be globally competitive—and it is already changing.

The Hoosier coal industry accounts for nearly 3,000 jobs, and coal production is valued at nearly a billion dollars annually. 4 We are home to one of the handful of coal gasification plants in the nation, which provide a cleaner way to transform coal into usable energy.

About a week ago, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard returned from a trip to Brazil in search of ways to help enhance his city’s clean energy industry. I understand that Brazil has had a consistent national policy on energy since the 1970s and now draws 70% of its electric power and 50% of its transportation fuel from renewable sources. Andrew Hsu, Director of the Lugar Center for Renewable Energy, was among Mayor Ballard’s delegation on that trip.

And just two weeks ago in his keynote address to the Windiana 2009 Conference, Governor Daniels spoke about the increasing energy demands of Indiana’s growing manufacturing economy. 5 We currently have the fastest growing wind industry in the nation, and Governor Daniels is telling us—quite rightly, in my judgment—that this progress must continue. 6

A Challenge to Indiana University

It gives me great pride to say that Indiana University is also actively working to meet the challenge of clean energy.

A little over a year ago, I received the “Campus Sustainability Report” for IU Bloomington, prepared under the able leadership of Paul Sullivan and Michael Hamburger. Based on this report, IU Bloomington established the Office of Sustainability and appointed Indianapolis architect Bill Brown as director of sustainability.

Including students, faculty, and staff, IU ranks roughly between South Bend and Evansville in terms of population. Recent figures place our annual coal use at nearly 70 tons, natural gas at nearly 270 thousand therms, electricity at over 257 million kilowatt hours, and water at over 657 million gallons for a total cost of over $22.8 million . . . and that’s just for the Bloomington campus. 7

There may be no more ideal laboratory for students to learn about energy efficiency and sustainability than at Indiana University.

In fact, I understand that the interns in Bill’s office have produced some very impressive reports on issues like carbon neutrality, the feasibility of a recycling center, and waste audits. That last report required students to sift through and catalog hundreds of pounds of garbage. That takes real dedication to research— and it is emblematic of the incredible enthusiasm that IU students bring to this endeavor. I could comment on IU’’s green building policy and our LEED certification on the over half a dozen buildings currently under construction, our old growth forest policy in place since 2001, our contracts to purchase electric energy from renewable sources or renewable energy credits, or our installation of low-flow faucets, showerheads, urinals, and toilets.

All of these efforts and countless others reflect our commitment to the next generation. To paraphrase President Wells, we should build not for tomorrow, but for a thousand years from now.

The Importance of Research

Universities like Indiana University can—and will—do much to more effectively address issues of sustainability and energy conservation. And IU is committed to continuing our efforts in this regard. But one institution, even one as large as IU, can only do so much on its own if we think of the university as just another large economic enterprise.

But universities are not like other economic enterprises.

By far one of the greatest impacts of such institutions is through their research. One fundamental breakthrough in battery technology or the design of new catalysts in IU laboratories could have a major effect world-wide in sustainability and energy conservation. Just as we explore nanolandscapes for scientific solutions, so too must we look to global horizons to measure our aspirations for innovation.

To spur on that innovation, about a year ago I announced a grant of $150,000 as seed funding to research groups in environmental science to build and expand on their efforts. Currently two teams of researchers from IUPUI and IU Bloomington are receiving funding. One is focused on the impact of flooding on water quality and the other is analyzing the use of genomic signatures in the study of environmental human health.

And these are two of the many projects related to clean energy, environmental protection, policy studies, and sustainability taking place across the entire university.

From Kasem Kasem’s electrochemical research at IU Kokomo to James Hollenbeck’s work on STEM Education at IU Southeast; from Otto Chang’s assessment of economic sustainability at Fort Wayne to the IUB research team in the Chemistry Department working on catalysis. Their work, in close partnership with theory and computational groups, reinforces the dramatic importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in these efforts.

We could look to the many projects falling under the auspices of the collaborative and multi-disciplinary Center for Research in Energy and the Environment, including studies of carbon dioxide sequestration and wind energy, among others.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention the extensive efforts taking place at the Lugar Center for Renewable Energy including fuel cell research, cellulostic biofuel research, and studies related to hydrogen generation. Many of these interests are reflected in research across the university.

I could continue, but in the interest of time let me just say that I have only offered the briefest snapshot of the research taking place across this university related to clean energy, sustainability, and environmental health. 8


What President Wells said about buildings, we could also say about such research.

We can think about the immediate impact of what we are doing, but always in the back of our minds we should think about how our efforts will effect generations to come, generations we will never know, generations living a thousand years from now.

You have my best wishes for a successful conference.

Thank you very much.

Source Notes

  1. “US-China Clean Energy Research Center Announced.” Press Release. U.S. Department of Energy. Energy. 15 June 2009. Access date 4 Aug. 2009. http://www.energy.gov/news2009/7640.htm
  2. Obama, Barack. “Remarks by the President on Energy.” Grand Foyer, White House, Washington, D.C. 29 June 2009. The White House: Office of the Press Secretary. Access Date 27 July 2009. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-on-Energy
  3. Wingfield, Brian, and Miriam Marcus. “America’s Greenest States.” Forbes Magazine. 17 Oct. 2007. Access Date 5 Aug. 2009. http://www.forbes.com/2007/10/16/environment-energy-vermont-biz-beltway-cx_bw_mm_1017greenstates.html
  4. Sparrow, F.T. “Measuring the Contribution of Coal to Indiana’s Economy.” CCTR Briefing: Coal, Steel and the Industrial Economy. Hammond, Indiana. 12 Dec. 2008. Access Date 5 Aug. 2009. http://www.purdue.edu/discoverypark/energy/events/cctr_meetings_dec_2008/presentations/Sparrow-12-12-08.pdf
  5. Governor Daniels’ remarks are available at the following address: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4-kjq6rgQk
  6. “AWEA Annual Wind Energy Industry Report Reflects Strong Growth in 2008, Dramatic Increase in Manufacturing.” Press Release. American Wind Energy Association. 13 April 2009. Access Date 3 Aug. 2009. http://www.awea.org/newsroom/releases/Annual_Industry_Rankings_2009_041309.html
  7. Kaden, Jeffrey. “IUB Energy Systems.” Indiana University Mini-University. June 2008. Mr. Kaden is the University Energy and Director of Engineering Services at Indiana University.
  8. At this point, President McRobbie offered extemporized remarks regarding his deep interest in the outcomes of the conference.