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April 2, 2012

Policy institute snags $1.5 million for alternative fuels research

A University research institute studying the economic and sociological factors of energy policy has netted a $1.5 million gift from a Californian non-profit organization that promotes the expansion of American domestic fuel production.

The Energy Policy Institute in Chicago (EPIC) received the gift from the Irvine-based Fuel Freedom Foundation, which bills itself as “dedicated to breaking our oil addiction,” to establish a new Transportation Fuels Initiative.

Through the initiative, U of C faculty in the fields of economics, law, business, physical sciences, and public policy will research the viability of fossil fuels and alternative energy sources in transportation use. EPIC itself is operated jointly by the Harris School of Public Policy and the Booth School of Business.

EPIC co-director and economics professor Robert Topel said the gift marked the first collaborative project between the institute and the foundation.

The $1.5 million will fund the Transportation Fuels Initiative for the next three years, at which point EPIC will evaluate the initiative’s progress. The gift will support research by faculty and Ph.D. students at the Booth School and the Harris School, in addition to financing a visiting professorship and outreach projects.

“In this project, success will be measured by the quality of the people brought in and the quality of our research,” Topel said.

EPIC founder and co-director Robert Rosner will also conduct biological and chemical research through the Transportation Fuels Initiative. An astrophysics, astronomy, and physics professor, he will focus mostly on the efficiency of fossil fuels and their alternatives, as well as the ways fossil fuels historically have been used to power transportation.

Specifically, Rosner is interested in researching alternative energy for aircraft, a field that has proven especially difficult for scientists. A European Union policy that caps aviation carbon emissions and fines violators has also made this area of research particularly salient.

Despite his scientific background, Rosner enjoys the policy aspect of energy.

“The marriage of policy and technology connects them in a substantive way, and often people from both sides of the issue don’t see that connection,” he said.

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