Engineers, politicians and local leaders gathered Friday to discuss new opportunities and challenges for the University and the city of Ann Arbor in light of federal funding granted to College of Engineering researchers. The funding aims to boost local economic growth while improving infrastructure and alternative energy efforts.

Stephen Forrest, the University’s vice president for research, explained how manufacturing will always be a part of Michigan’s wellbeing, and how leaders in the industry need to change the way it works. He said this transformation in the industry requires engaging with society as a whole, affecting change from small-scale companies to larger universities and government bodies.

“We can be a part of the solution,” he said, referring to how the University and its partnerships with companies and governments can stimulate the economy.

Both Forrest and U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.) mentioned how battery engineering is a part of this solution.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama announced over $2 billion of federal grant money distributed for the advancement of battery engineering, in efforts to aid the development of plug-in electric hybrid motor vehicles.

Research organizations in the state of Michigan received around $1 billion in funding, including $2.5 million for the University.

Dingell — the all-time longest-serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives— appeared on behalf of the state and as Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. After listening to the projects discussed at the meeting, he addressed the audience about moving forward with the manufacturing industry.

“Let’s compete for the future with new innovative jobs and new technology we have to offer,” he said.

Projects discussed at the meeting included research for alternative energy technology that focuses on solar and wind energies.

Materials Science and Engineering Prof. Peter Green explained the specifics of the Energy Frontier Research Center, a U.S. Department of Energy project formed at the University in April. The center received a $19.5 million grant funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to develop materials that convert energy to heat, thus making solar energy more feasible. Green said solar energy comprises just one percent of energy consumed nationwide.

Green said his team will be working with relatively new technology, including some technology that is only three years old. He said the center will work to solve small problems at the microscopic level in order to make materials more efficient for harnessing solar energy.

According to Engineering Dean David Munson, the state of Michigan also has an opportunity to explore wind power. Munson said Michigan has “very favorable wind conditions” that lend themselves as possible sites for wind turbines. Parts of Lake Superior along with northern parts of lakes Michigan and Huron are especially windy. Munson said the state ranks second in combined wind energy production and manufacturing potential.

The city of Ann Arbor recently received money from the DOE to purchase a wind turbine, which will be used in collaboration with the University. Munson said this partnership could help the University and city move forward in wind energy technology usage.

Ann Arbor City Administrator Roger Fraser said the wind turbine could help the city meet the Green Energy Challenge, a challenge set by the Ann Arbor City Council in 2006. The challenge calls for the city to use alternative energy for 30 percent of its municipal operations by 2010 and for 20 percent of its communitywide operations by 2015.

Fraser cited a Popular Science magazine article ranking the city as the twenty-fourth greenest city in the country.

Jerome Lynch, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, in addition to introducing energy technology, introduced research on bridge structure monitoring systems.

Lynch said there are almost 600,000 bridges nationwide, many of which are deteriorating from time, weathering and basic usage of infrastructure.

“Twenty-five percent of our bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete,” he said.

Lynch and his team have received a $19-million federal grant to create a monitoring system of cell-sensing materials that can sense their structural state of being. Lynch said engineers could build bridges from these materials or coat bridges with them. The wireless monitoring systems would be able to track deterioration, allowing people to make predictions or judgments about bridge stability.

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