Director calls for collaborative energy research

By Tia Rinehart

Check out the Prezi above before or after reading the article for more info on energy sources.

A group of researchers at the university are working toward cleaner energy for the future.


Tomasz Wiltowski, director of the Coal Research Center, said SIU must adopt a program devoted to the research and education of energy in order to prepare its students for the future.

His plan is to gather professors from different departments on campus that specialize in energy research and develop a campus energy department.

“What I am considering is that, we do have colleagues campus-wide working on energy,” he said, “Maybe it is time for us to put this group together. I believe it could work as a magnet for new potential students.”

Wiltowski said there was no shortage of qualified professionals at the campus for this program.

“We have a lot of colleagues on campus with great ideas,” Wiltowski said. “We have potential and we have to utilize that potential to move forward.”

Wiltowski said the need for cleaner energy is not only a local one, but for the world as a whole. He said the world needs a way to extend the use of finite resources and to extract these resources through ways other than pumping and mining.

He said when working with fossil fuels, we must also consider harm to the environment.


Wiltowski said every generation uses more energy than the one before. If this generation does not begin learning how to create more, the world is in trouble, he said.

“The rate at which energy demand grows, is always higher than the rate at which the population grows,” Wiltowski said. “If the population doubles, we will need three times more energy because we want to live in comfortable conditions. We cannot go backwards.”

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the current world population is 7.2 billion and is predicted to reach 9.6 billion by 2050.

Wiltowski said despite the looming numbers, a cleaner future was within reach.

“We can do it very simply,” he said. “We can create the programs in energy with the vision of, in the future, having the department. This is not a one week process but at least we can start bringing in students with an interest in energy.”

Ken Anderson, a professor teaching courses in geology, said the program is vital to the future.

“Energy will be the topic du jour of the next century,” he said. “The reason is very simple. For the last two centuries every generation has used more energy than the one that came before it.”

Anderson said the current model is no longer plausible. He said his generation has not done the next generation any favors.

“We’ve used up resources at a ridiculous rate,” he said. “(The next) generation is the generation that is going to have to deal with the fact that (they) cannot use more energy and will probably have to use less.”

This will be another nexus in history and they are going to have to sort it out, he said. To do so they need to know the problems and options. That’s why SIU needs the program, he said.

Wiltowski said the research would cover a variety of issues, such as using fossil fuels in different forms. He said transportation fuel could be formed from other resources than oil.

Through gasification, coal and biomass can be turned into synthetic gas and then into liquid, he said. Further research will provide a viable way to keep this synthetic gas clean, he said.

Associate Professor Kanchan Mondal said synthetic gas would increase efficiency, which means less resources will be used.

“The grand challenge is finding easily available resources to replace the exotic resources,” he said.

Wiltowski said another possibility for cleaner energy is potentially recycling carbon dioxide to produce fuels or chemicals.

“It requires a lot of research but it can be done,” he said, “It has to be done.”

Anderson said training is just as critical as research. A curriculum from freshman to post graduate would provide this, he said.

He said professors with energy expertise from all departments are needed in order to cover every aspect of energy.

“We need people in all areas thinking about energy because that is what’s going to drive us,” he said.

Despite what he described as a pressing need, Anderson said there could be resistance from other departments at the university.

“The traditional departments oppose it because it drains their resources and puts an extra load on other people,” he said. “We don’t have a structure that allows us to mix and match.”

Anderson said programs at other universities are facing a similar problem.

“Energy is a topic that crosses many disciplines and I don’t know how SIU is going to get its act together and get organized, but it has to happen,” said Anderson. “Understanding the magnitude of the problem will change the world as much as the Second World War changed the world. People outside of SIU understand this.”

Wiltowski said people are always watching SIU and asking what the university can bring to the region in terms of clean energy research.

He is currently working on getting the program started.

“We have some opportunities right now and we are in contact with the Clean Coal Review Board,” he said. “It is my idea that they may fund us or give us the grant and that money can be used to create the new program and boost the energy research campus-wide.”

Wiltowski said after they receive the blessing from the chancellor and higher administration, the Clean Coal Review Board will review funding plans for the program.

Tia Rinehart can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter at @TiaRinehart_DE or 536-3311 ext. 254