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UCR Researchers Receive $1.3 Million Contract To Help Expand Electricity Supplies

UCR Researchers Receive $1.3 Million Contract To Help Expand Electricity Supplies

(June 29, 2001)

Researchers from the University of California, Riverside will look for ways to expand California's electricity supplies while limiting environmental risks with a $1.3 million contract approved this week by the California Energy Commission.

James M. Lents, associate director of the Bourns College of Engineering's Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT), will lead a team that includes experts in energy, fuels, air quality and political science. They will study how to get the cleanest possible power out of backup generators and distributed energy sources, such as small turbines, co-generation plants, windmills, waste heat recovery, solar panels, and other sources of power installed near where the power is used.

Before coming to UCR, Lents spent 11 years as the top official of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the largest air quality management district in the nation.

"While this is a year-long project, we will try to produce meaningful results within the next couple of months," said Mitch Boretz, principal administrative analyst at CE-CERT, a center that carries out approximately $6 million in research each year funded by public and private agencies. "If we can determine when and where these backup energy sources will be most effective, we might be able to find ways to produce the power we need without serious damage to the environment."

Boretz said little research has been done on the pollutants produced by back-up generators, turbines and co-generation plants, primarily because they have been such a small part of the energy picture. With the potential for large-scale blackouts in the state, these backup sources of energy could be running for extended periods of time.

"Diesel generators have almost no modern emission controls and can be the source of significant amounts of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides," Boretz said. "We will be looking at a variety of techniques to reduce emissions." That could mean using different fuels, or emission control devices that exist for other equipment, or even making the exhaust stacks taller to disperse pollutants in a larger space, or away from a sensitive areas.

The urgency of this project is clear, Boretz said. It is not possible to build enough new power plants immediately, so the state will be relying more heavily on smaller-scale power sources, especially during the hot summer months. "The California Energy Commission approved the contract Wednesday, and our first report is due in two weeks," he said. "We are on schedule to produce it."

One of the people who will produce the report is Wayne Miller, associate director for emissions and fuels research at CE-CERT. He said California has an estimated 8,000 diesel-fueled backup generators capable of producing as much as 5,000 megawatts of electric power. These generators typically vary in capacity from 200 kilowatts to 2 megawatts of electricity, and are widely distributed around the state. Researchers will be taking measurements in the field, and analyzing them back at CE-CERT.

Juliann Allison, an assistant professor of political science at UCR, will add a social scientist's perspective about energy policy, politics and law making. She said she will inventory the policies that relate to air quality and distributed energy, which will help show potential impacts of new proposals.

Mitch Boretz, administrative analyst, CE-CERT (909) 781-5785

Wayne Miller, associate director for fuels and emissions research, CE-CERT (909) 781-5579

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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