As I write this, we have 15 students studying and working at the Center, our largest number ever. They range from graduate students serving as research assistants on various projects, to three undergraduate UNPEPPers working as summer interns on our 6th University-National Park Energy Partnership Program, to a local high school student helping with our HyTEC hydrogen education project. It’s wonderful having all that student enthusiasm and energy at the lab.
At a recent weekly staff meeting, we welcomed a couple of new graduate research assistants, Michael “Joe” Purdon and Colin Sheppard. You can read about them and their interests in this newsletter. The addition of Joe and Colin to our staff means that we’ve grown to 20 people, a milestone for the lab and the largest we’ve ever been. It’s heartening to see how far we’ve come since the early days when Charles Chamberlin and I and two undergrads were the entire staff.
It’s also heartening to see the progress we’ve made towards building a new SERC facility. We’ve decided on a design-build procurement process and we’re now working with Facilities Management staff at HSU to develop the Request for Proposals that will go out to contractor-architect teams. They will respond with proposals and we hope to have chosen the winning team by early summer. Groundbreaking is scheduled for late summer. We’ll keep you informed about our progress.
As Richard Engel reports in this issue’s lead article, the Schatz Center is turning more attention to biomass energy. We’ve come to realize that biomass must play an important role in a renewable energy and carbon constrained future. And as Richard points out, it’s a natural for SERC, located as we are in the midst of the expansive forests of northern California.
The gasifier that Richard mentions and that we’ll be installing soon at our lab is part of a collaborative project with the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley. We’ll be working with the Indonesia Sugar Group to determine if they can use gasification of bagasse to increase their operating efficiency and sell carbon credits in the bargain. We’ll be running the gasifier over the next couple of years, determining optimum operating conditions and measuring gas output and efficiency.
The big news at the Schatz lab is that after 15 years at our present location in the Humboldt State University Annex, we’ve begun the process of building a new facility on the HSU campus. Though our present home has served us well, we are severely space limited and this poor old building, built as a hospital in the 1940s, has seen better days.
Our new Center will be located on a picturesque, hillside site only a few hundred yards from our present location. The new building will be about 50% larger than our current space and will provide us with room to accommodate more graduate students and a more complete lab and shop. In keeping with our values, the new building will be energy and resource conserving and blend in with its beautiful North Coast environment. We’ll keep you informed as we progress toward a completed design.
Humboldt County has become a hotbed of renewable energy development. We’ve reported in a past issue that Humboldt County residents have the highest per capita use of grid connected solar systems in California, even though our amount of sunshine is less than in southern areas. Now things have intensified, with large corporations getting in on the Humboldt drive to switch to renewables.
The Schatz Center recently hosted a visit from Tim O’Leary and his colleagues from Shell Renewables and Hydrogen. Shell has begun the process of developing a wind farm on Bear River Ridge, just inland from Cape Mendocino and one of the best wind sites in the western U.S. Local ranchers are enthusiastic as they see wind farming as a way to gain revenue and keep their generations-old ranches active and thriving. Pacific Gas and Electric Company has announced that they’ll begin prospecting off the Humboldt County coast for wave energy potential. North coast wave energy could make a huge contribution to renewable energy in California. DG Energy is looking to increase its use of wood chips and other woody biomass to produce electricity; Humboldt County already gets almost 50% of its electricity from wood. And here at the Schatz lab, we’ve begun a partnership with Forestry faculty and the Schatz Tree Farm (yes, it’s the same Mr. Schatz) to study gasification and pyrolysis of woody biomass. We’re aiming to get biomass out of the forest and producing useful energy. This has a large potential to produce renewable energy in the West as fuel reduction efforts in our national forests will supply biomass for decades to come.
What a difference a year makes. SERC colleague Arne Jacobson and I traveled to Washington, D.C. in January to speak to our lawmakers, discuss ongoing work at the Center, and offer our support and guidance on climate change legislation. For the last few years, there has been general pessimism in the Congress that anything would be accomplished with regard to climate change. This time, Arne and I found energy and optimism. We met with staffers for Senators Feinstein and Boxer, including the chief consul of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, the Senate Committee that will be taking up climate change legislation. We were also fortunate to meet with Congressman Mike Thompson and his staff. Everyone was encouraged that times have changed and real movement toward effective legislation is fi nally happening. Whether it will be Senator Feinstein’s incremental bill or Senator Boxer’s more radical one, we wish the Congress luck in finally tackling our most pressing global issue.
This issue of our newsletter chronicles a milestone event for the Schatz Center. After years of work designing and installing hydrogen technology for organizations all across the U.S., we’re finally getting to build a hydrogen station here at home. SERC engineers will soon be installing a hydrogen energy station on the Humboldt State University campus. The first vehicle to gas up at the station when it is completed this Spring will be a hydrogen-fueled Prius from the California Hydrogen Highway Program. HSU President, Rollin Richmond, will use the car to commute to work. President Richmond has been an enthusiastic supporter all along; when first told of this project, he said, “This is a fabulous idea!”
Once again, I’m proud to be a Californian. As part of a landmark deal reached recently by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative Democrats, California will become the first state to impose a cap on all greenhouse gas emissions, including those from industrial plants. The agreement marks a clear break with the Bush administration and puts California on a path to reducing its emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by an estimated 25 percent by 2020. It will utilize a market program that will allow businesses to buy, sell and trade emission credits with other companies.
Early in May, we were fortunate to host a visit from California’s Climate Action Team. The team was here to discuss the role of forests in mitigating climate change and to take input from attendees on the state’s Climate Action Plan. The plan is well researched and well written and its very existence puts our state far ahead of our nation in addressing climate change. Energy efficiency, conservation, new technologies, and a carbon trading system are among the important and effective strategies promoted by the plan. In my response to the team, I pointed out that despite the plan’s quality, the most important message about climate change had been omitted. It is this: All of these strategies taken together won’t solve our problems without a reduction in our wasteful lifestyle. That’s a message we at SERC try to stress: Technology, no matter how clever and effective, won’t solve our problems by itself. We have to change too.
We at SERC have been working hard for over 15 years to advance our mission to “promote clean and renewable energy.” But, despite writing many research papers and technical reports, securing patents, and making conference presentations all over the world, we’ve never had a newsletter.
Now we do and you are holding our first issue in your hands. We will publish it quarterly and hope it will keep our friends and colleagues up to date on our activities and connected with us and SERC.