With energy efficient neighborhood, students can do real-world research


Fanny Trang

UT chemical engineering professor, Thomas Edgar, is a board member for Pecan Street Incorporated. The organization is dedicated to researching alternative energy solutions and will begin construction next week.

Kayla Jonsson

A green energy research company working directly with the University will soon relocate to an energy-efficient neighborhood one-and-a-half miles from campus.

Pecan Street Inc., a research and development organization dedicated to studying clean energy options, will begin construction next week on the $1.5 million Pike Powers Commercialization Lab, said Brewster McCracken, executive director of Pecan Street Inc. UT became one of the founding members of Pecan Street Inc. three years ago and the company has since raised $3.3 million in research money for the University, McCracken said.

McCracken said the goal of Pecan Street Inc. is to perfect the future of home energy. The Pecan Street Inc. office is currently located at UT’s West Pickle Research Center, but will have its own lab near the old Robert Mueller Municipal Airport by August, McCracken said.

“You won’t be able to see it from campus but it’ll definitely be just a short walk or bike ride away,” McCracken said. “In this area, there is a big interest in green energy. There are more and more people putting solar panels on their roofs, and it’s pretty amazing.”

The Mueller neighborhood demonstration project, an urban neighborhood built on the old Mueller airport site where researchers with Pecan Street Inc. test green energy products, now has 210 homes that use solar panels and will soon have 100 electric cars within a one mile radius, McCracken said.

“One hundred electric cars within a mile is the densest population of electric cars in the U.S,” McCracken said. “Usually five within one mile is considered a lot, so this is huge.”

About 20 UT graduate students and professors will conduct research at the new lab, said Thomas Edgar, chemical engineering professor and Pecan Street Inc. board member.

“The number of researchers required to pull this together has really been great for supporting both students and faculty,” Edgar said.

The supercomputer at the J.J. Pickle Research Center is used to store the data collected by researchers, he said.

“The students are met with the daunting task of organizing all the data stored in the supercomputer and then making sense of it,” Edgar said. 

He said giving graduate students a chance to work in a real research environment that affects the real world is a great learning experience.

“So many times students want to work on graduate projects alone but these 20 students will have to work together, ask each other questions and compare data and we want to ensure they can do that,” Edgar said.

The lab will mostly be in use by engineering students but will be available to others as well, Edgar said. He said outstanding students are usually identified by professors to help with the research.

“More students should research green energy because it is something we are all going to have to deal with,” electrical engineering freshman Bianca Remmie said. “Older students are always coming into my classes telling us about research opportunities and to talk to our professors about it and I can’t wait to.” 

Printed on Thursday, February 2, 2012 as: Green research company relocates