By Fritz Klug
When a business would approach Western Michigan University professor John Patten, Ph.D., to conduct research, he would spend months organizing student researchers and writing grants for funding. Now, with a million dollars of federal funding, Patten will be able to establish a green manufacturing initiative.
At a press conference on Monday, Oct. 19, Rep. Fred Upton (R- St. Joseph) announced at the College of Engineering that Patten’s Green Manufacturing and Energy Conscious Design Program would receive one million dollars from the federal government. The money comes as an earmark to the energy and water appropriation bill that was endorsed by Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow.
The bill was passed by the house and senate last week and, according to Upton, is expected to be signed into law by President Obama as early as this week.
Patten’s green manufacturing effort started six years ago when he arrived at WMU.
Patten said the initiative will be working with manufacturing companies and greening their processes and designs as well as green materials: the whole manufacturing process, from beginning to end.
“Five years ago you would have to explain what it means to be green,” Patten said.
“Companies now realize that being green and being sustainable helps their bottom line.”
Upton, a ranking republican in the subcommittee on energy and environment, said the initiative will take advantage of the research and professional talent we have been able to foster over the last few years.
“Western has really been at the forefront in technology in lots of different ways,” Upton said.
“As you come into the door, the wind turbine is spinning away”
The turbine is part of Patten’s Plug in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) program, where he removed the gasoline part of his Toyota Prius and made it fully electric. The electricity comes from a wind turbine set up next to US 131.
These technologies are too expensive today, Patten said, but the green manufacturing initiative will help drive down the cost of turbines so they are affordable.
“As we look at green technology, we want the best,” Upton said.
“We know that this money will help train our students and help small businesses not just in this state but across the nation.”
In addition to the million dollars, Patten said he has been in the process of partnering with other institutions applying grants for further funding.
Upton said that with 15 percent unemployment, we have to look to be more diverse.
“One of the great strengths of this university is that we do translational research,” WMU President John Dunn said.
“The work that we do here should be a benefit and an immediate service to…businesses and other sectors of the economy that’s a benefit to everyone.”
So far, Patten said he has talked to 20 to 30 companies in southwest Michigan about working on the project.
“We are a community,” Dunn said. “We need to do the things we are doing so it advances and benefits everyone
The program will include collaboration between WMU’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, and the Haworth College of Business.
“The first thing [the funding] will do is help us synergize the team here,” Patten said.
“Until you have recourses it is hard to keep a group together. Because you can bring this group together from all different disciplines, when a company comes with a problem, or an idea, or a project, you immediately have the recourses and the talent to solve it.”
Patten’s model includes that different businesses would contribute to the research, and the benefits would be spread to the whole industry.
For Nate Christensen, a student research assistant on the PHEV project, the funding will allow research to happen more effectively.
“From research comes new methods, new designs, new practices, from those come new technology, technology cultivates jobs, new ways of thinking,” he said.
“It’s an endless cycle that keeps going and feeding on itself as long as it has the backing.”