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strategic plan

Strategic Goals and Associated Action Plans for 2008-2013

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This report is also guided by the mission of Penn State’s Institutes to assist in achieving the following University-wide goals:

  1. Hire outstanding teams of faculty who will collaborate across departmental and college boundaries and establish prestigious and well-supported research groups;
  2. Instigate success and excellence in research, teaching, and outreach in environment and energy;
  3. Provide infra-structure support that facilitates excellence in research. PSIEE has a decade of experience working toward those goals in the environmental area, and for the past two years has expanded that mission to energy as well.

Penn State has maintained a strong record in environmental research. Penn State ranked 12th nationally in total R&D expenditures in environmental sciences in 2006 (the most recent NSF rankings) with $52,793,000 in total expenditures, and ranked 16th in federally funded R&D in 2006. Considering total expenditures, Penn State ranked 7th nationally in earth environmental sciences and 11th nationally in atmospheric environmental sciences in 2006. Our overall ranking in environmental sciences was pulled down by a low level of activity in oceanographic sciences. The NSF compilations are incomplete indicators of our success, since much of the environmental-related R&D at Penn State is reported in other NSF categories. NSF does not report R&D expenditures in energy sciences, so our only tracking measure there is our internal award credit allocation. In 2007 the total “Energy and Environmental” credit on awards was $62,132,000.

Internal Penn State data indicate that there has been a significant increase in R&D funding for environmental co-hires since 2004. Based on SIMS-reported projects the annual average contract value per PSIEE co-hire increased from $176K/yr in 2004 to $505K/yr in 2007. 2008 will see the first round of energy co-hires (eight positions are currently being advertised), and we have high expectations for them as well.

Opportunities and threats in environment and energy

Environment and energy share several opportunities and threats with respect to planning for future excellence.

  • Energy and environment are both viewed as crucial for society, especially regarding economy, quality of life, and national security. (Opportunity)
  • However, R&D funding for energy and the environment is still miniscule compared to funding for defense and health issues. (Threat)
  • The NSF FY’08 Budget Request to Congress in Engineering asked for large increases for R&D in energy and environment. The first two research themes were Complex Engineered and Natural Systems ("from critical infrastructure to the intersection of the life sciences and bioengineering") and Energy and the Environment ("to find the essential breakthroughs necessary for radical improvements in the cost, sustainability, and security of our nation’s energy system"). This indicates diversion of federal funding into energy and environment areas. (Opportunity).
  • There is disagreement about the future importance of various sources of energy. A congressional evaluation of Senate Bill 280 indicated decreased use of coal and increased use of nuclear due to imposed reductions in GHG emissions. Others have predicted increased use of coal. Bioenergy seems destined to fulfill a significant portion of our energy demand but is likely to be inadequate if forecasts for growth in energy demand are accurate. Conservation and energy efficiency technologies and social and economic strategies could become dominant aspects of our energy policy, but have seen limited federal research support. The Energy Task Force (ETF) Report did not suggest a Penn State focus on photovoltaic or fusion, either of which could become dominant energy sources. (Opportunity and Threat)
  • Many other universities are establishing focus in energy and environmental issues, making it more difficult to attract top-notch faculty. However, Penn State has been timely in committing support to both areas and Penn State has a reputation for effective inter-disciplinary work. (Opportunity and Threat)
  • All of the new co-hires in the environmental area have been completed and no new funds are anticipated in this area. The last environmental co-hire arrived on campus since January, 2008. (Threat)
  • However, funds can be recycled from retirees and departures to support recruitment into strategic environmental areas. PSIEE assisted in recruitment of four new faculty members within the last year to replace retiring PSIEE Associates. These faculty have gone into the strategic areas of water resources and alternative energy. (Opportunity)
  • Twenty-four new co-hire positions will be advertised in the Energy area during the next three years. The first suite of proposals was solicited during summer ’07, with focus on the strategic areas of coal research and bio-energy. Eight proposals were selected in October ’07, dealing with the following topics: coal liquefaction, coal molecular modeling, catalysis of hydrocarbon conversions, fuel-flexible combustion systems, CO2 sequestration, biological engineering, enzymes for cellulose conversions, and economics and policy of biomass energy systems. Penn State has established the funds and mechanism to allow rapid growth in the energy area. (Opportunity)
  • Among several R&D partners in the energy area, Chevron and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania stand out. Chevron and Penn State have recently concluded an agreement that could bring $3.5M/yr in support of R&D dealing with coal liquefaction and associated topics. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is assisting with start-up of new faculty in energy areas as well as providing opportunities for collaboration in R&D. (Opportunity)
  • We are also seeing increasing recognition nationally and internationally. We have two DOE National Labs engaged in serious partnership discussions, recognizing our strengths in bioenergy and coal. Bruce Logan was one of 12 faculty worldwide to get a $10M KAUST award (Opportunity). We are also attracting major long-term NSF funding in the environmental area, including geohydrology (Critical Zone Observatory), biogeochemistry (Environmental Kinetics), urban-rural interfaces (Transition Zone).

