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EERC to start $7 million expansion

UND's Energy and Environmental Research Center is set to embark on a $7 million project to expand its hydrogen lab. The National Center for Hydrogen Technology, completed in winter 2008, needs more room for more research projects, specifically fo...

UND's Energy and Environmental Research Center is set to embark on a $7 million project to expand its hydrogen lab.

The National Center for Hydrogen Technology, completed in winter 2008, needs more room for more research projects, specifically focusing on different kinds of renewable fuels.

The funding comes from the U.S. Department of Energy with assistance from Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. The State Board of Higher Education will have to authorize the expenditure when it meets Thursday in Minot.

Tom Erickson, the EERC's associate director of research, said he anticipates seeing more research in areas such as renewable jet fuels and gasoline, the conversion of coal into diesel fuel and the conversion of liquid fuels, such as ethanol, into hydrogen.

The last area of research, he said, would allow gas stations all over the country to turn into hydrogen fuel stations at minimal cost. Liquid fuels are easier to store than hydrogen, he said, and easier to convert into high-pressure hydrogen, than, for example, water.

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Of the $7 million, $4 million would go toward construction of the building, including site preparation, landscaping, parking and furnishings, according to state board documents. Another $3 million would go toward test equipment.

Erickson said he projects that that would allow the EERC to win $20 million to $40 million in new contracts, the actual amount being dependent on the scope of the research, which isn't known at this time.

Nevertheless, the hydrogen tech center has had a good track record.

Since it opened, it's allowed the EERC to hire 28 new employees, which is about 8 percent of the group's work force. The expansion, Erickson said, would allow the hiring of another 20 to 30.

The EERC conducts its research mostly through competitive federal and private contracts. Contracts for work through the hydrogen tech center now exceed $50 million, Erickson said.

The expansion is expected to be completed by December 2011 at the latest.

Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to ttran@gfherald.com .

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