EERC: Partnering with the world for answers on responsible energy
As the demand for energy escalates, so does the environmental
threat to the world’s resources, making their protection
more critical than ever. The Energy and Environmental Research
Center (EERC) at the University of North Dakota is ideally positioned
to develop and deploy innovative energy and environmental technologies
to make the world a better place to live.
The EERC is a research, development, demonstration, and commercialization
facility recognized as one of the world’s leading developers
of cleaner, more efficient energy technologies as well as environmental
technologies to protect and clean our air, water, and soil.
Environmental technologies are among the fastest-growing industry
sectors. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the global
market for environmental technologies will reach nearly $600 billion
by 2008. It’s a market in which the EERC figures to be a
“The fundamental underpinning of successful commercialization
of EERC technologies is partnerships with the private sector,”
said Gerald Groenewold, the Center’s director. “Opportunities
for technology commercialization are dramatically enhanced if
these private sector partnerships begin with the initiation of
a research and development program.”
Partnerships with private-sector entities from the beginning
of a project also greatly enhance federal co-funding opportunities,
“Private sector support is a critical ‘peer review’
for EERC research and development activities,” Groenewold
said. “Through their involvement, a company votes with its
dollars, euros, or yen for the activity and is well positioned
to evaluate the commercial potential of EERC-developed technology
and participate in its commercialization.
“A primary product, then, from much of the EERC’s
research, development, demonstration, and commercialization activities
is regional economic development and job evolution. Jobs evolve
— they are not created.”
Operating as a high-tech business within UND, the EERC employs
more than 260 people from more than 70 different disciplines,
including numerous specialized fields. The EERC currently houses
169,000 square feet of offices, technology demonstration facilities,
laboratories, and some of the most advanced, cutting-edge equipment
and instrumentation in the world. An additional 47,000 square
feet of office and meeting space is currently under construction.
The Center was founded as a U.S. Bureau of Mines lignite research
laboratory in 1951 and became a U.S. Department of Energy technology
center in 1977 before being de-federalized in 1983.
It then became a part of the University, with the stipulation
that it would not receive state-appropriated dollars. Today, the
EERC masters the art of leveraging and enhancing government research
dollars by developing working partnerships with industry, government,
and the research community.
The EERC has spent years perfecting this philosophy and has evolved
to a position where it conducts research, development, and demonstration
activities involving all fossil, renewable, and alternative fuels;
advanced power systems; waste management and utilization; water
management; environmental cleanup technologies; and pollution
As an example, the EERC’s Center for Air Toxic Metals (CATM)
is designated a Center of Excellence by the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and recognized internationally as a leader in
understanding and developing solutions for trace element emissions
in coal-fired power systems. Since 1993, the EERC has received
over $12 million in direct funding for the program and has leveraged
those dollars into more than $54 million of co-funded and related
“Through CATM, the EERC has become internationally renowned
for the research, development, demonstration, and commercialization
of technologies to understand and control mercury and other air
toxic metals,” said EERC Associate Director for Research
The CATM program received rave reviews from members of the EPA
Peer Review Committee. In an evaluation report, the committee
stated that, “Overall, the Center appears to be among the
best of those funded by EPA.”
A number of other EERC programs are recognized as the best in
the nation by numerous agencies, including the Department of Energy
and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Center for Biomass Utilization, for example, is leading the
nation in addressing technical barriers to the utilization of
biomass in energy production. Within the last three years, it
has performed and directed $14 million in research.
“Biomass is a critical domestic resource in the United
States for meeting future electrical demand, reducing dependence
on foreign oil, and achieving the numerous ‘greening’
initiatives launched by federal and state government,” said
EERC Senior Research Manager Chris Zygarlicke.
Another national leader, the EERC’s Red River Water Management
Consortium, is providing breakthrough technical answers to water
resource issues in the northern Great Plains, especially the Red
River Basin. As part of that effort, the EERC’s “Waffle”
project is, for the first time, providing an evaluation of a realistic
method to mitigate flooding throughout the entire basin in a nonstructural,
cost-effective, and environmentally friendly manner.
“The Red River Basin is among the most disaster-prone regions
in the United States according to the Federal Emergency Management
Agency,” noted EERC Senior Research Manager Bethany Bolles.
“The disasters have all been water-related, mostly by flooding
or drought. The Waffle project will not only provide disaster
mitigation but also numerous benefits to agricultural interests
by providing landowners with a better way to manage water on their
property during periods of both flooding and drought.”
Other premier efforts include the Plains Organization for Wind
Energy Resources, the National Alternative Fuels Laboratory, the
Coal Ash Resources Research Consortium, and the Supercritical
and Subcritical Extraction Technologies group.
