energy and sustainability


CORVALLIS, Ore. - A new report concludes that wood is one of the most environmentally sensitive building materials for home construction - it uses less overall energy than other products, causes fewer air and water impacts and does a better job of the carbon "sequestration" that can help address global warming.

The research showed that wood framing used 17 percent less energy than steel construction for a typical house built in Minnesota, and 16 percent less energy than a house using concrete construction in Atlanta. And in these two examples, the use of wood had 26-31 percent less global warming potential.

This $1 million study was prepared by the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials, a non-profit corporation of 15 research universities. It was published in the Journal of Forest Products and is the first major update on this topic since a 1976 report by the National Academy of Science.

The type of information and data provided in this report may be increasingly useful as consumers and government agencies try to identify construction techniques and materials for homes and other structures that minimize environmental impacts, said James Wilson, a professor of wood science and engineering at Oregon State University, and vice president of this research consortium.

"There's a significant consumer movement and even some voluntary standards that are interested in 'green,' or environmentally conscious construction methods," Wilson said. "We need to have a good understanding of the overall effects that different types of construction have in such areas as energy consumption, global warming, air and water impacts, or solid waste disposal."

California and some other states are already moving towards "environmentally preferable purchase" standards that identify the best materials to use for energy conservation, environmental protection and other issues, Wilson said. And it's quite possible that some states or localities may legally require such approaches in the future for construction of public buildings, he said.

After some experimentation with new building approaches such as concrete or steel in recent decades, Wilson said, it appears that for environmental purposes we may return to one of the most ancient, tried-and-true materials of them all - wood.

"We've seen a general substitution for wood in many aspects of home construction for years, using less of it for siding, windows, roofing, other purposes," Wilson said.

"Price and availability of wood were some of the factors involved, along with building codes," he said. "And about five years ago the steel industry began a big push for more use of steel in home construction, which didn't accomplish as much as that industry hoped for, but did have some impact."

The new study that was done looks at the total "life-cycle assessment" of different construction products and techniques, considering such issues as how materials are grown, mined, processed, produced, used and ultimately disposed of, to give a better picture of their overall impact on the environment. It considers effects on energy use, air and water emissions, global warming and other topics.

Although many people are not aware of their overall makeup, houses require a broad range of natural resources, such as limestone, clay, iron ore, sand, gypsum, wood fiber, resins, coal and more. The process of building them uses energy in the form of electricity, diesel fuel, gasoline, wood, coal, or nuclear power. The cumulative impact of using all these natural resources and energy can be significant in ways that are not always apparent - everything from the electricity used in running a steel mill to the mining of raw materials or the diesel fuel that powers a truck hauling logs.

Compiled in a database, this type of information can help consumers, builders, architects, policy makers or government regulators make more informed choices, Wilson said. This particular project examined the implications of a wood frame housing design versus a steel frame design for the cold Minneapolis region, and a wood frame versus concrete design for the hot, humid Atlanta area.

In the Minneapolis example, steel framing, compared to wood, used 17 percent more energy; caused 26 percent more global warming potential; caused a 14 percent higher level of air emissions of concern; more than 300 percent, or triple the level of water emissions of concern; and had about the same solid waste disposal impact.

In the Atlanta example, concrete construction, compared to wood, used 16 percent more energy; caused 31 percent more global warming potential; caused a 23 percent higher level of air emissions of concern; had the same impact on water emissions of concern; and created 51 percent more solid waste. Wood had a particular value in addressing the global warming issue, the data indicate. The growth of wood in renewable forests works to "sequester" and remove carbon from the atmosphere, and fewer carbon emissions are created in the processing needed to produce wood products than their steel and concrete counterparts.

The report also suggested ways to redesign houses to lower fossil fuel use, reduce the use of excessive amounts of materials, recycle demolition wastes and other improvements. In continued research, Wilson said, scientists hope to expand their studies of wood and other types of construction materials as they relate to even more environmental issues. It will consider more housing examples, different regions of forest resources and manufacturing, use of resins and other structural products that play a role in house construction.

The data base created in this study will be freely available to anyone, researchers say. More detail on the study can be found on the Web at www.corrim.org.

