After only three years, the Utah State University Energy Dynamics Laboratory — which has given rise to high-tech projects ranging from smart sensors that give the ability to change office room settings to pads that can power an electric vehicle wirelessly — is closing up shop.
Reasons cited for the closing, according to an email obtained by The Herald Journal from USU Research Foundation President Douglas Lemon, are: receiving only one year of funding from the U.S. Department of Energy; the state of Utah being unable to reimburse full overhead costs for EDL; and not winning additional federal contracts “as we had hoped.”
In addition, Lemon wrote USURF would not receive any additional funding from USTAR (Utah Science Technology and Research initiative).
But in an interview with the newspaper Friday, Lemon put a positive spin on the development, calling the changes “a natural course of evolution” for EDL. He called its accomplishments “a story of success.”
“This (decision) is not surprising for a very fast moving energy market,” Lemon said. “This doesn’t bother me; the brand of ‘EDL’ has served its time ... if its purpose doesn’t exist, don’t keep it around. (Instead), put people where they will be most successful.”
Some of the changes to the “five branches” that make up EDL have already been made, while others will be completed by the end of the year, according to Lemon’s email. After Nov. 1, there will be no remaining work or personnel at EDL, he wrote.
Lemon made clear that the dissolution of EDL means no firings or lay-offs for its staff, and workers in its five branches will be reassigned to other offices and remain actively working on projects devoted to energy efficiency.
The first branch, Environmental Science and Sensing, started at SDL, was moved to EDL, and has returned to SDL. EDL used the LIDAR technology, Lemon said, to do work for the government, where a laser is used for farming research as well as oil and gas production. This research team has actually grown during the time it transferred into EDL, Lemon said.
The second branch, Intuitive Buildings, where technology was developed for offices to turn on and off lights automatically using a Smart Occupancy Sensor, is now with Weber State University’s UCAID (Utah Center for Aeronautical Innovation and Design). The move eliminates the need for cost-sharing, Lemon said. EDL staff has been transferred to SDL or “moved onto other opportunities outside of USURF.”
The third branch, which consists of EDL staff in Eastern Utah (Vernal) devoted to air quality monitoring, transferred to the USU Regional Development office July 1.
The fourth branch, Algae Energy Systems, which focused on taking algae from “swamp ponds” on-site at the Innovation Campus and in Kanab, has transferred to the USU Commercial Development office. While Lemon said they “reached important milestones in algae production” and it was “available for commercial companies,” no one was interested in commercializing it themselves. Lemon said the project is still in the research and development phase. The staff has moved outside of USURF.
Lastly, EDL’s most talked-about endeavor, the Wireless Power Transfer, is transferring to the new USTAR Advanced Transportation Institute that “gives it a larger organization and approach to all aspects of the electrical transportation challenge,” Lemon said. This includes roads, the wireless power transfer and power grids that create that transfer.
The WPT’s most notable endeavor is converting a 22-foot Aggie shuttle bus to be compatible for this wireless power transfer. This is being done partly through the USU spin-out company WAVE.
“This has put USU on the map in terms of technology development,” Lemon said. “I’m glad we got there first.”
Lemon said when it comes to EDL’s endeavors, officials have “placed some really good bets and our judgment has been vindicated.”
The projects EDL has developed over the last three years could net USURF commercial revenues in the multiple millions of dollars, Lemon said.
In discussing the reason for EDL’s disillusion in more detail, Lemon explained the energy industry is unpredictable, unlike the USURF-sponsored Space Dynamics Laboratory, which serves the government.
“Three years is a long time in technology development enterprises; let’s adapt,” Lemon said. “This has been a process of keeping our eyes on the market, technology, competitors, funding sources and saying, ‘What makes sense now?’ If you’re sitting in my position as USURF president, you’re saying, ‘Well, (EDL) has been successful in the sense that it’s brought tech forward. Let’s put the people in the right part of the university where it makes sense.’”
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