Longtime WSU research leader moves into alternative energy
By MATTHEW WEAVER
PULLMAN, Wash. -- Ralph Cavalieri wants to help farmers fuel the nation in addition to feeding it.
As Washington State University's associate vice president of alternative energy, Cavalieri is in charge of the university's efforts to make fuels from a variety of feedstocks -- camelina, wheat stubble, perennial grasses and animal manure, among them.
But the crops have to be economically feasible for farmers, he said.
"They're going to want to see it's worth more to them to do that than something else they might be able to do with that land," he said.
He is also director of the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance, a five-year, multi-organization, 180-person project funded by a $40 million USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant. The goal is developing aviation fuel using materials such as wood waste from slash piles.
Cavalieri also remains part-time in his old job as director of WSU's Agriculture Research Center -- a job he held 13 years -- until a replacement can be hired.
In his new role of leading alternative energy research, he said his goal is to bring together everybody working on alternative energy research projects.
"We need to have the chemist and biochemist working with the engineers, the economist, the sociologist and so forth," he said. "So that the complexities of these opportunities are examined as a system."
Colfax, Wash., farmer and Washington Grain Commissioner Randy Suess said alternative energy is a worthwhile endeavor -- as long as the researchers remember that the fuel source needs to be profitable for farmers.
"Sometimes we leave that big, important thing out of the equation on a lot of research," he said.
But Suess believes Cavalieri is well-suited to the task, noting that he directed the research center during a period when relations between the commission and the university were strained.
"He was always one of those people we could go to, and he would listen to our side and try to work with us to resolve those issues to benefit both sides," Suess said.
Michael Wolcott, WSU civil and environmental engineering professor and co-director of NARA, pointed to Cavalieri's experience organizing a large research group as an asset.
Renewable fuels are so big in scope that it will require "raising all boats" associated with developing a supply chain, Wolcott said. As the market takes shape, it will bring forward many opportunities for the agriculture community, he said.
"What's really useful is just having options for different markets and directing their land utilization in the best way possible," he said.
Clean Technologies at WSU: http://cleantech.wsu.edu