News Ticker


Our Opinion: Centers of Excellence

Recent news regarding an audit of the North Dakota Centers of Excellence initiative finding flaws in the program and stating it is providing few private sector jobs (Grand Forks Herald, page A1, September 30, 2009) has prompted us to clarify the facts about one program that is extremely successful in providing an enormous impact on North Dakota’s economy.

The National Center for Hydrogen Technology (NCHT) at the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) is proving its worth in gold by solving many of the issues related to hydrogen production, infrastructure, fueling, and use. Its model for success is one that any Center of Excellence program should emulate.

Our program provides a cornerstone to address this nation’s enormous challenge of developing new technologies to guarantee the country’s energy security for the long-term.

In 2005, when the EERC applied for funding from the state’s Centers of Excellence program, the application required a 2-to-1 match of funds from nonstate sources and a strong commitment from the private sector—the EERC's proposal for the NCHT offered a 3-to-1 cash (not in-kind) match immediately. The EERC was funded $2.5 million from the Centers of Excellence program to assist in building a $3.5 million hydrogen facility. The city of Grand Forks, through the Growth Fund, provided $500,000, and the EERC provided an additional $500,000 for construction.

The EERC quickly leveraged the state’s money through contracts with corporate partners. The EERC’s hydrogen program has been so successful that when the building was dedicated on September 5, 2008, all of the space was already committed for demonstration of new technologies. Because of our tremendous success, we are planning a major expansion of the hydrogen center with funds provided through Senator Dorgan and a strong commitment from our private sector partners.

A recent article in the Grand Forks Herald (October 2, 2009, page B1) indicated that one of the Centers of Excellence at UND has leveraged the state’s funding 3½ -to-1. The tax payers of North Dakota should be pleased to know that the EERC has already achieved a 17-to-1 cash match of the state’s funds and anticipates several major additional new contracts with business partners in the near future.

Today, the EERC’s hydrogen program is nearing over $50 million with more than 75 business partners worldwide. One of our major corporate partners, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, has established a corporate office at the EERC.

U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan has consistently provided critical cornerstone funding for the NCHT program, which is leveraged with cash derived from contracts with business partners.

Moreover, as a result of the building construction and the expansion of the hydrogen program, 28 new, high-paying, permanent jobs were created at the EERC, and five additional jobs are currently advertised. The EERC’s program, like all of its programs, has created, and will continue to create, significant employment opportunities throughout North Dakota. This is particularly true in the energy-rich western half of the state where many EERC technologies have been successfully deployed.

The EERC’s hydrogen programs have led to the initial commercialization of numerous technologies that will change the face of our nation’s energy challenge.

For example, the EERC Foundation is receiving a patent for a system that produces high-pressure hydrogen on-demand.

By utilizing this state-of-the-art process, the prohibitive costs of a new nationwide hydrogen production and distribution infrastructure will be dramatically decreased so that hydrogen refueling will be accessible and affordable.

This hydrogen production and distribution technology, and many others being patented and commercialized by our staff, is a cornerstone of the Centers of Excellence program’s goal to promote commercialization of new products and services.

Through the hydrogen programs at the EERC, we are breaking down barriers, bringing down the costs, and shortening the timetable to the point where hydrogen will be a major component of our national energy future.

When auditors examine the EERC’s NCHT program closer, they will find that our program has always been, and will continue to be, successful far beyond the goals of the Centers of Excellence initiative.

Tom Erickson, Associate Director for Research