The CAES building
Image Credit: Chris Morgan, INL

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Center for Advanced Energy Studies

New Idaho Falls complex will focus on energy, but also will bolster science, engineering education at Idaho State University-Idaho Falls

One Monday last October, Idaho State University nuclear engineering undergraduate Bryon Curnutt was quietly gazing at a computer monitor in the Center for Advanced Energy Studies building, which had just opened at University Place in Idaho Falls.

Suddenly, around the corner came a line of VIPs and their aides, who were on a tour of the $17 million, 55,000-square-foot state-of-the-art research complex.

The group included many of the most influential individuals in Idaho's political, scientific, economic and higher-education circles. Among them were Governor C. L. "Butch" Otter; ISU President Arthur C. Vailas, Ph.D., and Pamela Crowell, Ph.D., ISU's vice president for research; Steven B. Daley-Laursen, Ph.D., the University of Idaho's interim president; John Grossenbacher, Idaho National Laboratory director; and others.

The group embodied the public-private partnership that is at the core of CAES, which will provide opportunities not only for scientists and engineers, but for students as well.

The procession paused as Governor Otter stopped to chat with Curnutt about his studies, and his CAES internship. The internship is giving the 25-year-old Bonneville County native important insights into the workings of a research institution, including how to answer questions from visiting VIPs.

Although an undergraduate, Curnutt represents an integral component of CAES' mission: enhancing educational opportunities, particularly for doctoral-degree students involved in the cross-disciplinary, energy-related research programs on which CAES is focused.

Idaho National Laboratory established the Center for Advanced Energy Studies in 2005. CAES, as it is known, is a partnership of the U.S. Department of Energy, Idaho State University, University of Idaho, Boise State University, Battelle Energy Alliance and other industry entities. Battelle manages INL under contract with the Department of Energy.

Battelle Energy Alliance agreed to guarantee $10 million in bonds to help fund the project. Additional funds came from URS Corporation, the State of Idaho INEEL Settlement fund, and a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant.

The purpose of the CAES partnership is to collaborate in developing sustainable solutions to global energy challenges through scientific and policy research into the full range of energy options—nuclear, fossil and renewable.

For Idaho State University science and engineering students, CAES is a world-class opportunity right in their backyards.

"You have the institutions. You have the school. You have the Idaho National Laboratory," said Curnutt. "It's all right here."

Involvement with CAES gives ISU students access to INL expertise and resources that universities without proximity to a national laboratory can't match. Examples include INL's Advanced Test Reactor, and its highperformance computing center.

"It gives us the opportunity to be part of the national programs with other major universities throughout the world," Vailas said.

Vailas has been putting greater emphasis on expanding science and engineering education in Idaho Falls, where the University serves more than 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students at University Place. That makes CAES and ISU-Idaho Falls a hand-in-glove opportunity.

As important as ISU's involvement in CAES is for science and engineering education, Vailas sees a broader picture. He looks beyond Idaho's historic and future role in nuclear-energy research and development to the role that Idaho—and ISU—will play in developing the full spectrum of sustainable energy resources and policies.

"Idaho is an energy capital," Vailas said. "This is where major things are happening."

He points often to the value of the Idaho Accelerator Center at ISU in Pocatello, and to the College of Technology's leading role in the new Energy Systems Technology and Education Center. The latter, also a partnership with Idaho National Laboratory, is designed to educate energy-industry technicians.

Idaho State University has three full professors, three assistant professors and one lecturer in nuclear science and engineering at CAES. Research, however, will often be performed by doctoral students and supervised by faculty, as it typically is in a university setting.

Lyle Castle, Ph.D., a professor of chemistry and dean of academic programs at ISU-Idaho Falls, says proximity to CAES will expand opportunities for facultydirected student research in the city, headquarters for the Department of Energy's Idaho Operations Office.

"It brings national laboratory research, academic research and student research under one umbrella," Castle said. "Proximity and engagement with CAES over time will enable ISU in Idaho Falls to realize its potential in science and engineering."

The building includes offices and laboratories for projects involving chemistry, radiochemistry, hydrogen, carbon management, material science, computer simulation and advanced visualization.