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James Wilson, 541-737-4227

Forest fire prevention efforts will lessen carbon sequestration

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Widely sought efforts to reduce fuels that increase catastrophic fire in Pacific Northwest forests will be counterproductive to another important societal goal of sequestering carbon to help offset global warming, forestry researchers at Oregon State University conclude in a new report.

Even if the biofuels were used in an optimal manner to produce electricity or make cellulosic ethanol, there would still be a net loss of carbon sequestration in forests of the Coast Range and the west side of the Cascade Mountains for at least 100 years – and probably much longer, the study showed.

“Fuel reduction treatments should be forgone if forest ecosystems are to provide maximal amelioration of atmospheric carbon dioxide over the next 100 years,” the study authors wrote in their conclusion. “If fuel reduction treatments are effective in reducing fire severities in the western hemlock, Douglas-fir forests of the west Cascades and the western hemlock , Sitka spruce forests of the Coast Range, it will come at the cost of long-term carbon storage, even if harvested material are used as biofuels.”

The study raises serious questions about how to maximize carbon sequestration in these fast-growing forests and at the same time maximize protection against catastrophic fire.

“It had been thought for some time that if you used biofuel treatments to produce energy, you could offset the carbon emissions from this process,” said Mark Harmon, holder of the Richardson Chair in the OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society. “That seems to make common sense and sounds great in theory, but when you actually go through the data it doesn’t work.”

Using biofuels to produce energy does not completely offset the need for other fossil fuels use and completely negate their input to the global carbon budget, the researchers found. At the absolute maximum, you might recover 90 percent of the energy, the study said.

“That figure, however, assumes an optimal production of energy from biofuels that is probably not possible,” Harmon said. “By the time you include transportation, fuel for thinning and other energy expenditures, you are probably looking at a return of more like 60-65 percent. And if you try to produce cellulosic ethanol, the offset is more like 35 percent.”

“If you take old, existing forests from these regions and turn them into almost anything else, you will have a net loss in carbon sequestration,” Harmon said.

That could be significant. Another recent OSU studied concluded that if forests of Oregon and northern California were managed exclusively for carbon sequestration, they could double the amount of sequestration in many areas and triple it in some.

The new study found that, in a Coast Range stand, if you removed solid woody biofuels for reduction of catastrophic fire risks and used those for fuel, it would take 169 years before such usage reached a break-even point in carbon sequestration. The study showed if the same material were used in even less efficient production of cellulosic ethanol, it would take 339 years.

The researchers did not consider in this analysis how global warming in coming years might affect the increase of catastrophic fire, Harmon said. However, “fire severity in many forests may be more a function of severe weather events rather than fuel accumulation,” the report authors wrote, and fuel reduction efforts may be of only limited effectiveness, even in a hotter future.

“Part of what seems increasingly apparent is that we should consider using west side forests for their best role, which is carbon sequestration, and focus what fuel reduction efforts we make to protect people, towns and infrastructure,” Harmon said. “It’s almost impossible anyway to mechanically treat the immense areas that are involved and it’s hugely expensive. As a policy question we have to face issues of what approaches will pay off best and what values are most important.”

The report was just published in Ecological Applications, a professional journal. The lead author was Stephen Mitchell, who conducted the work as part of his doctoral thesis while at OSU, and is now at Duke University. Among the findings:

  • Fuel reduction treatments that have been proposed to reduce wildfire severity also reduce the carbon stored in forests;
  • On west side Cascade Range and Coast Range forests, which are wetter, the catastrophic fire return interval is already very long, and the additional levels of fuel accumulation have not been that unusual;
  • A wide range of fire reduction approaches, such as salvage logging, understory removal, prescribed fire and other techniques, can effectively reduce fire severity if used properly;
  • Such fuel removal almost always reduces carbon storage more than the additional carbon the stand is able to store when made more resistant to wildfire, in part because most of the carbon stored in forest biomass remains unconsumed even by high-severity wildfires;
  • Considerable uncertainty exists in modeling of future fires, and some fuel reduction techniques, especially overstory thinning treatments, could potentially lead to an increase in fire severity.

