Research institute explores creative energy solutions

  • View larger image

Appalachian State University is well known for its research in renewable energy, sustainable development and environmental science. The new Appalachian Research Institute for Environment, Energy and Economics is enhancing that work.

About 75 faculty members in disciplines across campus conduct research in these areas—from evaluating wind turbines and designing more energy-efficient homes, to helping communities collect landfill gases to heat and power buildings. Others monitor water quality or work with farmers to identify environmentally viable crops for biofuels.

The research is conducted primarily on campus. Yet, its reach is regional, national and international in focus.

"Many of the energy problems we face are complicated and need an interdisciplinary approach to finding solutions," said institute director John Pine. He is an internationally recognized expert in hazard management from Louisiana State University who joined Appalachian in early 2009.

"The research institute is intended to help Appalachian expand its research and develop partnerships with other institutions, organizations and with business and industry. Together, we can bring greater insight to energy and environment-related problems and help our communities."

An integrated approach

In addition to supporting multi-disciplinary research in Appalachian's academic programs, the institute comprises three centers based at the university:

The Appalachian Energy Center explores energy issues related to building science, renewable energy, public policy and economic development. The Center for Economic Research and Policy Analysis, based in the Walker College of Business, improves policy and decision-making through research in economic development, environment and energy, and public finance. It also operates an experimental economics laboratory that simulates factors that influence individual behavior, thus helping predict the outcome of certain policies.

Encouraging community collaboration

One of Pine's tasks is to develop the proposed Southern Appalachian Environmental Research and Education Center (SAEREC). SAEREC will focus on expanding current environmental research on the campus and help local and regional communities simultaneously conserve and develop their natural resources.

"We're already an environmental leader, and there is potential to take this university even further," said Pine, whose son Matthew graduated from Appalachian with a degree in sustainable development in 2001. Matthew now works in Hong Kong as executive director of a non-profit educational center.

"Matthew loved his experience at Appalachian, and it was through him that I became intrigued with the concept of sustainable development... What's exciting is that Appalachian, in many ways because of its location, is intentionally taking a holistic approach to addressing critical issues facing our culture. This is an exciting time to be here."