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Sept. 19, 2006

University establishes Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute


ANN ARBOR, Mich.—The University of Michigan will significantly expand efforts in energy research with the creation of The Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute.

"Finding renewable sources of energy is one of our most urgent global problems, and the University of Michigan is in a unique position to make an immense contribution to finding solutions," U-M President Mary Sue Coleman said today.

"Our exceptional programs in nuclear engineering, automotive engineering, as well as our long-standing industry partnerships, will provide the scope and scale of expertise to make a real difference in areas such as advanced nuclear power systems, solar power, hydrogen technology, fuel cells, battery research and low power electronics."

The institute will coordinate activities, serve as an international authority and resource in energy related issues, assist in developing funding sources and attracting faculty, manage the facilities, engage industry and provide a unified voice and focal point on energy research, policy, and education.

"The University of Michigan has top schools in business, medicine, law, public policy and engineering, among others," said Stephen Forrest, vice president for research. "The interdisciplinary culture compared to other top research institutions gives us a big advantage because energy research is interdisciplinary in nature, and draws upon disparate fields. This institute will bring together U-M's energy research activities to achieve maximum impact."

The University, which will launch the institute with $9 million, plans to recruit top-tier energy research faculty. Additionally, initiative funds will be combined with commitments from the College of Engineering and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts to establish several new chaired faculty positions, and several new graduate fellowships in energy research will be created by a partnership between the initiative and the Rackham Graduate School.

The new institute will be housed in the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Laboratory. The building will be renovated with $11 million in state capital outlay and University funding.

Under the leadership of U-M faculty member Gary S. Was, the institute will coordinate existing energy research that is distributed across campus in a variety of disciplines and locations. The lab, under renovation now, will provide resources and a common space for faculty who are pursuing energy related research in facilities spread across campus now. The third floor of the Phoenix Laboratory will house the Hydrogen Energy Technology Lab led by U-M Professor Levi Thompson.

Was the former research associate dean for the College of Engineering, and former chair of the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences with an appointment and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. He earned his bachelor's in engineering from U-M and his master's and doctorate degrees in nuclear engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He joined the university in July 1980 and in addition to his research at U-M, has been an affiliate staff scientist at Pacific Northwest Laboratories since 1994.

He was also a guest scientist at Kernforschungsanlage Jülich GMBH, Institut für Schicht-und Ionentechnik, from September 1988 through May 1999 and has had a guest appointment at Argonne National Laboratory since 1982. He was a Presidential Young Investigator and is a fellow of ASM International, NACE International and the American Nuclear Society. His research focuses on the effect of radiation and the environment in the development of materials for the aggressive conditions encountered in power generation systems.

"This institute demonstrates University of Michigan's continued commitment to developing clean, affordable energy sources and providing the knowledge base to help formulate responsible energy policy," Was said. "The establishment of the MMPEI means we now have the support and funding, and a central base from which to coordinate and dramatically ramp up efforts in energy research."

U-M's existing portfolio of energy research includes $35 million in ongoing research projects in areas of clean energy, advanced power generation and advanced power train systems. U-M was selected by the Alcoa Foundation as the sole North American academic partner for its six-year Conservation and Sustainability Fellowship Program, and in November, the Graham Foundation and U-M created a $10.5 million Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute to advance research and teaching. The MMPEI is considered a key complement to the Graham Institute.

The U-M's long history and commitment to energy research began in May 1948 when the Regents created a war memorial to honor the 585 students and faculty who lost their lives during WWII. Called the Phoenix Project of the University of Michigan, the goal was to examine peaceful uses of atomic energy.

In 2003, a faculty group was commissioned to investigate ways to strengthen research in hydrogen generation, storage and use. During those months the group, called the Michigan Energy Research Council, led by former President emeritus James Duderstadt, expanded its role to include all energy research. One of the key findings of the MERC report was to establish the MMPEI.

Related links:

OVPR and information on the energy initiative


Director Was

College of Engineering



Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute

Release: Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute launched

Alcoa Foundation grant


Contact: Laura Bailey
Phone: (734) 647-7087 or (734) 647-1848