The study authors concluded that fuel reduction may still make more sense in east-side Cascade Range and other similar forests, but that the west-side Cascades and Coast Range have little sensitivity to forest fuel reduction treatments – and might be best utilized for their high carbon sequestration capacities.

“Ultimately, the real problem here is global climate change,” Harmon said. “Insect epidemics are increasing, trees are dying. There are no quick fixes to these issues.”

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Mark Harmon, 541-737-8455


CORVALLIS - A soil scientist at Oregon State University has discovered that adding additional organic matter to Oregon's forest soils may actually increase rather than hinder the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Researcher Elizabeth Sulzman's findings fly in the face of what scientists believe about long-term carbon storage by soils and their potential role in ameliorating global climate change.

Sulzman's work - presented at the recent national Ecological Society of America meeting and soon to be published in the international journal Biogeochemistry - shows that the additional organic matter, in the form of conifer needles, may actually prime soil microorganisms to degrade both the new, as well as older, more stable soil carbon stores.

Working at the National Science Foundation-funded H.J. Andrews Long-Term Ecological Research site, located in Oregon's Central Cascade mountain range, Sulzman has shown that exposing forest soils to twice the normal amount of organic matter increased soil carbon releases by 34 percent more than expected. Rather than storing carbon, the additional material fueled a boom of microbial activity that further decomposed soil carbon reserves - ultimately resulting in a net loss of carbon from the soil, returning it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

From roots to decaying wood, there is a tremendous amount of organic material stored beneath the earth's surface. Depending on the forest, 30-50 percent of tree weight can be below ground. Soil microorganisms work to transform all plant material, both above and below ground, into pools of carbon that can remain in the soil for thousands of years.

As soils warm, microbial activity increases. Therefore, soils typically lose more carbon under warmer conditions. "If climate change leads to even warmer temperatures, we could have even greater carbon loss from these soils," said Sulzman, an assistant professor in OSU's Department of Crop and Soil Science. "This would be a double whammy for atmospheric carbon dioxide levels."

It is well-documented that plants are able to use elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide to enhance their growth, a seemingly fortuitous by-product of pollution. But the work of Sulzman and others is finding that above-ground productivity doesn't necessarily translate into long-term storage of carbon below ground, as has long been assumed.

For the past several years, government policies have promoted land management activities designed to store carbon in the soil, so-called carbon sequestration, as a way to mitigate rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. While attempting to better understand forest carbon dynamics and the potential for carbon sequestration in these lands, Sulzman's work has given scientists grounds to question this logic.

"It goes against conventional wisdom," said Sulzman's East Coast collaborator, Richard Bowden, an associate professor at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. Bowden is a researcher at the Harvard Forest Long-Term Ecological Research site in Massachusetts.

"If we add more organic matter, soil should store more carbon," he said. "But if we add organic matter and lose it faster for as yet unknown reasons, we need to think seriously about how well soils can store carbon."

Forest management options, such as leaving slash on the ground or removing it through harvests or burns, subsequently have impacts on carbon storage. "When any management alters the forest floor it has implications for carbon storage, which must be considered," said Sulzman.

"We don't know how forests are really working, and we're asking them to clean up our carbon dioxide pollution," pointed out Bowden, adding that a better understanding of both how forests work as well as their limitations is needed to inform forest policy. "These findings are causing us to rethink our understanding of soil biology at this and other forests where we are conducting these experiments," said Kate Lajtha, a professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at OSU and a colleague of Sulzman.

Sulzman, a scientist with OSU's Agricultural Experiment Station, is collaborating with scientists all over the world in an attempt to better define below-ground processes that control carbon dynamics. Her work is vital to the debate as it's the only research of its kind being conducted in conifer systems. As such, it will also play a role in future forest management.


Elizabeth Sulzman, 541-737-8936

Northwest forests could store more carbon, help address greenhouse issues

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The forests of the Pacific Northwest hold significant potential to increase carbon storage and help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in coming years, a recent study concludes, if they are managed primarily for that purpose through timber harvest reductions and increased rotation ages.

