The Energy Challenge

Author: Kathy Mayer
Gore considers solutions from discovery to delivery

As former associate dean for research and entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering and now director of the Energy Center at Purdue’s Discovery Park, Jay Gore has long understood the
relationship between research and commerce.

“Any problem that requires engineering solutions automatically leads to entrepreneurship,” says the Vincent P. Reilly Professor of Mechanical Engineering. “From discovery to delivery, Purdue plays a role. Many faculty are entrepreneurs, with so many inventions, so many discoveries,” he says. “The community and the state of Indiana can benefit if companies start here. I feel very passionately about the Energy Center integrating entrepreneurship.”

Energy Center Explores Alternatives

Launched in 2005 with seed money from the Lilly Endowment, the Energy Center today brings together more than 150 faculty from six Purdue colleges who are working on high-impact, multidisciplinary projects in energy alternatives and consumption.

One project that’s reached commercialization is the work of Nancy Ho, a Purdue molecular biologist who developed genetically engineered yeast that ferments xylose, a sugar in corn stalks, wood and grasses, known as cellulosic biomass. It is a renewable resource for producing ethanol. The yeast has been licensed to producers throughout the world, and Ho has formed a company, Green Tech America, to further
develop and market the yeast. Another is the work of Michael Ladish, now on leave from Purdue at Mascoma Corp. in Massachusetts, which is producing ethanol using cellulosic biomass.

The Energy Center also focuses on the dynamics of social, policy, economic and education. “There is an opportunity for us to find new energy by saving energy we already have,” Gore suggests. “Most of us feel gas prices are too high, but as far as our behavior is concerned, we don’t necessarily send that signal.” That’s an area being explored. “Looking at the energy grand challenge as a big-systems problem is one of the emerging, hot areas,” he says. “Energy is a worldwide system.”

Bioenergy, wind turbines, coal, and nuclear energy must remain as options, Gore says. “The challenge with nuclear energy is how to make it safe and address the waste issue, so the Energy Center is helping build a partnership with mechanical and nuclear engineering.”

Coming of Age in Earlier Energy Crisis

Gore earned his bachelor’s at the University of Poona in 1978, and was drawn to his field by the energy concerns of the day. He earned master’s and doctorate degrees at Pennsylvania State University, and came to Purdue in 1991, where his research in combustion and flame radiation phenomena probes efficiency, productivity enhancement and pollutant reduction in gas turbine combustors and industrial burners and furnaces. He was named interim director of the Energy Center at its founding and permanent director in March 2008.

Gore has stepped into entrepreneurial waters by advising others, including the Purdue Research Park spectrometer company, En’Urga. “I remember Burton Morgan saying he started many companies and only a few were successful. I’m waiting for my few,” he says of his preference for encouraging others. “There are players and there are coaches.”