Purdue News

June 30, 2005

New Purdue center to make protecting the environment profitable

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University today (Thursday, June 30) announced the formation of the Center for the Environment to create a focal point both for those who wish to harness the planet's resources and for those who wish to preserve them.

Bryan Pijanowski
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Bernard Engel, the center's interim director, said the 200 Purdue researchers involved in environmental research have created the center to show that environmentalists and people interested in business development not only can work together, but also can attain more of their individual goals when they do.

"Our goal is to replace the traditional notion that environmental stewardship is a cost of doing business with a new paradigm – that protecting environmental integrity is essential to prosperity," said Engel, who also is a professor and head of the agricultural and biological engineering department. "The team we have brought together will focus on benefiting the environment in the marketplace by using discoveries at the interface of science, engineering and technology to simultaneously enhance stewardship and drive economic development."

This is the first of four new Discovery Park centers Purdue is creating, thanks to initial funding of $10 million from the Lilly Endowment. The funding will be spread over the first three years, after which the four centers are to become financially self-sustaining.

Jim Noonan (left)
and Justin Midgette,

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Purdue President Martin C. Jischke said the economic opportunities for the state of Indiana alone were encouraging for the center and entrepreneurs alike.

"Environmental improvement is increasingly important to businesses," he said. "A majority of Fortune 500 companies include sustainability objectives in their corporate strategic plans. Many industries also have discovered that consumers prefer to purchase goods that have been produced in an environmentally sustainable system, and they have heeded consumer preferences to obtain greater economic returns. These are opportunities that our state's industries can and should capitalize on, for both short- and long-term benefit."

Engel agreed, citing General Electric's pledge in May to double its environmental research budget to $1.5 billion by 2010 and cut its greenhouse gas emissions 1 percent by 2012. Indiana, Engel said, has an opportunity to grow if it embraces such changes in the business environment.

"Indiana's economy currently is in a transition period in which our traditional agricultural, manufacturing and transportation infrastructure is struggling to remain competitive," Engel said. "Indiana carries many scars from past impacts of industrial and agricultural activities on ecosystems. But the 'greening' of Indiana and the transformation of our state economy to a globally competitive, productive and ecologically sustainable system will require considerable technological innovation. Purdue University is uniquely positioned to provide these innovations."

While the center is only now being created, many Purdue faculty who are involved in its development have described the possibilities that it could foster.

"Ten years ago, planners for a small community came to us for help. They had been working to protect wetlands in their expanding developments, but the wetlands were dying," said Jonathan Harbor, a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences in the College of Science. "Helping planners understand what was happening and developing solutions that would work in their community required a novel combination of science, engineering and urban planning.

"The new center will be a place where communities, corporations and groups can come to work with interdisciplinary teams to understand and address environmental problems. This has always been possible before, in theory, but has been hard to accomplish without a place that welcomes and encourages such collaboration."

Stephen B. Lovejoy, a professor of environmental and agricultural policy, brought up the related possibility that the center could help with quick reaction to environmental disaster.

"The collaborative atmosphere of the center could allow researchers to develop early warning systems of sensors that could detect ecological disruption," he said. "In the case of a major chemical spill on the White River, for example, this early warning would allow for quick action to contain the impact of the spill, thus preventing major degradation of the river's ecosystem and saving millions of dollars for cleanup and restoration."

Additional early-warning products the center could help develop might avert other potential disasters, helping save both the planet and a company's inventory.

"Let's say you've got a leaky valve in a storage tank for a chemical solvent at your plant that is located near a stream," Lovejoy said. "Real-time sensors could alert maintenance personnel, who could repair the valve and clean up a small spill within an hour rather than a week. This quick response would save the stream and also save the company thousands of dollars in lost solvent. That's good business and good environmental stewardship."

Another scientist, Bryan Pijanowski, pointed out that as Indiana's economy was closely tied to its natural resources, the center could help the state better manage its wealth for maximum economic benefit and sustainability.

