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Nag Patibandla: Focusing on Energy Solutions
“There was electricity in the schools, but not at my grandparents’ house for a long time. So it was kind of tough growing up,” says Patibandla, who was raised by his grandparents in a small village in south central India. “I always thought everyone should have electricity, a thought that stayed in the back of my mind.”
It’s now 2006. As the newly appointed director of Rensselaer’s Center for Future Energy Systems, Patibandla is leading the university’s global commitment to discover and develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources.
The center, established in June 2005 in partnership with Cornell University and Brookhaven National Laboratory, aims to meet the energy challenges of the 21st century by focusing on innovation in and commercialization of energy conservation and renewable systems. Initial emphases will be on fuel cells and the hydrogen economy, smart lighting, and emerging renewable energy systems, such as solar and wind. New York state has pledged to invest $10 million in the center with designation as a Center for Advanced Technology.
Patibandla brings an extensive background in energy policy, management, and research, having worked in a variety of positions at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), General Electric, and as a researcher at Rensselaer.
He began his career in the materials engineering field, earning his bachelor’s degree in metallurgical engineering at India’s National Institute of Technology, and his master’s and doctoral degrees in related materials and ceramic engineering fields at Rutgers University.
For his doctoral work, Patibandla studied the formation and development of protective coatings for applications and components subjected to high temperatures, from the blades in aircraft machines and power generator turbines, to improving the processes in making chemicals and plastics. He built on that research as a postdoctoral fellow at GE’s Research and Development Center in Schenectady, N.Y.
While a research engineer at Rensselaer in the early 1990s, Patibandla conducted research under a NYSERDA grant, which focused on reducing the amount of energy that goes into processing materials. Impressed with his work, the state agency hired him to head its new materials advancement program to oversee similar projects.
“I thought working for NYSERDA would be a good opportunity to use my background and to become involved in the energy field at the same time,” he says.
During his 12 years at NYSERDA, Patibandla managed multiple industry and research programs, from overseeing the development of new products and material processes to heading the state’s Distributed Generation Combined Heat and Power Program. In 2003, he was honored as a “CHP Champion” by the United States Combined Heat and Power Association.
Appointed as head of the Center for Future Energy Systems in March, Patibandla is enthused about his closer hands-on involvement in basic and applied research, particularly drawing on his years of materials science experience.
He already is working with DayStar Technologies in Malta, N.Y., to develop thinner and more efficient photovoltaic materials for solar panels. He also is working with IGC SuperPower in Schenectady, to improve the processing of new superconductor materials for wires and transformers so the electrical grid can handle new power systems.
“The overarching goal of the center is to transform scientific knowledge into economically competitive, pragmatic applications for the 21st century,” Patibandla says. “Promoting and implementing energy efficiency and renewable energy through education and training paves the most viable path to a more secure energy future for the state and the nation.”
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