In the complete absence of stand-replacing disturbances – via fire or timber harvest – forests of Oregon and Northern California could theoretically almost double their carbon storage.

Although it isn’t realistic to expect an absence of disturbance, the estimates were based on average conditions up until now that include variation in forest biomass, age, climate, disturbances and soil fertility. If all forest stands in this region were just allowed to increase in age by 50 years, their potential to store atmospheric carbon would still increase by 15 percent, the study concluded.

That would be a modest, but not insignificant offset to the nation’s carbon budget, scientists say, since this region accounts for 14 percent of the live biomass in the entire United States.

The findings were made by scientists in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, as the result of almost two decades of analysis of 15,000 inventory plots in a large region, through several different projects, as part of the North American Carbon Program. The scientists, who said they have often been asked what the theoretical potential was for storing carbon in these forests, conducted the analysis using inventory data that captured current variation in biomass due to many factors.

“We have known that forests in this region have high productivity, and in recent years we have learned they have a high potential to store large amounts of carbon even at very old ages,” said Beverly Law, a professor of forest science at OSU. “The forests west of the Cascade Range are also wetter and less likely to be lost to fire. We suspected these forests might provide more opportunity for carbon storage than has been recognized, and these data support that.”

Many economic, ecological and land management issues come into play, the researchers said, and the recent study does not consider what effect increases in temperature or changes in precipitation might have on these lands, or the implications that might have for catastrophic forest fire. But looked at from nothing more than a carbon offset perspective, the optimal approach would be to leave the forests alone, the scientists said.

“Increasing carbon storage in this region might be one contribution to what clearly is a much larger global issue, something that policy makers could consider,” Law said. “A lot of land management approaches are now being seen as a short-term bridge to a period where we will be using fewer fossil fuels and addressing carbon issues in other ways.”

Largely because of its many forests, researchers say the various “carbon sinks” in Oregon already sequester from 30-50 percent of the emissions caused by use of fossil fuels in the state. That’s much better than many other states or the national totals, Law said.

Among the findings of the report:

  • About 65 percent of the live and dead biomass in this region is on public lands, while private lands often have younger age classes of vegetation and less total biomass;
  • Contrary to accepted views on biomass stabilization and decline, biomass is still increasing in stands more than 300 years old in the Coast Range, Sierra Nevada and the West Cascade Range, and in stands more than 600 years old in the Klamath Mountains;
  • The entire study region of Oregon and Northern California, as far south as San Francisco, holds a total live biomass of about two billion tons of carbon – about 14 percent of the biomass in the whole nation;
  • If forests in this region were managed over hundreds of years to maximize carbon sequestration, the carbon in live and dead biomass could theoretically double in the Coast Range, west and east Cascade Range and Sierra Nevada; and triple in the Klamath Mountains.

This research was supported by the Biological and Environmental Research Terrestrial Carbon Program of the U.S. Department of Energy. It was published in Ecological Applications, a professional journal.

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Beverly Law, 541-737-6111

OSU researchers strive to harness microbes to make hydrogen

CORVALLIS, Ore. ­ Researchers in Oregon State University's Department of Bioengineering are spearheading efforts to develop sustained production of hydrogen fuel by harnessing photosynthetic microbes that use solar energy to split water molecules and make hydrogen.

OSU professors Roger Ely and Frank Chaplen were notified this week that they are receiving $900,000 over the next three years from a U.S. Department of Energy grant to bolster their efforts.

Hydrogen as a fuel source is a hot topic - hydrogen fuel is clean and energy-rich. Fossil fuels such as gasoline or coal generate greenhouse gasses, but burning hydrogen as fuel produces only water. To make hydrogen fuel takes energy, and current methods typically manufacture hydrogen from fossil fuels. To produce hydrogen fuel without emitting greenhouse gasses, a renewable form of energy would need to be used - from the sun, wind or from a biological process.

The technology to do this is not yet fully developed, but Ely and Chaplen hope to change this.

The two bioengineering researchers - who are faculty in both the College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Engineering - are especially interested in the hydrogen-generating potential of a large group of photosynthetic microorganisms called cyanobacteria. These bacteria, formerly known as blue-green algae, naturally generate energy from sunlight and, under certain conditions, can make hydrogen rather than sugars.

