July 29, 2005

Federal energy bill good for SIUC, Illinois

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale, long a leader in clean coal research, may play an even larger role in developing the energy systems of the future under the energy bill approved by Congress this week.

A day after House approval, the U.S. Senate today (July 29) approved the national energy policy legislation. The White House said President Bush will sign the measure next week.

SIUC officials appreciate the opportunities the bill affords the University, and the efforts of members of the Illinois congressional delegation. Reps. Jerry Costello and John Shimkus, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Sens. Barack Obama and Richard Durbin all played key roles in influencing the language and direction of the legislation.

"Energy, particularly energy derived from coal, plays a pivotal role in Southern Illinois and our faculty continue to concentrate many of their research efforts on finding ways to utilize coal resources, "said SIUC Chancellor Walter V. Wendler. "We work closely with the Illinois congressional delegation to advance these efforts on behalf of the people of Illinois and we see great progress this session. We greatly appreciate their efforts."

John Mead, director of SIUC's Coal Research Center, said the legislation includes two provisions of direct interest to the University. One, authored by Costello, calls for the creation of national centers of excellence for coal research. The other, an Obama initiative, calls for the development of a program to evaluate advanced technologies for the production of transportation fuels from Illinois Basin coal.

"What's envisioned with the centers of excellence are initiatives based at universities that will focus on energy systems of the future," Mead said. "We're very interested in how ultra-clean uses of coal can be integrated into the way we use energy and integrated particularly into the whole process of mining and processing coal."

Costello is a long-time advocate of clean coal research at SIUC, and is a proponent of the University becoming one of the national centers for coal research.

"What we're talking about is looking at whole energy systems that can operate to the benefit of society with close to zero emissions, without the other kinds of environmental consequences that have so long been associated with the use of any fossil energy resources," Mead said. "That may involve looking at technology that's available today, looking at how to improve and deploy emerging technologies close to maturity, and looking at new concepts."

The other key provision calls on the U.S. Department of Energy to support modification of existing facilities and development of new ones at SIUC, Purdue University and the University of Kentucky for research into developing Illinois Basin coal into transportation fuels.

"The production of transportation fuels from coal is going to be a very important process for this country, because our use of fossil energy and particularly oil is focused largely on transportation," Mead said. "If we can find domestic sources for such transportation liquids, that could really change the domestic versus import balance of our nation's energy use."

Mead pointed out that development of new transportation fuels has both economic and national security implications.

"An added benefit of this kind of development is that these synthetic liquid fuels can be designed to meet specific needs," he added. "We may be able to produce better fuels than we typically get from oil, and that's of interest to the Department of Defense. They also have an interest in having domestic sources of liquid fuels. There are a lot of interesting implications that go beyond the business and economic issues normally associated with energy, and certainly with coal."

Coal gasification "will be a key technology in developing better fuels," Mead said.