Short and long-term goals in energy & environment

The PSIEE goals are divided into three main areas of Institute responsibility: (1) assist in strategic hire of faculty; (2) promulgate excellence in inter-disciplinary research; and (3) provide infrastructure that supports activities of faculty, staff, and students.

  1. Strategic hires of faculty in energy & environment
    • Coordinate 24 new energy hires during the next 4 to 6 years. Strategic areas for co-hires are identified through collaboration of the PSIEE administration, the Coordinating Council, and the Executive Committee. Strategic areas for co-hires are developed based on the ETF report, white papers developed by emerging focus groups (e.g., wind energy, which was not identified as a strategic thrust in the ETF report), and opportunities to achieve excellence in a new research area. Searches and final decisions are made by the home departments, with the consent of PSIEE. Contracts are established among the co-hire, the home department, and PSIEE, which allows for review of the productivity and interdisciplinary activity of the co-hired faculty member. (Long-term)
    • Coordinate eight new searches for energy hires in ‘08, with focus on bio-energy and clean coal, and plan for additional new advertisements to start during each subsequent year in energy areas where Penn State can become a leader. (Short-term)
    • Plan and coordinate replacement hires in the environmental area. The strategic technical areas for these hires will be determined based on perceived opportunities for funding, ability to attract outstanding candidates, opportunities to enhance existing areas of strength, and opportunities to establish an outstanding presence in newly emerging scientific and engineering areas. (Long-term)
    • Continue to leverage funds through collaborative hires with other institutes. This activity strengthens the ability to propose and perform inter-disciplinary work at Penn State (Long-term)
  2. Instigate excellence in research, teaching, and outreach in environment and energy
    • Promote and assist big grant and interdisciplinary submissions. The URC is currently investigating and discussing the most effective ways to achieve success with large proposals. Options include improved pre-communication with funding agencies and national labs, increased Penn State assistance in establishing contacts and support from industries and the Commonwealth, and identification and training in non-technical leadership assets that are crucial for large research proposals. PSIEE was recently successful in supporting submission of an NSF-CZO proposal. Other proposals (e.g., DOE-GTL) were not successful, but have led to increased activity and visibility of Penn State research groups. (Short-term and long-term)
    • Utilize KIZ/KISK and other commonwealth opportunities. PSIEE is currently working with faculty already involved in KIZ and identifying new faculty co-hire positions that are compatible with KISK requirements. This year we have secured $500K of co-hire start-up funding through KISK and an additional $750K from the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority. (Short-term and long-term)
    • Strengthen energy centers & institutes in participating academic units, emphasizing coordination with other college-level and university-level institutes. The participating institutes (e.g., EESI, ENRI, EEI, Energy Institute, Rock Ethics Institute, H2E Center, and Biomass Energy Center) and other centers are mostly housed within colleges, but typically welcome participation of faculty with similar interests from any college. PSIEE will encourage increased interaction among centers and institutes, and boundary-free collaboration of faculty with any of the institutes. (Short-term and long-term)
    • Seed new interdisciplinary efforts in emerging areas of strategic interest. PSIEE is currently supporting task forces exploring Water and Energy, Wind, Energy Efficiency, and Outreach. The Rock Ethics Institute and WPSU are collaborating in a public media effort to address the ethical dimensions of climate change, involving several units in communications and liberal arts that have not previously been engaged. We see public policy as an important area to strengthen over the coming years.
    • Interdisciplinary graduate school programs. PSIEE is currently assisting interdisciplinary graduate programs such as BRIE and CEKA (Biogeochemistry), and Ecology. A new program in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources is likely to launch in the coming year. We will investigate the advantages of establishing a clear call for novel programs in interdisciplinary energy and environmental studies, analogous to the procedure followed by the Huck Life Sciences Institute. (Long-term)
    • Establish a general education course in energy and environment that will be required for all UG students. Support the establishment of upper-level integrative courses in energy and environment across disciplines. Support both undergraduate and graduate Minors and professional education and training certificates in energy and the environment. PSIEE is currently active in some of these areas. (Long-term)
  3. Provide infra-structure support that facilitates excellence in research
    • Increase support of campus-wide facilities. PSIEE supports the Water Quality Laboratory ( L&W Building) and is participating in an upgrade to the Fermentation Pilot-Plant (Fenske). We have participated in purchases of several individual equipment items in labs across the campus, including some MRI proposals. We have established availability and pricing protocols for the Water Lab. We plan to use the Materials Characterization Lab as a model when assuming greater responsibility and coordination for equipment housed in satellite laboratories, including advertisement of availability and subsidized use for new faculty members. (Long-term)
    • Responsible conduct in research training. Collaborate with the OSVPR as appropriate to : provide information and training to all affiliate faculty and graduate students. (Short-term and long-term)

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