University of Wyoming joins research partnership with INL

Idaho Falls is home to a research facility that several universities around the West apparently crave: the Center for Advanced Energy Studies.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter formally announced a partnership Friday between CAES and the University of Wyoming, making it the first school outside Idaho to become involved with the pioneering energy research center.

Prior to the Wyoming addition, CAES research partners included Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho State University, Boise State University and University of Idaho.

“Their talent, their capacity, and the proximity of CAES to the University of Wyoming all will prove to be great assets,” Otter said.

The governor called the Idaho Falls facility a “regional gem.”

A day after Otter debated Democrat gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff in Idaho Falls, Otter and a few dozen INL and state education officials gathered Friday morning at the CAES building for the announcement.

“They’re going to make the blueprint for the next generation of energy needs, of energy transmission,” Otter said of the center’s research.

INL and university researchers at CAES focus on eight primary areas — everything from bioenergy to nuclear fuels to energy policy.

The facility houses a microscopy and characterization lab, where atomic and crystalline structure of fuels is studied. In a radiochemistry lab, researchers are looking to convert used nuclear fuel into easier-to-manage waste forms. The facility, which opened in 2009, has capabilities not found at most universities, officials said.

Discussions about adding Wyoming to the INL-university “consortium” started heating up about a year ago, CAES Director Steven Aumeier said.

By late May, the partnership appeared to be a go.

The University of Wyoming also has unique research abilities Idaho researchers now will be able to tap, Aumeier said, such as a rock physics lab and a carbon capture research facility.

As newest member of the CAES partnership, the University of Wyoming will pay 8 percent of the facility’s annual operating costs — the same percentage as the Idaho schools. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead also endorsed the cross-boundary agreement in a videotaped message.

“We have a lot in common with Wyoming, in environment, land and people,” Aumeier said. “People aren’t impeded by the border.”

Another six major research universities outside Idaho also have expressed interest about partnering with CAES, Aumeier said. But CAES will take a slow, “methodical approach” in adding any more players.

Luke Ramseth can be reached at 542-6763.

Luke Ramseth can be reached at 542-6763.