"The center will support the integration of climate, land use and hydrologic forecast tools that address the question: 'What will Indiana look like in the future if current development and climate change trends continue?'" said Pijanowski, an associate professor of forestry and natural resources. "These tools will help us address, for example, how future climate will affect agricultural production, forest health and water quality. Many of our communities struggle with these issues daily as Indiana's economy is so closely tied to the quality of its natural resources. Providing the public, policy analysts and planners with access to these tools will help reduce uncertainty and support sound management decisions."

To achieve these and a long list of other goals, activities within the center will focus on:

• Integrating discoveries based on anticipatory research to develop knowledge and innovative technologies.

• Entrepreneurship leading to industrial partnerships for testing and commercialization of the technologies that further economic development and are environmentally beneficial.

• Engagement involving policy analysis, regulatory guidance and public education.

There also will be many opportunities for students to contribute to the center as well, Engel said.

"Imagine classically trained ecologists with a clear understanding of the needs of the manufacturing community; imagine civil engineers with the training to address the political and social ramifications of the technologies that they develop. The Center for the Environment is the place where this will all happen," he said. "Our students will realize the opportunities associated with conducting interdisciplinary environmental research. They will be better and more broadly trained than their contemporaries at other institutions and will become leaders in the emerging areas of inquiry that the center will foster and develop."

Engel said the center will make Purdue and Indiana respected for their commitment to a sustainable economy and environment in the future.

"We strongly believe the center will assist Indiana businesses in producing the mix of economic and environmental products demanded by consumers, in reducing the burden of complying with public standards of environmental protection and in development of more efficient institutional structures," he said. "This focus upon helping Indiana businesses in their quest to provide consumers with quality products produced in a more environmentally friendly manner will establish the Center for the Environment and the state of Indiana as the engine of advances in 'green technologies.'"

Discovery Park, under construction on State Street on the west edge of campus, has attracted more than $109 million in sponsored research, $100 million in donations for buildings and now involves about 850 faculty as members. The park has been a critical factor in forming eight startup companies and at least 40 patent filings.

The park currently includes five buildings encompassing several other centers: Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, the Birck Nanotechnology Center, the Bindley Bioscience Center, the e-Enterprise Center, the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and the Discovery Learning Center. Also part of e-Enterprise are the Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering and the Purdue Homeland Security Institute. The new centers will be based administratively at the park.

Lilly Endowment's total support of Discovery Park is more than $50 million.

Writer: Chad Boutin, (765) 494-2081, cboutin@purdue.edu

Sources: Bernard Engel, (765) 494-1162, engelb@purdue.edu

Stephen Lovejoy, (765) 494-4245, lovejoy@purdue.edu

Bryan Pijanowski, (765) 496-2215, bpijanowski@purdue.ed

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


Bryan Pijanowski, in foreground, works to collect information on sound in the environment. One of the goals of the project is to help neighborhood developers plan communities that fit more harmoniously with the surrounding ecosystem, both preserving the environment and creating a more attractive living space for people. As Pijanowski, an associate professor of forestry and natural resources, positions a multidirectional microphone that can pick up animal sounds and help establish what species populate the local area, Cree Harris, an undergraduate in mechanical engineering, helps adjust the computer that collects the data. In the background, Konstantinos Alexandridis and Amelie Davis, graduate students in forestry and natural resources, gather additional information, such as animal movement and spatial location. The group's work is one project that will contribute to Purdue University's Center for the Environment, one of four new centers at Discovery Park. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)

A publication-quality photo is available at https://news.uns.purdue.edu/images/+2005/pijanowski-envirocenter.jpg

From left, Jim Noonan, assistant director of Purdue's Clean Manufacturing Technology Institute, and Justin Midgette, a graduate student in the School of Civil Engineering, make fiberglass from a process that is both more economical and less dangerous to the environment than most current manufacturing methods, a process that could benefit both the local economy and our lungs. Noonan helps lift a hatch cover produced by the "closed molding" method, which reduces spray emissions to the atmosphere by more than 99 percent and reduces part cost by as much as 36 percent. Noonan said that if the method gains sufficiently wide use within the industry, it could reduce waste to landfills by up to 20 percent per part manufactured and would substantially reduce worker exposure to styrene vapor. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)

A publication-quality photo is available at https://news.uns.purdue.edu/images/+2005/noonan-enviro.jpg


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