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New IU research centers will study issues involving energy and the environment

Two new Indiana University research centers for studying energy and the environment result from two years of planning and preparation, says J.C. Randolph, professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, who was closely involved in the creation of both.

The Center for Research in Energy and the Environment (CREE) opened this fall at IU Bloomington. Directed by Randolph and administered by SPEA, it will facilitate and develop interdisciplinary research, promote educational opportunities and provide service to the public and private sectors.

CREE, meanwhile, is part of the Indiana Consortium for Research in Energy Systems and Policy, which launched Oct. 31 with a symposium in Indianapolis. The consortium also includes the Richard G. Lugar Center for Renewable Energy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, directed by Andrew Hsu, professor of mechanical engineering; and researchers in agricultural economics and other fields at Purdue University in West Lafayette.

Randolph, a forest ecologist, said the time is right for harnessing IU's and the state's scientific and policy expertise to tackle the challenges and opportunities associated with energy and the environment.

"This idea is timely, this idea is important, and as we speak the political environment is changing," he said, noting that both President-elect Barack Obama and Senator John McClain support climate-change legislation that could have a significant effect on energy production.

Randolph traced the idea for the centers back to late 2006 and early 2007. He recalled meeting with Purdue agricultural economists Otto Doering and Wallace Tyner in a conference room at Purdue's Krannert Building and sketching ideas for collaborative research on energy issues.

In February 2007, Randolph and SPEA colleague Ken Richards served on the planning committee for the annual IU Kelley School of Business conference, which focused on energy and the environment, including global climate change. Top officials from Dow Chemical, BP America, Cummins and Duke Energy were among the speakers.

"The heads of these major companies got up and said, 'The debate about whether climate change is occurring is over. The debate now moves to what we will do about it,'" he said. "It was just astonishing."

Since then, the consensus about climate change has solidified. And with oil prices fluctuating wildly and energy independence a hot issue in the 2008 elections, the link between energy policy and national security has come to the forefront.

"The current economic crisis is also a reflection of some of the issues with energy and the environment," Randolph said. "And some of the opportunities. They cut across all of this."

Randolph raised the idea of a Bloomington research center with then IU President Adam Herbert, who encouraged him to move forward with the idea. After detailed planning and the transition to President Michael A. McRobbie, it received official approval in July.

Randolph directs the Center for Research in Energy and the Environment. Richards, an economics and policy expert, is associate director for policy, and John Rupp, assistant director for research of the Indiana Geological Survey, is associate director for science.

CREE's goals include producing sound, objective research; disseminating findings to relevant scientific and policy communities; and elevating the quality of public and scientific deliberations about energy and the environment. It will focus on carbon dynamics and sequestration; environmental and economic consequences of energy production, distribution and use; and renewable energy resources.

"The challenges we face in the areas of energy and the environment are significant, but so are the opportunities," said SPEA Dean John D. Graham. "This is especially true in Indiana, where energy-intensive manufacturing, transportation, agriculture and coal production are critical to the state economy. The center will bring together IU Bloomington experts in policy and in basic and applied science to conduct research that helps meet these challenges."

CRESP, the Consortium for Research in Energy Systems and Policy, will tackle a similar range of issues, bringing together scientists and economists working on topics such as carbon sequestration, climate change and new technologies for energy production and use.

Randolph pointed out that Indiana generates 96 percent of its electricity by burning coal, which produces the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, making the state vulnerable to climate-change legislation. But Indiana is also poised to play a significant role in carbon sequestration and the production of renewable energy, including a new generation of biofuels and wind power.

That, he said, makes it all the more important for Indiana researchers to conduct more and better studies of what policy changes and technological breakthroughs will mean for the environment and the economy.