Ely says cyanobacteria may be a perfect living source for a safe, efficient, and economical production of hydrogen for fuel.

"Imagine an ideal energy device," said Ely. "It wouldn't burn fossil fuels, and it wouldn't pollute. It would be made of low-cost, non-toxic materials, would run on the power of the sun, and would be safe, clean and economical.

"Nature has been conducting research and development on solar energy capture for about 3½ billion years and can teach us much," he said. "From looking to nature, we already know three key things: visible light constitutes most of the energy reaching the Earth; we know how organisms capture it; and we know how they convert it into chemical energy."

But the researchers must overcome a major hurdle: In natural systems, during photosynthesis, cyanobacteria stop making hydrogen when oxygen is present. "In the organism we are studying, oxygen interferes with the production of hydrogen by 'gumming up the works,' so to speak," explained Ely.

With the grant, Ely and Chaplen hope to develop, via "metabolic engineering," oxygen-tolerant strains of cyanobacteria that can produce hydrogen continuously in the light. After developing sun-harnessing, hydrogen-producing strains, the plan is to grow them by the millions in systems that could also store the generated hydrogen and, using fuel cells, convert it into electricity on demand. They call these proposed systems "solar biohydrogen energy systems."

"These systems can be designed to be relatively simple and economical, and could serve as decentralized sources of clean electrical energy," said Ely. "The process will have one input, sunlight, and two outputs, electricity and heat," he said. "It will be safe, will operate at relatively low temperatures, and could be made in a range of sizes - from home to industry scale - from abundant, inexpensive materials, mostly from carbon and silica."

"I want to make oil obsolete," said Ely. "As I like to say, the Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of rocks. We can do better."

Ely and Chaplen's efforts are in step with OSU's role as a Sun Grant University. As one of the country's five initial Sun Grant centers of excellence, OSU is a regional hub for evolving research, education and outreach programs largely focused on bioproducts and bioenergy.


Roger Ely, 541-737-9409

OSU Scientists Open Green Roof Test Site to Public for Tour and Discussion

CORVALLIS, Ore. — As human populations continue to transition into an urban landscape, cities are faced with challenges in developing and maintaining balanced ecosystems. One newer innovation has those interested in these challenges looking up, literally: green roofs.

In western Oregon, the high presence of non-permeable surfaces like roads, buildings and parking lots results in a specific set of issues surrounding storm water run-off and water treatment facilities. These surfaces do not allow the heavy winter rains to penetrate into the ground. As a result, storm water run-off often overloads treatment facilities causing pollution and other contaminants to be deposited into area rivers.

Green roofs, or eco roofs, can mitigate storm water run-off and reduce the pressure on already stressed infrastructure. The subject of new research at Oregon State University, these roofs are planted with an array of succulents in an engineered growing medium that absorbs rainfall and slows the speed of storm water through wastewater treatment facilities.

"Storm water management is a primary reason that many city governments are interested in green roofs, said Erin Shroll, the lead researcher on OSU's Green Roof Technology project. "But there are a host of other benefits associated with the roofs ranging from better building insulation, to reductions in the urban heat island affect and increases in wildlife habitat."

Despite the benefits of green roofs, the science behind building successful green roofs is still in its early stages in the Pacific Northwest, and around much of the world, said Shroll.

"Each area in the city, and to a degree each portion of roof, has its own microclimate that creates a variety of conditions that must be considered before planting," said Shroll. "We're looking at what plants are most conducive to success in the northwest. It's a very regional study, but one that will tell us a lot about the intricacies of individual areas."

Shroll's study area includes 25 test plots at the Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture on OSU's campus and the roof of the Portland Building in downtown Portland. The campus test plots and the Portland roof have been covered with an engineered growing medium and planted with a variety of six different native plants. Shroll is irrigating the plots and documenting the amount of water necessary to keep the plants growing and healthy.

"We're really looking at how little water we can use to get the plants through the dry months so that when the rains start they are ready to start taking up moisture at a rapid rate," she said.

