Energy researchers dig for solutions

By Sam Beard, @SamBeard_DE

Alternatives to non-renewable energy sources are popular, but not perfect. 

With the ever-increasing regulations put on energy suppliers, coal, gas and oil companies are turning to academics for help in figuring out how to continue extraction operations while staying in compliance with emission restrictions. 

Representatives from fossil fuel and energy companies, faculty and students will discuss the future of energy research and education at the Regional Energy Forum, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center.


Since 2008, American solar panel installations have increased seventeen-fold, according to the U.S. Office of Energy. Even with the rise of solar panels and windmills, some energy experts say it is too soon to put all the eggs in the renewable-energy basket.

Tomasz Wiltowski, director of the Advanced Coal and Energy Research Center, said academia and business have the same interest in boosting efficiency of fossil fuel usage and researching how industry can comply with governmental regulations to continue extraction operations.

“This energy forum can help us collaborate more closely. This we call an industry-academia alliance,” Wiltowski said. “Having both parties at this meeting will give the opportunity for everyone to talk and present their concerns, ideas, concepts and needs.”

He said working with corporations is good for the university because it will generate more funds for faculty, research and student-workers.

Wiltowski said the university is not doing much research on renewable energy because outside funds for research, such as grants from corporations or governmental initiatives, are virtually non-existent. 

Peter Schuburt, director of Indiana’s Richard G. Lugar Center for Renewable Energy, said Friday’s forum will offer a chance for the energy centers to put their forces together in an effort to get grants from the federal government.

He said the use of renewables reduces environmental impact, stimulates the local economy and lessens America’s dependence on foreign sources.


“By using more renewables, we’re reducing our impact on the climate, as well as land and water pollution, which are associated with fossil fuel extraction and consumption,” he said.

Wiltowski said SIU’s center, previously called the Coal Research Center, has not reached the same conclusion.

“When I have a piece a coal in my hand, there is good stuff in there and there is bad stuff as well. Bad in terms of it being hazardous or toxic or whatever, but there’s good that I can utilize — like the hydrocarbons,” Wiltowski said.

He said the production of solar panels releases more toxic chemicals into the environment than mining for coal.

“I’m not against solar, I’m not against wind. But I’m against being unreal,” Wiltowski said. “OK, you have a solar panel and it’s 11 p.m. What do you do?”

He supports a 20-year transition to renewable sources, but said it is not realistic to expect an overnight change.

Schuburt said he does not support the idea that fossil fuel extraction should continue until supplies run out, because use is not sustainable long-term.

Wiltowski said the university can expect to see a Regional Energy Forum every six weeks or so, with the next expected to take place in November.

Sam Beard can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SamBeard_DE.