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Collaborative energy research is vital for state economy, Paterson says at Cornell

Today's research into fuel cell technology, energy storage and conversion systems will play a key role in New York state's long-term economic health, N.Y. Gov. David Paterson told Cornell researchers and local entrepreneurs at a briefing in Weill Hall Aug. 26. And collaboration is more important than ever, he added.

Paterson met with President David Skorton and a gathering of government, university and industry leaders to highlight his support for Cornell projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the federal stimulus package.

"This is a new age in the structure of research and development," Paterson said. "Obviously there is competition between our colleges and universities, but the amount of research is moving so quickly … that it is actually in everybody's best interest to share information."

In a private session, faculty members involved in energy research briefed the governor on their work and discussed strategies for future collaboration. At a press conference following the briefing, Skorton thanked the governor for his support, calling him "a zealous and effective proponent for the new innovation economy."

In particular, Skorton praised Paterson's Creation of Innovation Economy Matching Grants program, which provides a 10 percent match for every stimulus dollar the federal government awards through competitive grants to research facilities in New York state.

Cornell has received four dozen awards to date through ARRA, including a $17.5 million award over five years from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that established the Center for Nanostructured Interfaces for Energy Generation, Conversion and Storage, one of 46 Energy Frontiers Research Centers created by the DOE nationwide.

The center was created to develop and design materials that will dramatically enhance the performance of fuel cells, batteries, photovoltaics and photo-electrochemical cells.

Paul Mutolo, associate director of the Cornell Fuel Cell Institute, said in the press briefing that the research center is a major boost for ongoing fuel cell research; as well as for new research on advanced battery technology to help power plug-in hybrid vehicles and incorporate energy from renewable but intermittent sources like wind and solar into the energy grid.

"By coupling these with a battery system, we can add more of these to the grid and increase the renewable fraction of energy in our state," Mutolo said.

Robert Buhrman, senior vice provost for research and the J.E. Sweet Professor in Applied and Engineering Physics, said the group also discussed the importance of translating basic research into practical technology.

"New York state is the second in the country for academic research, so we're very proud of that; but we're not anywhere near second in the country with the transfer of that research into technology," he said. "Cornell is focusing on that a lot now. I think we've been making great progress, but it's a major concern for the state."

Meanwhile, the university continues to do well in the competition for research funds, he added.

"We currently have over $60 million of stimulus funds that have been committed to the institution already, and we have many, many more proposals in," Buhrman said. "So our task is to take very good advantage of that, and to be on strong ground for the somewhat leaner times ahead."

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Joe Schwartz