The OSU Green Roof Technology Project will host a tour of the Oak Creek test plots and a discussion about the role of green roofs in the urban environment on Oct. 3 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at 844 SW 35th St., Corvallis, Ore. 97333. For more information contact Erin Shroll at shrolle@hort.oregonstate.edu, or (541) 207-6840.


Erin Shroll,

Conference to advance "passively-safe" nuclear future

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Nuclear energy experts from more than a dozen nations will meet at Oregon State University beginning Aug. 29 to confer on the latest advances being made in "passively-safe" nuclear reactor systems that could herald the future of nuclear power around the world.

The technology is well advanced for these nuclear reactors, which are being designed in the United States as factory-built systems with prior regulatory approval. Experts say that reactors of this type could soon begin construction, a renaissance for an industry that has been stalled for decades.

The professional conference, sponsored by the International Atomic Energy Association of the United Nations, will explore systems that have been developed in the United States and by other nations, as this new generation of nuclear plant designs come closer to a working reality.

Nuclear power, experts say, is gaining renewed interest as an energy source because it has no "greenhouse gas" emissions that raise concerns for global warming. It is increasingly reliable and cost-competitive, could lessen the nation's dependence on fossil fuels, and now has available plants with enhanced safety features that never before existed. Some reactors would also be able to produce hydrogen for use as an alternative fuel for automobiles - possibly the future of the U.S. automotive industry.

In the past decade OSU has become a leader in the development and testing of these new "passively-safe" nuclear designs. It has conducted test programs funded at more than $13 million that allowed the first two plans of this type in the United States to gain final design approval.

"I'm confident that within the next five years you are going to see new nuclear plants constructed in the United States using the new passive-safety features that we've helped test," said Jose Reyes, professor and chair of the OSU Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics. "We're moving toward a new safety culture in the development of nuclear power, and the upcoming conference should be another important step in moving these designs closer to actual production."

Passively-safe reactor designs use natural forces such as gravity or convection to replace multiple pumps, pipes and valves. To be certified, testing and analyses must show that a passively-safe plant can cool itself for three days under worst-case conditions without operator actions.

As designed by Westinghouse Corp., and tested by OSU, the new AP600 and AP1000 reactor designs would be constructed in factories in large sections and transported by rail to the desired location, cutting construction time by about 70 percent, from a decade to three years or less.

Over the life of the plant they should be able to produce electricity at about two cents per kilowatt hour, less expensive than almost any energy form other than hydroelectric power. A streamlined certification process is in place to minimize delays and costs.

Even more advances are on the drawing board, Reyes said.

"In cooperation with the Idaho National Laboratory and the Nexant-Bechtel Corp., we're going to create a truly modular reactor design that could produce about 50 megawatts each of power, be totally self-contained for transport and would help address a number of security and safety concerns," Reyes said. "For instance, they would require no on-site fueling. Small systems such as this could be combined for a wide range of energy demands, or used in combination with the larger systems already approved."

Safety of the new systems has been improved by an order of magnitude over older designs, officials say, some of which had an estimated "core melt" possibility of one chance in a million. The newest designs have reduced that risk to one chance in 10 to 100 million.

"Issues of terrorism are more of a concern than they used to be, and that's one reason we're building reactors that are extraordinarily strong," Reyes said. "Our newest design would sit in an underground silo and have a very low profile, able to run five straight years with almost no maintenance. These are remarkable systems in which safety is the dominant consideration."

One of the most intriguing of the future designs, Reyes said, is the "very high temperature" thermal reactor that could crack water into its hydrogen and oxygen components, giving it the ability to produce hydrogen for fuel as well as generate electricity. A 600-megawatt reactor such as this might be able to produce the energy equivalent of 300,000 gallons of gasoline a day, he said.

Even existing nuclear power plants have increased their efficiency in recent years, OSU officials say, in the process producing the power equivalent of 30 new nuclear plants. Interest in the entire industry is sufficiently increased, Reyes said, that nuclear engineering education programs at universities around the nation are now growing again after years of decline.

