Powerhouse: An R&D boost for Woodward?

The new $18.5 million Powerhouse Energy Institute not only will connect CSU faculty of all stripes, but will give Woodward Inc.’s research and development efforts a nice-sized boost.

It also will build a more solid foundation for Woodward to continue to recruit graduating engineering students to join its ranks in Northern Colorado.

“We have a pretty good track record of hiring good, capable engineers from CSU at Woodward,” said Chris Preiss, president of Woodward Engine Systems.

As part of an expansion of the Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory, the Powerhouse Energy Institute is being built in the historic power plant building in North Old Town. Plans to expand the engines lab have gotten plenty of press, but the university also announced earlier this month the formation of the institute to espouse a broader mission of energy research.

In addition to the engines labs, the institute will house former Gov. Bill Ritter’s Center for the New Energy Economy and the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Industrial Assessment Center. Other energy programs from inside and outside CSU could move there as the expansion takes shape in the next year.

The institute is based on the successful model at CSU’s Infectious Disease Research Center, which combines faculty, a supercluster, physical lab space and an incubator.

A similar structure at the Powerhouse Energy Institute could mean great things for energy research in the future, especially for Woodward.

Woodward, which employs 1,200 in Fort Collins and Loveland, focuses on work related to its energy sector in Northern Colorado. (Woodward also maintains an aerospace sector.) The idea is for CSU engineers to work on Woodward technologies that could emerge five to 10 years from now while company employees focus on technology that could come out less than five years from now.

The talent and availability of CSU faculty as well as the test equipment at the engines lab make the university an ideal R&D partner.

“Private-public partnerships are a key way to enable efficient work,” Preiss said. “This is probably a really good example of that.”

The company gave $2.5 million to help establish the 65,000-square-foot institute. But donations to the engines lab are nothing new for Woodward, which has worked with CSU the past two decades.

Woodward, in fact, did not analyze how its contribution to CSU would benefit the company, as it does with other investments, though it said it expects to accomplish a lot through its partnership with the institute.

“Being a good corporate citizen and good community partner, we think it’s a good thing for Woodward to do,” Preiss said. “We certainly hope to continue to attract good, qualified CSU students to work here.”

Over the years, the partners have collaborated on increasing fuel economy and reducing emissions in engines used in everything from power generation to farm equipment and, more recently, smart grids.

Woodward already has donated plenty of equipment, funded two scholarships for graduate fellows in the engines lab and endowed a Systems Engineering chair. For their part, engines lab faculty members have helped improve Woodward’s technology.

“We have a good working relationship with CSU,” Preiss said. “We continue to work and figure out ways to enhance it.”

It’s a model that the university will follow with other companies as federal dollars for research funding decline. CSU aims to offset that dropoff by increasing its profile as an R&D shop for businesses.

Beyond the benefits reaped by Woodward and other companies, CSU hopes the institute will draw high-caliber faculty and graduate students to the university, said Morgan DeFoort, co-director of the EECL. The facility is sure to create space for additional talent, though there’s not a specific hiring plan.

It also will connect faculty of all eight colleges, including those in the humanities, behavioral sciences and natural resources disciplines, to work on solutions to energy challenges. More laboratory and office space will offer additional room for faculty and students to get together.

“First and foremost is to take the great talent that we already have at the university and get them even more integrated,” DeFoort said. “We already do a lot of interdisciplinary work, but we think we can go further.”

Steve Lynn covers technology for the Northern Colorado Business Report. He can be reached at 970-232-3147, slynn@ncbr.com or twitter.com/SteveLynnNCBR.

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