U.S. Grant Fuels Energy Research

November 24, 2003
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MUSKEGON — Receiving $250,000 in federal funding to support research and development will help to kickstart the work of Grand Valley State University's new alternative and renewable energy center.

The funding for the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Research Center will "help Grand Valley to create a model for how fuel cell technology can be used efficiently as an alternative source of power," said U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Holland, who helped to secure the funding through a spending bill that cleared the House last week.

"GVSU's Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Research Center (MAREC) will lead efforts to develop new technologies and energy distribution systems that will strengthen the nation's power supply," Hoekstra said.

Built in the city's SmartZone high-tech business park along Muskegon Lake, the center is seen as the seed that will nurture the development of a new economic sector in Muskegon in alternative energy research and development.

The center's executive director, Imad Mahawali, hopes to use the federal funding to launch a certification program in renewable and alternative energy and to help finance a $1 million demonstration project to generate electricity from animal waste.

Mahawali envisions working with area dairy or hog farmers on a biomass energy project that would use methane gas from animal waste to generate power on a farm, as well as power fuel cells that generate electricity for the research center.

"We need this kind of investment to launch these programs," Mahawali said. "This is just the beginning."

His goal in the planned demonstration project is to prove the economic viability of biomass energy.

"We don't want to keep consulting on it," Mahawali said. "This needs to be demonstrated live."

The 40,000-square-foot research center, built by Workstage LLC, a venture partially owned by Steelcase Inc., was designed to become completely energy self-supportive through the use of fuel cells, solar energy cells, and energy-efficient heating and cooling systems.

The federal funding supports "what will be a prototype for alternative energy technology research and development and a venture that will attract new businesses to the region," Grand Valley President Mark Murray said. "MAREC is poised to establish Michigan as a leader in the application of alternative energy technologies both throughout Michigan and the nation."

The funding was included in a spending bill that passed the House Nov. 18 on a 387-36 vote and should remain in the bill when it's considered and passed in the Senate, said Dave Yonkman, Hoekstra's press secretary.    

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