Management of nuclear waste disposal is an issue that's made considerable progress but still faces some political hurdles and needs to be finalized, officials say. Nations sending representatives to the Oregon conference include Japan, Germany, France, Canada, India, Argentina, Italy, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and others.

All of these nations are developing their own version of passively-safe reactors and the conference will feature technical dialogues as well as other cultural and scientific exchanges.

The conference will also include tours of OSU's Advance Plant Experiment Reactor Facility. This one-quarter scale model of the AP1000 has proven invaluable in simulating and testing the safety features of the new design.

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Jose Reyes, 541-737-7065

OSU Receives $1.1 Million to Install New “Hurricane” Wavemaker

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University have been awarded $1.1 million from the National Science Foundation to install a “hurricane” wavemaker at the O. H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, to better understand the impacts of hurricanes and other coastal hazards.

The high performance wavemaker will be installed in late 2008 in North America’s largest coastal wave flume, helping researchers around the world to better simulate waves generated by extreme storms. This is an important step in understanding the impact these waves have on coastal infrastructure and better educating coastal residents about survival preparedness.

“This new hurricane wavemaker will be the largest in the United States and will enable us to create the long-period waves and high wave heights associated with hurricane waves and other extreme storms,” said Daniel Cox, associate professor of civil engineering at OSU and director of the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory.

The U.S. has no coastal research facilities able to simulate hurricanes and other extreme storms that are large enough to minimize the effects of scaling.

The large-stroke, piston-type wavemaker will allow precision, large-scale studies, enabling safer and more cost-effective design of coastal infrastructure such as bridges, levees, buildings and lifelines, Cox said. This will lead to better practices for the repair and retrofit of existing structures and improved design codes for new construction. The facility will also improve education and outreach to people living in areas susceptible to coastal storms.

More than half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of the coast – and the civil infrastructure along U.S. coasts, worth more than $3 trillion, is vulnerable to coastal storms. According to a 2007 report from the National Science Board, the economic and societal impacts of extreme events such as hurricanes are expected to escalate in coming years.

“This facility will assist engineers and scientists in developing resilient coastal communities in the face of increasing coastal population and rising sea levels due to global climate change,” said Cox, who will collaborate on the project with a number of OSU faculty from the OSU colleges of engineering, science, and oceanic and atmospheric sciences.

In addition to enhancing the study of wave impacts on coastal infrastructure, this new capability will enable researchers to study a range of engineering and scientific problems in constructed and natural coastal environments, including:

  • wave energy systems
  • coastal erosion and recovery after storms
  • dune erosion and overtopping
  • tsunami propagation over reefs
  • environmental fluid-sediment dynamics

Between 2000 and 2004, the NSF funded construction at OSU of the $5.4 million Tsunami Wave Basin, the largest facility of its kind in the world and part of the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES). Experimental data obtained from the basins are centrally archived at NEES, Inc. and can be used to validate and calibrate existing and future numerical models to solve engineering and scientific problems.

The Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory is a shared-use, international facility operated by the OSU College of Engineering. No other facility in the U.S. matches the size and performance of the basins, and only a handful of facilities in the world can operate at near-prototype ocean conditions. Due to the lab’s high level information technology, researchers worldwide can participate remotely in experiments at the facility.

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Dan Cox,

Ocean Energy Conference to Review Progress, Needs

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Ocean energy experts from private industry, government agencies and academia will meet at Oregon State University on Friday, Aug. 10, to discuss the latest developments in the evolution of wave energy in Oregon.

The conference, “Ocean Renewable Energy II,” is sponsored by the Oregon Science and Technology Partnership and 13 other co-sponsors. It is the second of its type to bring together leaders in this field to review technological progress, analyze challenges and propose needed actions to move wave energy from a concept to working reality.

More than two dozen experts in renewable energy, regulatory processes, fisheries, economics, scientific research and other fields will participate in presentations or panel discussions. Information on the event, registration, speakers and topics can be obtained on the web at http://www.ostpartnership.org

The theme of the meeting will be “Making Ocean Renewable Energy Happen in Oregon,” and Diane Enright, assistant director of the Oregon Department of Energy, will present at overview of wave energy policy progress in Oregon.

