Round 1 projects reaching final stages
As Rolf-Dieter Heuer (former director of CERN) noted “If you don’t invest in basic research at some stage, you start losing the basis of applied research. With less and less exploratory research conducted at the EERC, a new focus on basic research was essential for the EERC and for the State of North Dakota.
In 2019, the North Dakota legislature approved Senate Bill 2249, a bill which established the State Energy Research Center (SERC) at the EERC. The bill set aside $5 million over the next biennium to fund research in emerging topics critical to North Dakota’s energy industry and environmental challenges. Former EERC CEO Tom Erickson was named director of the program.
The first round of proposals was opened to researchers at the EERC in the summer of 2019. A rigorous funding selection process, utilizing the expertise throughout the EERC, was designed to include all research areas at the EERC and create a balanced portfolio of projects.
In just the first round, the center received 26 proposals (totaling nearly $3 million) and chose to fund ten projects covering a variety of topics related to North Dakota’s energy and environmental needs. They included issues related to renewable energy, energy storage, rare-earth elements in lignite coal and ash, enhanced oil recovery in the Bakken and more. “We could have funded more projects this round. Our selection teams have been very critical of all proposals to allow funding for ideas in the future,” said Erickson. “These projects are far more valuable than the $5 million we’ve received to fund SERC this biennium. They are producing results that could have billion-dollar effects on North Dakota energy.”
Projects from this round officially began in August and will be fully completed in the next few months. The second round of proposals and project selections is currently in progress.
Energy Hawks expanding for third summer
Another SERC effort, the Energy Hawks, is a 10-week-long paid program for undergraduate and graduate students from all academic areas. Energy Hawks provides students with the opportunity to work with multidisciplinary teams, interact with energy experts, and research critical topics related to North Dakota energy. During each of the last two summers, the program has been open to ten students from the University of North Dakota. This year, the opportunity is being expanded to include four students from other North Dakota universities and colleges along with eight students from UND.
E-Portal launching in coming months
Education and outreach is also a critical component of SERC. Current efforts will take on a new form as an online portal for North Dakota energy resources with the goal of creating knowledgeable stakeholders making decisions on state energy-related topics. Resources will be available in multiple formats and for learners of all ages. We are hoping to roll out the initial version during the summer of 2020.