University Business - October 2008 - (Page 31)

FUTURE SHOCK Coal Colleges on a Green Planet Institutions at the cutting edge of coal research By James Martin and James E. Samels W E ALL SAW IT COM ing—the proverbial handwriting was on the wall. One would have had to be clueless to miss the energy crunch coming down the pipeline, with the cost of gasoline topping $4 per gallon, Northeastern states experiencing a rolling brownout, and families opting to remain at home on “staycations” this past summer. Indeed, with preowned hybrid Toyota Prius cars rarer than hen’s teeth, and with 33,000 signing up for GM’s new electric chariot—the Chevy Volt—the tree-hugging granola folks were not the only ones who felt the pinch on our natural resources last summer. In the emerging green economy, it is now clear that we need to go beyond wind and solar power to methane, biofuels, hydrogen, geothermal, hydro, and tidal energy. As we ponder the possibilities of smarter fuel alternatives, and their impact on higher ed, we must also consider coal—an old, familiar resource with a drastically changing role. Some would say we suffer from an energy attention deficit disorder, shutting off the research tap each time oil prices come down. Unhappily, coal’s downside includes air pollution and global warming, a daunting and noxious legacy for our children, not to mention the possibility of a shorter life for our planet. For the future, new technologies in coal mining, gasification, and sequestration can change the way we generate energy from coal and provide a primary energy source in a greener economy and more stringent government regulatory environment. Surprisingly, university energy researchers have known for several decades the dirty little secret about coal: it does not have to be dirty. Over the past 50 years, America’s colleges and universities became alternately engaged and disengaged in coal research. Some would say that we suffer from an energy attention deficit disorder, shutting off the alternative energy research tap each time oil prices come down and oil becomes more available. So what happened? Simply put, oil was discovered in such abundance in the Middle East, South America, and other places that oil companies convinced the United States to all but abandon its alternative energy research. Clearly, shortsighted views on energy sources and markets ruled the day. RENEWABLE INTEREST But with a $5 per gallon price tag projected for 2009, we must brace ourselves anew for the energy, economic, and environmental consequences that the next generation will face. Now that major mining colleges and research universities have attracted federal, state, and energy-provider investments, the stakes have soared, and with that the interest of America’s colleges and universities in clean coal and other sustainable energy choices has dramatically risen. James Martin is a professor at Mount Ida College (Mass.). James E. Samels is president and CEO of e Education Alliance. eir book is Presidential Transition in Higher Education: Managing Leadership Change (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004). October 2008 | 31 DIRTY AND NOT SO DIRTY In its early stages of discovery, coal was (and still is) “the best of fuels and the worst of fuels,” as Kenneth S. Deffeyes calls it in Beyond Oil: e View from Hubbert’s Peak (Hill and Wang, 2005). It is best in that it is plentiful, is distributed broadly in both domestic and overseas markets, and serves as the perfect energy source in its capacity to power utilities, offices, schools, and homes. Beyond its impact as a plentiful power source, coal’s most valuable quality is its mitigation of foreign oil dependence.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of University Business - October 2008

University Business - October 2008
Editor's Note
College Index
Company Index
Advisory Board
Behind the News
Future Shock
On the Hill
The Changing Chaplaincy
Stop, Thief!
Chief Business Officers Speak Out
Independent Outlook
Internet Technology
What's New
End Note

University Business - October 2008