MU Extension official speaks about energy, innovation

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 | 9:03 p.m. CDT; updated 8:37 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

COLUMBIA — Tuesday’s Utility and Energy Conference might have focused on the problems with electricity on Earth, but an MU Extension program director began the day’s first presentation by referring to space.

Steve Wyatt, statewide business development program director for MU Extension and the College of Engineering, started his presentation at the conference with a reference to the film “Apollo 13,” which depicts a lunar mission with life-threatening technical problems.

“As we fill up our gas tanks, we all feel the same way: ‘Houston, we have a problem,’” he said.

The conference, which the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry held at MU’s Reynolds Alumni Center, brought together people from utilities, universities and government to discuss Missouri’s need for energy and the state’s plans to meet it.

Wyatt told attendees about the country’s need to train more engineers. While China and India respectively train about 600,000 and 300,000 engineers per year, he said, the U.S. only trains about 70,000 — and needs about 120,000. “It’s kind of a troubling statistic,” he said.

Wyatt listed several areas of research at MU, such as using byproducts of biodiesel production in other industries and developing new techniques to cool high-power electronics. “There’s a tremendous amount of expertise and research that exists within our colleges of Engineering and Agriculture,” he said.

He also mentioned the number of potential sources of biofuel being explored in Missouri.

Wyatt emphasized the university’s partnerships with various businesses, such as the Missouri Industrial Assessment Center, a group within the College of Engineering that brings teams of students and faculty to businesses to help improve their energy efficiency.

The changes, which include more efficient boilers, motors, light fixtures and insulation, “provide pretty quick payback,” Wyatt said.

Missouri Chamber President Dan Mehan said he was glad to see how MU cooperates with businesses.

“There’s really been a noticeable change with the university reaching out with these types of programs and helping the private sector and really building a bridge to the private sector to try to commercialize these and get these good projects in the business community in Missouri,” Mehan said.

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