A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

The Schatz lab celebrated its 20th year anniversary with a gala picnic and reunion last month. The food was delicious, the fog lifted just in time, and Schatzers new and old got to enjoy a wonderful afternoon at Freshwater Park.

So much has happened since that first phone call with Mr. Schatz and the first meeting that Charles and I had to plan the Schatz Solar Hydrogen Project. At last count, 77 people have worked and studied at SERC. SERC alumni have gone on to become professors, fuel cell researchers, engineers of all sorts, and energy aware citizens. We’ve developed the first PEM fuel cell car, two patents, and three still-running licenses for our technology. Soon, our new 6600 square foot lab and office building will be complete and we’ll have our dream home for decades to come. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined this 20 years ago, but I feel fortunate to have had so many wonderful people as colleagues and that we have accomplished so much to promote clean and renewable energy.

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A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

Well, that didn’t last long. The honeymoon that new Secretary of Energy Steven Chu enjoyed has ended, at least among hydrogen energy researchers and advocates. With the announcement that funding for the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle program has been eliminated in DOE’s 2009-10 budget request, Chu caused consternation, even anger, in the hydrogen world.

Chu explained his choice by saying that when he asked the question of whether or not hydrogen fuel cell vehicles would contribute to our economy in 10 to 15 or even 20 years, the answer he felt, was “no.” Instead, Chu wants to focus funding on plug-in hybrids and battery technology.

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A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

Over the years I’ve given numerous talks about energy to audiences ranging from university students to citizen groups. Whenever I speak about the renewable energy future that we must someday achieve, a frequent question is, “What do we need to get there?” My answer has always been, “The most important thing we need is political leadership at the top.”

About two months into the Obama administration, we finally have that leadership. The President has recognized and has said out loud numerous times that energy issues are crucial to our economic health and our national security. He has proposed increased energy efficiency standards, a cap and trade system to address carbon emissions, and a 10 year, $150 billion investment in clean energy, among many other proposals. His goals are ambitious, too ambitious say some, in light of the host of problems we all face, but we at the Schatz Center applaud him for his vision and his courage. It’s about time our nation has a forward looking energy policy and we wish the President and DOE Secretary Steven Chu luck in moving their agenda forward.

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A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

It was a great thrill for us at SERC to finally have a signed contract in place for the construction of our new lab/office building. After years of planning, we now have a design we can dream about and a date we can look forward to for completion of our new home. I walked up to the site the other day. The building corners are marked and I was able to imagine what it will be like to walk into a modern, energy-efficient facility right in the middle of the HSU campus. Our cover story shows the building rendering so you can dream along with us. We’ll keep you informed with updates in each forthcoming issue.

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A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

The big news for the Schatz Center this month is the official opening of the HSU hydrogen fueling station. As reported by Richard Engel in this issue, we had a joyous grand opening ceremony on a beautiful Humboldt County day. After almost two decades of installing hydrogen projects scattered all around the U.S., it has been especially rewarding for us to bring our technology home.

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A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

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.

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A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

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.

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A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

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.

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A Message from the Director

Peter and Jim summit Glacier Peak

What we did on our summer vacation: Schatzers Peter Lehman and Jim Zoellick on the summit of Glacier Peak in Washington state. Mt. Baker and the North Cascades are in the distance. (Photo Credit Peter Kuhnlein)

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.

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A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

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.

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