MARILYN HAGERTY: Eleven centers of excellence make up EERC on UND campusThere are times when I close my eyes and try to list the Seven Wonders of Grand Forks. That is when I get stumped on the Seven Wonders of the World. I think of Themis, the Goddess of Justice atop the Grand Forks County Court House. Then there’s Ralph Engelstad Arena, of course. And the old opera house on South Third Street. The State Mill and Elevator. The statue to the Grand Army of the Republic down by St. Mary’s Church. And the Chester Fritz auditorium at UND.
By: Marilyn Hagerty, Grand Forks Herald
There are times when I close my eyes and try to list the Seven Wonders of Grand Forks. That is when I get stumped on the Seven Wonders of the World.
I think of Themis, the Goddess of Justice atop the Grand Forks County Court House. Then there’s Ralph Engelstad Arena, of course. And the old opera house on South Third Street. The State Mill and Elevator. The statue to the Grand Army of the Republic down by St. Mary’s Church. And the Chester Fritz auditorium at UND.
So, I jumped at the chance when I had an opportunity to tour the EERC (Energy and Environmental Research Center) with the director Gerald “Gerry” Groenewold.
It’s a big sprawling entity of 26 buildings — large and small — at the south and east edge of the UND campus. And like so many other people in Grand Forks, I had never been inside.
Oh, I had a vague idea of its purpose. And I knew it meant a lot to the economy of this town. But I didn’t realize that it generates about $140 million a year. Groenewold says the EERC has about $200 million worth of contracts in place right now.
The EERC operates like a business and pursues entrepreneurial, market-driven approach to research. It provides practical, cost-effective solutions to energy and environmental challenges. The place employs more than 340 people.
It was founded in 1951 as the Robertson Lignite Research laboratory. It was under the U.S. Bureau of Mines, but it was defederalized in 1983. It has been standing and flourishing on its own two feet since then under the supervision of Groenewold.
And he says the EERC exists because of the help from the late UND President Tom Clifford. “He helped in so many ways,” said Groenewold as we walked wearing hard hats through vast expanses of laboratories in adjoining buildings.
“He was,” Groenewold said, “an incredible mentor.”
Groenewold is a man of strong convictions. He is dedicated to achieving energy security for this country. His basic rule is to not invest in things nobody wants. The market, he says, pulls everything EERC does.
During the past 20 years, the EERC has had contracts with more than 1,120 clients from 51 countries and 50 states.
In his work at the EERC, Groenewold insists there is no boss. “We all are partners here.” In the string of buildings there are vast laboratories below ground. In some of the buildings, there are large research laboratories on the second floor. The EERC conducts research, development, demonstration and commercialization activities involving zero-emissions coal conversion. That is but one of 11 “Centers of Excellence” that make up the EERC.
You get the feeling things are in order — that there is hope for the control of energy for the future.
Groenewold received his Ph.D. degree in environmental geology and his master’s degree from UND. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in geology.
He is married to Connie Triplett, a member of the North Dakota state Legislature and former chairman of Grand Forks County Commission. They have three sons and three grandchildren.
His interest in history led him to restoration of old automobiles. He has a 1907 Auburn and a 1908 Kissel, among others. And he has collected horse drawn vehicles stemming from his boyhood days spent more with horseback riding than sports. He also has a keen interest in history — especially of the western United States.
His outlook for the EERC is positive. The institution has a lot of competitive federal funding leveraged with cash from corporate partners.
Reach Hagerty at email@example.com or (701) 772-1055.