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Designs on the FutureFrom the President

“Fostering Sustainability”

Increasing interest in environmental sustainability is an important aspect of the complex geopolitical issue of global energy security. Rensselaer is examining the extent of its involvement, and with “Energy and the Environment” already a strategic thrust of The Rensselaer Plan, the Institute is addressing the challenges of sustainable energy security within a range of arenas.

Our key investment as an Institute resides within our ongoing commitment to the education of the next generations of scientists and engineers. Rensselaer graduates and our current students already are innovating technologies for alternative energy sources and energy conservation. Many will go on to careers in these fields.

Related coursework and degree programs are found across the curriculum. The School of Science offers courses assessing the scale of human activities in relation to natural processes. An interdisciplinary program trains doctoral students in fuel cell science and engineering. Engineering design and innovation classes challenge students to identify global needs and to innovate affordable and sustainable technologies for the developing world. Architecture courses focus on performance-driven building technologies to support self-sustaining building environments. Management and Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences courses encompass ecological economics, values, and policy.

Rensselaer research centers — ranging from the Center for Future Energy Systems to the New York State Center for Polymer Synthesis — are developing better hydrogen fuel cells, brighter LEDs, more efficient solar cells, and elements of a more robust electricity distribution grid. Faculty research encompasses a broad spectrum of energy- and sustainability-related research. Some focus on applications for fuel cells, and fundamental technical issues for hydrogen-related technologies.

A nanoengineered “paper battery” that can function as both a high-energy battery and a high-power supercapacitor will enhance integrated electronics, semiconductors, and energy storage devices. Research at the world-renowned Lighting Research Center specializes in energy-efficient solid-state lighting and advanced light source technologies.

Other research areas include power electronics and electric energy conversion, power electronic circuits and systems modeling, and grid management.

As the Institute continues its unprecedented growth, we are committed to growing sustainably, and the design and renovation of facilities is driven by this goal.

As part of the East Campus Athletic Village project, a photovoltaic renewable energy system will be installed on the Houston Field House to make ice for the hockey rink. A similar photovoltaic system is installed next to the Voorhees Computing Center, and provides the center with about 2 kilowatts of electricity. A 10-kilowatt, three-blade wind turbine is installed on the east side of campus, transmitting power to the campus power grid. Rensselaer is working to attain the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™ certification for EMPAC and the East Campus Athletic Village. LEED is the nationally accepted benchmark for green buildings, with standards in sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.

Rensselaer is focusing on renewable energy sources and reducing dependence on external sources. We have implemented a very aggressive program to conserve energy and improve efficiency, with consumption per square foot reduced by up to 15 percent over the past five years, despite significant campus growth.

We are upgrading our electric transmission systems, and we have replaced one entire set of transformers with a more modern, energy-saving version. We are initiating a campuswide energy reduction plan, and reviewing the usage of all computers, fax machines, scanners, and printers to limit power-drawing during off-hours. Salvageable Institute resources are saved and reused, and we are installing a biodiesel processing facility to convert waste cooking oil from the dining halls into fuel for campus vehicles.

Students have established a Student Sustainability Task Force to discuss planning for sustainability initiatives, and to solicit ideas and feedback. Another Rensselaer club, Engineers for a Sustainable World, is examining the possibility of refurbishing a 30-kilowatt hydroelectric facility on the Poestenkill River.

As we move toward even greater sustainability, I have proposed a campus-wide Sustainability Task Force to work with the Student Sustainability Task Force to foster the implementation of initiatives on the Troy campus.

Sustainability requires that each of us — as global citizens and as responsible institutions — commit to making modifications. Rensselaer continues its commitment to the power of discovery and innovation to conserve energy and protect the environment.

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President of Rensselaer and Professor of Physics

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