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Officials dedicate renewable energy facility

Cutting the ribbon to dedicate the new CREST facilities
Cutting the ribbon to dedicate the new CREST facilities are, from left, U.S. Rep. Joe Barton; Paul Bakke of the Department of Energy; Dean of Science Pamela Jansma; UT Arlington Vice President for Research Administration and Federal Relations Ron Elsenbaumer; and Engineering Dean Bill Carroll

New technology developed by UT Arlington researchers is showing great promise in breaking the decades-old grip by foreign oil prices on U.S. energy costs. The Center for Renewable Energy Science and Technology (CREST), a joint collaboration between researchers from the Colleges of Science and Engineering, opened its expanded lab facility with a ribbon-cutting Friday, February 19 before a standing room only crowd.

CREST researchers have developed a process to turn lignite coal into crude oil, for substantially less than it costs to produce a barrel of traditional crude. They expect to license the technology this year so that a micro-refinery can be built to produce the cheaper oil. Friday's ceremony celebrated that achievement and looked ahead to more groundbreaking work.

College of Science Dean Pam Jansma and College of Engineering Dean Bill Carroll greeted guests and introduced several guest speakers.

"This facility symbolizes the collaboration between the College of Science and the College of Engineering faculty, which is rare on college campuses," said Ron Elsenbaumer, UT Arlington vice president for research administration and federal relations. "Our administration is incredibly supportive of the efforts of CREST. These laboratories demonstrate how UTA faculty is focused on critical needs issues for our nation."

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Arlington, who has helped obtain over $3.4 million in CREST funding the past two years and is working to secure an additional $1 million for the next fiscal year, attended the ceremony and hailed the group's work.

"I can't tell you what a thrill it is to have a university in my district like UT Arlington that is doing so much excellent research," Barton said. "I've been honored to work with UTA on a number of projects. I can't take any credit for what's going on here, but I recognize a good idea when I see it. We're at the point with this technology that it could be commercialized. It could put us on the path to greatly reducing the amount of foreign oil we import."

Paul Bakke, of the Department of Energy's field office in Golden, Colo., is working to transform the congressional funding into a permanent grant, and also to tie in CREST research with other research efforts nationwide to maximize its impact.

"This really is a historic day for the university and the people of Texas," Bakke said. "This center is a vision of excellence in engineering research. One of this lab's main goals is to provide a technology that's ready for commercialization. They're really focused on helping solve the energy crisis."

Bakke said many of CREST's goals-developing better clean coal technology, lowering carbon emissions, improving energy efficiency, owering energy costs, improving U.S. energy security and decreasing the United States' dependence on foreign oil-are in step with those of the DOE.

"The Department of Energy has its focus on renewable energy, and CREST supports that," Bakke said. "You should all be very proud of the work that has been done here so far."

The CREST refining process could produce a barrel of crude oil for less than $30, and researchers are working to lower the cost even more. The price for a barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude hovered near $80 last week. It was less than two years ago when oil prices topped out at almost $150 a barrel and U.S. consumers were being socked by gas prices of up to $4 a gallon.

The CREST refining process also would be more environmentally friendly, as the process primary emissions, methane and carbon monoxide, will be captured and converted to fuel, according to Rick Billo, College of Engineering associate dean for research.

CREST was founded on the principle that in order to achieve a sustainable energy future, the U.S. must develop fuel diversity. No single energy source will meet the demand at an acceptable environmental cost. Instead, an energy mix comprised of both carbon-based and renewable sources will be required. Other projects the center is working on include converting natural gas to liquid fuel and converting carbon dioxide to fuel.