In addition to its energy-research mission, the new building will accommodate scientific and technical conferences, educational programs and policy forums.

Although Idaho National Laboratory, the nation's lead laboratory for nuclear-energy research, created CAES, the two are distinct. CAES offers a more open and accessible academic and research environment, where leading minds from around Idaho, the nation and the world can meet and collaborate creatively outside the high-security confines of the national laboratory.

"The whole purpose of CAES is to get the three universities and the national laboratory together outside the security fence of the INL," said CAES associate director George Imel, Ph.D., chair of the Idaho State University Department of Nuclear Engineering. "What we've done is bring the three universities in the state into a center for energy research."

The CAES partnership is expected to promote collaboration and sharing of resources while engaging private-industry entities that promote economic development. An example of the latter is the Blackfoot firm Premier Technology. It is working with CAES to develop advanced capabilities, and to promote technical education.

Harold Blackman, Ph.D., the director of CAES, emphasizes the value of the partnership. "Self-interest and parochialism," he said, "are being set aside to do something bigger than all of us."

CAES research will be driven by millions of dollars in research grants, money from outside Idaho that might not otherwise find its way into the state's economy. CAES has already brought in $2 million in grants from outside Idaho.

"This is a sound investment in our future, both in terms of jobs and economic activity and in terms of developing cleaner, more efficient energy," Gov. Otter said last summer when he announced that the state would provide $2 million from the 1995 nuclear-waste settlement agreement with the Department of Energy to help complete CAES laboratories, information-technology systems and to purchase furnishings.

Vailas often speaks of Idaho as an "energy corridor." Recalling that the desert west of Idaho Falls was the birthplace of nuclear power, he points as well to the array of energy sources being developed in the region—from wind power and biofuels to fossil fuels and INL's research on the Next Generation Nuclear Plant.

"Here's where we solve problems," Vailas said. "We have the right expertise to provide solutions."

University of Idaho's Daley-Laursen cites the mutual benefits each partner will reap. "There are very few large agendas like energy that we can afford to pursue if we're not in partnership and collaboration," he said.

Idaho National Laboratory will occupy 70 percent of the space in the CAES building. INL Director John Grossenbacher spotlighted the opportunity that CAES represents.

"I view CAES as a marriage of university and lab capabilities that will produce extremely high-quality work," he said. "I think it's a huge deal."

Blackman says Idaho State University's experience in nuclear science and engineering education—and President Vailas' emphasis on expanding the University's research component—are essential to the CAES partnership.

"ISU has a long history in nuclear science," Blackman said, "and engineering education is an important piece of what ISU does."

Tony Huegel, editor
ISU Magazine

The new CAES building at University Place in Idaho Falls, which opened in September under Idaho State University management, was built in accordance with the voluntary Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.

LEED is the U.S. Green Building Council's nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of buildings that have less impact on the environment, are healthier for those who work or live in the buildings, and are more profitable than conventional structures.

It is anticipated that the CAES building will receive LEED "Gold" certification. Gold is the second-highest level of certification. Platinum is the highest.

Quick Facts

  • $17 million construction cost
  • Built with support from the State of Idaho, Battelle Memorial Institute and URS Corporation
  • 55,000 square feet
  • Designed by GSBS Architects of Utah and Texas; constructed by Utah-based Big-D Construction
  • Idaho National Laboratory occupies 70 percent; Idaho State University, University of Idaho and Boise State University each occupy 10 percent
  • 10 laboratory areas, expected to be completed in December 2008
  • Rooftop solar panels and a wind-turbine tower
  • 90 percent of spaces provide natural daylight and views
  • East-west orientation maximizes natural lighting, and facilitates greater light- and heat-gathering in winter
  • Central three-story atrium
  • Computerized HVAC controls
  • Use of indoor materials that minimize gases that compromise indoor air quality
  • Zinc exterior siding is recyclable and needs no additional coating
  • Uses recycled, regionally available materials; no construction waste to landfills
  • Water-efficient systems reduce waste and the need for potable-water landscape irrigation
  • Exterior light pollution reduced
  • Storm-water management plan
  • Protection and restoration of natural habitats
  • Parking spaces for fuel-efficient and low-emitting vehicles and bicycles