Penn State research tackles complex energy, environment challenges

January 16, 2008

University Park, Pa. – Penn State's expansion of energy and environmental sciences, technology and policy research will help the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the nation and the world in dealing with serious challenges in these areas, according to the 2007 Annual Report of Research Activity.

The University's total R&D expenditures totaled $665 million in FY 2007, compared with $656 million in FY 2006. This includes $375 million in funding from federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Transportation and Education. Penn State's industry-sponsored research showed continued leadership with $98 million.

The report is available online at

"We face a historic technological shift as we wean ourselves from reliance on fossil fuels. As the world's population grows toward a predicted nine-to-12 billion people in the following decades, there is unprecedented urgency to develop new and renewable sources of energy," says Dr. Eva Pell, senior vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School.

"Energy and the environment are tightly coupled and will be even more so in the future," she notes. "Innovative research will play a crucial role in finding the way forward to satisfy these two goals: to be good stewards of our environment and to meet our growing energy needs."

Penn State scientists and engineers have been engaged in energy and environmental research for more than a century with the earliest programs being in agriculture and mining engineering. The latest initiative grew from an Energy Task Force charged by Pell, which assessed the University's resources in energy science and engineering and recommended five major areas for new investment: efficient fossil energy extraction and conversion, bio-energy systems, hydrogen energy, nuclear energy, and solar energy, especially photo-system conversion of light energy to clean fuels such as hydrogen.

The newly renamed Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment is taking the lead in bringing together scientists and engineers in eight academic colleges and several research institutes for collaborative projects. The University also will create 24 new faculty positions in priority areas. Chevron Energy Technology Company and Penn State recently launched a major research alliance to research coal conversion technologies. Through this alliance, Chevron will invest up to $17.5 million in support of targeted projects.

The Annual Report also highlights biomedical sciences and technology research, leadership in plant sciences, prevention research to help youths and families, and recognition of significant accomplishments in the arts and humanities.

In addition, National Science Foundation data for FY 2006, the most recent year available, shows Penn State ranked 13th among U.S. universities in R&D expenditures and third in industry-sponsored research. The University also had 11 top 10 rankings for individual fields of study, second only to Johns Hopkins University, a measure of Penn State's diverse suite of strengths.

The report sheds light on the University's contributions to Pennsylvania's economic development as part of its land-grant mission: educating students to play important roles in a high-tech economy and translating research into novel commercial concepts, products and processes.

Penn State offices that support the economic development mission include the Intellectual Property Office, the Industrial Research Office, the Research Commercialization Office, Ben Franklin Technology Center of Central and Northern Pennsylvania and Innovation Park at Penn State, the University's research park.

From idea to product to start-up to licensing, these offices fulfill the University's educational and public service missions by linking industries with faculty, patenting and licensing intellectual property, assisting start-ups with space and advice, and providing a range of services to assist large and small companies.

For example, the Industrial Research Office facilitated 197 projects with 42 companies in FY 2007, amounting to $15.3 million in industry-sponsored research. Seventeen of the companies were either Pennsylvania-based or firms with locations in the state.

The Intellectual Property Office filed 125 U.S. patent applications and 37 patents were awarded, including a novel drug delivery system, advanced antenna designs and an innovative washing technology that significantly enhances the shelf life of mushrooms. Not counting equity Penn State holds in start-up and established companies, University intellectual property generated revenues of $2.5 million in 2007.

Innovation Park is in its 13th year and continues to expand with the completion of a second building and the construction of a third building scheduled to be completed late 2008. This adds 148,000 square feet to the park.

The growth in our research enterprise, which stands at nearly $700 million, has obviously prompted an increase in hiring in many areas across the University," Pell said. "It also has resulted in job creation outside the University as our new technologies reach market or as we enable Pennsylvania companies to remain competitive by providing a highly trained workforce.

"The real impact of research is much greater and the jobs that accompany our research are vital to the communities in which they are located. Research creates high-quality jobs, which in turn improves the quality of life for everyone," she added.

Last Updated May 21, 2015