Because of the magnitude and success of these programs, the EERC
has seen tremendous growth. It has formed partnerships with more
than 740 clients in all 50 states and 47 countries throughout
the world. In fiscal year 2002, contract revenues exceeded $20
million, and 85 percent of active contracts were with nonfederal
clients. The client list includes hundreds of national and international
“EERC growth is attributed to careful strategic positioning
done in concert with the indispensable work of building solid
partnerships with Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, federal
agencies, and the North Dakota Congressional delegation,”
Other partnerships include state agencies, local government,
and regional economic development organizations. In addition to
corporate clients, the EERC works with scores of domestic and
international academic institutions.
While the EERC is making major strides on an international level,
its impact on a regional level is significant as well. Many EERC
initiatives, particularly those involving basinwide water management,
renewable energy technologies, and clean coal technologies, offer
ample opportunities for economic development in North Dakota.
The regional economic impact of the EERC last fiscal year was
an estimated $70 million.
Partnerships with numerous regional firms such as Otter Tail
Power Company and American Crystal Sugar Company have led to the
development of new technologies at the EERC.
The ability to launch new technologies into the commercial market
is the key to success at the EERC.
“We are committed to aggressively moving technologies out
of the laboratory and into the marketplace,” Groenewold
said. “The amazing outcome of market-driven, partnership-based
growth is the enormous potential for spinoff companies and quality
“A technology that sits idle on the shelf or is merely
described in a report will not produce more efficient energy or
result in a cleaner environment,” observed Michael Jones,
EERC associate director for industrial relations and technology
commercialization. “Only through demonstration and commercialization
can the world benefit from research and development efforts.”
Technology commercialization is facilitated through the EERC
Foundation (EERCF), a nonprofit corporation formed in 1992 that
provides the Center with a dedicated infrastructure to support
its commercialization activities. The foundation holds U.S. patents,
service marks, and license rights to a number of EERC-developed
One example of the EERC’s success in commercializing technology
is the Advanced Hybrid Filter. This pollution control technology
eliminates harmful microscopic dust (fine particulate) emissions
from exhaust gases in coal-fired power plants, incinerators, and
cement production facilities. Developed through a partnership
with W.L. Gore & Associates (known for its GORE-TEX membrane
fabrics) and DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory,
the Advanced Hybrid Filter combines two existing emission control
technologies: electrostatic precipitators and GORE-TEX membrane
“Control of fine particulates from industrial plants around
the world represents a $5 billion market annually, which is a
huge opportunity for this technology,” Jones said.
But the Advanced Hybrid Filter could not have become a reality
without partnerships between key organizations. The EERCF has
patented the Advanced Hybrid Filter and licensed it exclusively
to W.L. Gore & Associates. Other partners include ELEX, AG,
Schwerzenbach, Switzerland; and Procedair Industries Corp., a
French company with offices in Louisville, Ky. Both have sublicenses
from W.L. Gore for the technology.
The technology is currently being demonstrated at Otter Tail
Power Company’s Big Stone power plant in Milbank, S.D.,
and in Cagnano, Italy, at the Sacci Cement Company. Operating
since September 2002 in Italy and October 2002 in South Dakota,
both units have achieved control of more than 99.99 percent of
“The Advanced Hybrid Filter is so efficient that the air
leaving the smokestack is actually cleaner than the air entering
the power plant, with respect to particulate matter,” said
Stan Miller, EERC senior research manager and inventor of the
New EERC expansion boasts environmentally
The EERC will continue to build on its success to commercialize
technology as well as further its research. Work is nearly complete
on an $8 million expansion and renovation project scheduled to
open this fall.
The 47,000-square-foot project includes two three-story buildings
that will accommodate 90 additional staff and a one-level structure
for meeting rooms. The overall construction project also includes
extensive remodeling of existing office facilities, including
mechanical systems, new lighting, and window replacement.
Some of the EERC’s own research is incorporated into the
new facility’s environmentally friendly design. The building’s
concrete is made with fly ash, a byproduct from coal combustion
that enhances the quality of concrete in construction, improving
its strength and durability and reducing permeability. Another
key ingredient is gypsum wallboard made with a combustion byproduct
from power plant scrubbers. Geothermal wells, utilizing the earth’s
natural thermal energy, will efficiently heat and cool the buildings.
The EERC at a glance
The Energy and Environmental Research Center is a self-supporting
research, development, demonstration, and commercialization facility
associated with the University of North Dakota. It has developed
partnerships with both private industry and government agencies,
and lists clients from 50 states and 47 foreign nations.
Annual operating budget: $18.4 million
Total employees: 266, including 20 full-time
equivalent positions supported elsewhere on the UND campus.
Contracts: 241 in Fiscal Year 2002; 297 in Fiscal
Location: Southeast corner of the UND campus,
housing 216,000 square feet of laboratories, technology demonstration
facilities, and offices.