UH to seek corporate sponsors

UH is in a good position to benefit from the changes in the energy and health industries, UH Vice President of Research Donald Birx said to several hundred faculty members at the UH energy meeting Monday.

Several researchers and experts in wind and solar energy will draw more research dollars to the University, Birx said.

‘There is a lot of competition in this field, but there are also more funding opportunities since the ’80s,’ Birx said.

The faculty meeting addressed University of Houston’s place as a flagship energy research university.

‘We have this one chance, and we cannot do this alone,’ UH President and chancellor of UH System Renu Khator said.

The University is working to involve industry in its research objectives, but if UH can’t prove that it can achieve flagship status, then the people and resources will not come back 10 years from now, Khator said.

Corporate partnerships should not mean compromising the University’s goals and agendas, she said.

‘We have goals and resources. We will not change our goals, but our resources will remain flexible.’ Khator said in regards to the University’s obligation its industry partners.

Birx said that UH has strategic strengths, being in the energy capital of the world and having a super research cluster in energy and renewable resources.’

‘We have a lot of strengths, but we just don’t know how to tie that in with industries,’ Birx said. He called this one of the major reasons UH doesn’t get the research funding that it should.

UH needs to bring the researchers and industries together where there are mutual benefits and innovations in nanomaterial, finding ways to use waste gasses and building models that employs solar energy during the day and wind energy at night, he said.

‘We need to start developing UH energy and make it a reality by next year,’ Birx said.

The UH-led Lone Star Wind Alliance is a cooperative partnership between corporations, such as the Houston Advanced Research Center, British Petroleum, Huntsman and Shell Wind, and several universities, including the University of Texas-Austin, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. The goal of this partnership is to research wind energy, train faculty and develop undergraduate research, Birx said.

Another major step was the purchase of an industrial research facility. Schlumberger Complex, a 550-acre complex, will serve as the future site of the UH Energy Research Park, Provost John Antel said.

‘We are going to extend (Schlumberger) buildings 4 and 7, both about 500,000 square feet, and extending Wheeler (from Schlumberger) to the campus to meet the Energy Park,’ Antel said.

The Energy Research Park will add more facilities and space for the researchers to make innovations or improve on different ideas. Space is a real problem at UH, and even if researchers get funding to build out, there is nowhere to build out to, Khator said.

‘The Energy Research Center gives academia, industry and community a chance to come together,’ Khator said.’

Khator and Birx have planned trips to Washington D.C. to see how UH can use the stimulus package effectively and make a difference in the local and national economy.

‘We need political support or we will fail. We are not an elite university,’ Khator said. ‘We are the university for the working man and woman – we are here so the working man and woman can get the highest degree that they can earn.’

With the economy the way it is, UH has to work harder to get funding, Khator said.

The trip to Washington is important to Birx as well. There needs to be more partnerships with industries if the university is going to move forward.

‘We have to train people that the industries need tomorrow and five years from now,’ Birx said, ‘not what (industries) needed yesterday.’

Khator and Birx will address the impact that UH can make in biomedical research and partnerships with health industries in a meeting later this week.

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