Energy experts at USC to explore oil alternatives

A new initiative at the University of South Carolina aims to help the U.S. break its dependence on foreign oil by bringing together experts working on alternative and traditional energy sources.

The university announced this week the creation of a team called the Energy Leadership Institute that will seek to better organize and promote the efforts of more than 125 faculty members already conducting energy research.

The institute has plans to convene a workshop in the fall for academics, politicians and industry experts to develop an energy independence plan for the United States. Tony Ambler, dean of the College of Engineering and Computing, said the event could lead to further workshops and eventually a conference next summer to publicly announce the plan.

“We’re trying to get away from just producing academic papers,” he said. “We have an awful lot more we can provide to the state, to companies, to the legislature in terms of what we could or should be doing in any energy technology area.”

Ambler said the energy research at USC “knocks the socks off” research being done at other universities and that the creation of the institute would help bring the work being done at USC to the attention of the Legislature and public.

The institute’s faculty members are spread across six USC colleges. Ambler said the institute’s interdisciplinary membership would enable them to consider everything from the public health impacts of energy policy to questions of economic feasibility and environmental sustainability.

“We’re not just talking about the technical aspect of energy but about the total package,” Ambler said.

USC already houses eight research centers directly connected to the mission of the institute. Called Centers of Economic Excellence, they receive financial support through the state’s SmartState Program and conduct research in areas deemed important to the state’s economic growth, including hydrogen fuel cells, nuclear energy and clean coal.

Chemical engineer John R. Regalbuto, chair of the SmartState Program, has been named director.

Additional plans call for collaborations with educational, corporate and governmental organizations and the creation of new undergraduate and graduate programs at USC. Ambler noted that the new institute would make it easier for the university to attract and train students interested in energy research.