USU, Idaho lab join forces on energy research

USU, Idaho lab join forces on energy research

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah State University and the Idaho National Laboratory are joining forces for a new research partnership in Utah's mineral-rich Uinta Basin.

The deal announced Tuesday includes the creation of a research hub in Vernal, the eastern Utah town whose recent history has closely followed oil and gas development.

The project will focus on finding ways to make energy development more efficient and easier on the environment. That will include cutting air pollution and finding new uses, possibly in agriculture, for salty water that's extracted during oil and gas operations.

The other component will be investigating "hybrid energy systems" that combine traditional energy with renewables such as solar and wind. Similar work is already under way at the Idaho lab.

Rather than acting strictly as a think tank, researchers in Vernal will work closely with industry in the heart of one of Utah's most energy-rich regions.

"It's going to have an applied focus, moving research off the benchtops and out in the field where the resource is," Robert Behunin, director of eastern Utah operations for Utah State's Energy Dynamics Lab, said Tuesday morning.

The collaboration is the result of negotiations that lasted nine months between Utah State and the Idaho lab, which is operated by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Supporters say the project is an important combination of technical expertise, natural resources and forward-looking research intended to secure the nation's energy supply in the coming century.

"We will help shape the next generation of electricity and energy resources to power this nation," John Grossenbacher, INL's director, said in a statement.

Researchers will be housed at a 70,000-square-foot building at Utah State's campus in Vernal. The Bingham Research Center was funded largely by a $15 million donation from Marc and Debbie Bingham. The building, currently under construction, is expected to be completed next year.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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