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UNL is poised to expand the breadth and impact of its energy research with the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research as a catalyst.

“The university can play an even bigger role in solving energy problems for Nebraska and the nation,” said center director Mike Nastasi, who holds the Elmer Koch Professorship in Mechanical and Materials Engineering. An accomplished materials scientist, he joined UNL in 2012 from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

UNL is tackling both applied and basic problems to improve the energy outlook for Nebraska and beyond, he said.

“I see lots of innovation here,” Nastasi said. He thinks UNL can double its energy research through a more focused approach that builds on existing strengths and targets promising new areas.

Mike Nastasi

Existing strengths include biomass and biofuels research, from algae and switchgrass fuels to pioneering work on ethanol byproduct feeds and measuring performance of biofuel production systems. Other strengths include work on wind and solar power, smart grid technologies and energy storage, and nanotechnology and materials science research to develop critical materials and tools for clean energy.

Several factors fuel Nastasi’s optimism. These include the center’s early successes and its strong partnership with the Nebraska Public Power District; UNL’s commitment to increasing enrollment and research; and the university’s plans for Nebraska Innovation Campus, a private-public research campus.

“Faculty are great at developing intellectual property, and Nebraska Innovation Campus is a way to get that intellectual property out to the world,” he said. “I see energy playing a major role there.”

Established in 2006, the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research is a collaboration between the Nebraska Public Power District and UNL. It supports interdisciplinary research on renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation to expand economic opportunities and improve the quality of life for Nebraskans.