The chancellor and dean of the College of Technical Sciences both gave an update on some issues at Havre’s university during the luncheon portion of Bear Paw Development Corp.’s annual meeting, with a focus on a modern building for strong program and a new development in a new discovery at Montana State University-Northern’s Bio-Energy Lab.
Greg Kegel, dean of the College of Technical Sciences, said Friday during the luncheon that he had received a call that morning about a Northern process to make jet aviation fuel out of camelina oil.
“It was a very good call,” he said.
The Montana State University technology transfer office is in the very last stages of setting a licensing agreement to use the process Northern has patented, a technique that makes all of the elements of jet fuel from camelina oil, and returns a high-quality cooking oil as a byproduct, Kegel said.
He said after the luncheon that the company close to licensing use of the patent is Elevance Renewable Sciences Inc. The company would provide larger quantities of a very expensive catalyst used in Northern’s process, allowing the university to produce much-larger quantities of the bio-fuel for testing.
And, he said during the luncheon, Northern will be receiving two jet engines to mount by its state-of-the-art testing machinery to use in testing the jet fuel.
Kegel said he is hoping that, in the very near future, Havre could see a small jet fuel plant built right here, producing at least 1 million gallons a year, possibly more.
He said Boeing Corp. also is very interested in working with Northern to test the feasibility of the fuel.
And, Northern Chancellor Jim Limbaugh said, the university again is pushing for a state investment in one of the strengths of the university — its automotive and diesel programs.
The 2011 Legislature shot down a bill that included funding the construction of a new building to replace the existing structure built in the 1950s — which has been continually added to and did not meet code when it was built, Kegel said.
Limbaugh listed the achievements of the programs — such as 100 percent placement of graduates, often recruited by a list of companies before even becoming seniors — and said to continue, and to grow, a new building is needed.
“If we want a 21st century education, we need a 21st century facility,” he said.
Kegel said the College of Technical Sciences is poised to grow — including offering its programs, with professors teaching via modern telecommunications, to Mid-South Community College in West Memphis, Ark., starting this spring — and the new auto-diesel building will help.
The demand for graduates of Northern’s programs in technical sciences already is high and will continue to grow, Kegel said. That includes demand for skilled workers in areas like the Bakken oilfields and in the tar sands in Alberta, as well as welders and machinists to make equipment used in those and other areas.
An audience member asked if the housing is adequate for such an increase in the programs.
Kegel said the university is looking at expanding its student housing, including considering a public-private partnership for providing dormitory space.
Limbaugh said before the luncheon that the university is in the very early stages of looking at the student housing needs. One other issue that has to be resolved before that is acted on is program review, which could change offerings at the university. The next step in that process is scheduled for this spring, when the findings of a committee reviewing programs will be presented.
The university personnel discussing housing options have looked at a wide variety of options including models of public-private partnerships used at some colleges and universities in other states as one possibility, he said.