A keynote address on “The Oregon Innovation Council and the Role of Ocean Renewable Energy” will be presented by David Chen, chair of the Oregon Innovation Council and partner in the Oregon Venture Partnership.

Other topics and events will include:

  • Community and local government perspectives
  • Tour of the Wallace Energy Systems and Renewables Facility at OSU
  • Tour of the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Lab and Tsunami Basin
  • Permitting and regulatory frameworks
  • Nationwide activities in ocean renewable energy
  • The federal legislative agenda
  • The Oregon Wave Energy Trust

The Oregon Science and Technology Partnership works to promote growth of the Oregon economy by building collaboration among regional businesses, investors, academic resources and government agencies. OSU is an academic leader in research and development of wave energy in the United States, and is working to position Oregon as a focal point for the future of this technology.

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Nancy Kline,

OSU Sun Grant Center lands $8 million in federal funds

CORVALLIS - Oregon State University's role as one of the nation's leading centers of "bioenergy" research got a significant boost today when President George Bush signed federal legislation providing more than $8 million in funding for the Sun Grant Center at OSU.

The Sun Grant Initiative funding, which is part of the federal transportation bill, will be spread over four years and will largely go to university researchers and extension agents, governmental agency employees, private entrepreneurs and others in the West, including OSU faculty members, who submit successful competitive grant proposals.

"The potential benefits of research being conducted through the Sun Grant Center loom large, for our nation and the world," said OSU President Edward Ray. "The fact that OSU's selection as a national center has been followed so quickly with significant funding to further this work is a testament to the importance of that research and the faculty who conduct it."

"Oregon's congressional delegation worked tirelessly to help make this happen, and it's going to be very good for the state," said Thayne Dutson, the dean of OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences, which hosts the Sun Grant Center. "The Sun Grant Initiative is going to bring new money here, help stimulate and sustain our agriculture industry, and thus our economy, and give OSU an opportunity to develop even greater expertise in this important area of research in collaboration with scientists at other institutions in Oregon and other states."

Last year, the federal government tapped OSU as one of the country's five initial Sun Grant centers of excellence - regional hubs charged with leading research, education and outreach programs largely focused on the evolving field of bioenergy. That began an R&D initiative intended to reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels, add diversity to American agriculture and revitalize rural economies.

For the Sun Grant Initiative, OSU will be the lead university representing nine western states, plus the Pacific Territories and associated Pacific island nations. The university's leadership for the initiative makes OSU one of only two universities in the nation, along with Cornell University, that are now designated as land, sea, space and sun grant institutions.

OSU faculty involved in bioenergy research are already focused on such projects as harnessing microorganisms to produce hydrogen, growing crops to make fuel for automobiles and heavy equipment, generating electricity and producing products like lubricants and pharmaceuticals that usually require petroleum.

Jan Auyong, assistant dean of OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences, is overseeing the western Sun Grant Center. A number of OSU projects relate to bioenergy and bioproducts, said Auyong, offering four examples:

  • Michael Penner, a food scientist, is studying how to convert agricultural residues, particularly straw, into energy and other bio-based products.
  • Bioengineer Roger Ely is conducting research needed to allow the production of hydrogen for fuel cells by microorganisms that use solar energy to split water.
  • Don Wysocki, an Extension educator at OSU's Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center at Pendleton, is working with farmers and others to identify crops such as canola that can be grown and used in small crushing plants to produce biodiesel fuel.
  • David Hackleman and associates in OSU's College of Engineering are developing reactor technology for the production of biodiesel fuel. They plan to build and operate a pilot-scale facility on campus, using waste grease from campus dining halls.

    According to Dutson, OSU will form standing committees to help determine Sun Grant research needs and criteria for competitive grants. Members will include representatives of the agricultural and industrial communities in the West.

    Other regional Sun Grant centers of excellence are at: Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.; the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Oklahoma State University, Stillwater; and South Dakota State University, Brookings.

    There is more information about OSU's Sun Grant activities on the Web at: http://agsci.oregonstate.edu/research/grants_sun_2002.html

  • Source: 

    Thayne Dutson, 541-737-2331