Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The last-minute scrambling to put together a state budget produced a bonus for Montana State University-Northern with $400,000 in funding for its Bio-Energy Innovation and Testing Center. Jessica Windy Boy, director of the laboratory that is housed in the Applied Technology Center at Northern, said the funding was crucial. “It was the difference between continuing the research and work that we have engaged in so far without interruption and closing down and losing staff,” she said. The lab, which opened in 2008, allows the testing and certification of fuels and lubricants, including certification of organic fuels such as biodiesel. Speaker of the House of Representat ives Bob Bergren, D-Havre, said Wednesday he was able to get the funding in the appropriations bill in the last-minute negotiations before the session closed. Sen. Ken “Kim” Hansen said he had tried to get the money into the bill allocating use of the federal stimulus money that came to the state, but was told when he brought the proposal up in committee that there were not sufficient funds left for that item. The federal funding that had allowed the lab’s operation in its first year had run out , and Windy Boy said the new state funding will take over that funding for now. She adde d that the state funds will provide matching funds for federal grants, which will leverage the $400,000 to a much greater amount for the facility. W h i l e t h e goal is for the lab to start paying its own way, the economy and fluctuations in agricultural prices has made that diffic u l t s o far, Windy Boy said. The laboratory is continuing to work on developing relationships and collaborations with nationa l and int e rna t i ona l groups, laboratories and government entities that could help with that, she said. “Those don’t happen overnight,” Windy Boy added. Biochemist Jon Soriano, who oversees the work in the lab, said the funding will be a great benefit to the lab. “It will help in conducting tests and in helping more students,” he said. T h e l a b r e c e n t l y received a grant from the state’s WIRED funds, $950,000 that has purchased new equipment and more state-of-the-art testing equipment through that grant i s on the way, Soriano said. Windy Boy said the lab has been very busy, testing fuels for companies around the state as well as doing work for other research labs. “Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is support agriculture and finding ways to create jobs localLy,” she said, adding that finding new values for oilseed crops could greatly benefit local farmers. “If there’s a market for it they’ll grow it,” she said. Soriano said the funding, and new equipment, will allow the biodiesel lab to increase its research capacity as well as its teaching and testing abilities. Much of the work done at the lab is on testing the efficiency and emissions of fuels and additives, he said. Windy Boy said Northern’s lab is somewhat unique in that it tests both the quality of the fuels as well as the performance, while most labs test one or the other. Soriano said the laboratory is continuing to expand its offerings in education, with more students working in a variety of areas, and a new series of biodiesel production workshops planned for the summer. The lab is doing work with the Eas tern Agr icul tural Research Station in Sidney, which is studying oilseed production and capabilities in the state, as well as work with Montana State University in Bozeman and other Montana campuses and national laboratories like the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo. Windy Boy said the work in the laboratory, by its very nature, is multidisciplinary. It of fers work and research opportunities in fields ranging from chemistry and biology to business marketing, she said. It is Northern’s first major step in the field of university research, she added. “It’s making people look twice at Northern,” Windy Boy said.