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Home > News > College Puts Alternative Energy to the Test

College Puts Alternative Energy to the Test

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The midstate has a lot going on in the fields of alternative and renewable energy.

Much of this action can be found on the campuses of colleges and universities in the midstate. At places like Dickinson and Messiah colleges, students are teaming with faculty members who have experience in the field to develop alternative energy companies of the future.

Messiah has several initiatives that are focused on developing markets for solar panels and biodiesel.

The college is home to a solar electric pavilion that generates 3.2 kilowatt hours of electricity, enough to power a computer lab within Messiah's Frey Hall.


The pavilion demonstrates the commercial potential of solar panel technology to current and future students, said David Vader, director of Messiah's Collaboratory for Strategic Partnerships and Applied Research.

Elementary school students also visit the pavilion to learn about solar technology.

The collaboratory works to find organizations outside the college that can apply results of cutting-edge research that is done by teams of faculty and students at Messiah. Vader said the collaboratory was launched in 2001 by a grant from the Harsco Corp. in Wormleysburg.

A team at the college is also developing an electric-powered motorcycle/scooter. The scooter is powered by being plugged into an outlet that connects to a solar-charging station. Vader said a Messiah faculty member rides the scooter back and forth to work.

Teams of Messiah faculty and students have undertaken numerous solar-power projects to benefit medical clinics and schools overseas over the last 10 to 12 years, Vader said.

"We've established a track record" in applying results of solar-power research to tackle real-world challenges, he said. A Messiah graduate is leading a project to develop software to improve a solar water heater that doesn't require a pump.

"We have some international clients who are interested in optimizing the design," Vader said. Messiah College has received a $492,000 federal grant to support college research into converting waste cooking oil into biodiesel.

Vader said the college hopes to convert waste cooking oil from its kitchen facilities to run its vehicles. The college could do this in-house or help develop a private company to do the job.

The potential market demand for affordable small-scale technology to convert waste cooking oil into biodiesel includes any business, hospital or institution that has kitchen facilities, Vader said. This could fuel the need for new companies, just to meet the potential demand.

Starting this fall, Messiah will use the grant money to buy equipment, hire student interns and research best practices around the United States regarding commercial application of small-scale biodiesel conversion technology, Vader said.

"We have already identified some, and we will try to development a relationship with them and bring that know-how here and advance the state of the art," Vader said. The college hopes to see some of its graduates become biodiesel entrepreneurs who will stay in this area.

Messiah's biodiesel research has also received support from the Innovation Transfer Network.

The network connects faculty at colleges and universities in south-central Pennsylvania with private-sector businesses "to drive technology transfer and commercial innovation," said Jennifer Hammaker, director of business development for the network.

The network is state-funded and provides grants of up to $10,000 a year to faculty members. This year the network has provided grant funding of $127,000, including to 14 faculty members.

Twenty-two partnership organizations are involved in the network in this region, including 13 college- or university-related entities.

(as featured in the Patriot News on Sunday, July 20, 2008, written by Dan Miller, and can be accessed through