A standing-room-only crowd filled a newly re-opened building at Montana State University-Northern to hear dignitaries and university representatives talk about the latest addition to its cutting-edge alternative fuels laboratory.
"I think this is really significant, " Northern Chancellor Jim Limbaugh said before the formal start of the open house of the Advanced Fuel Center of Northern's Bio-Energy Center. "It's a wonderful addition to the campus. "
The center houses the oil presses and equipment used to convert oilseeds to fuel, as well as testing equipment.
The refurbishment was paid for with a federal grant.
"MSU-Northern's Bio-Energy Center has already proven itself as a national leader in biofuels research and testing, " Montana University System Regent Paul Tuss said during the ceremony. "Through this new investment by the federal Economic Development Agency - the second one in the past decade - MSU-Northern is even more equipped to assist agricultural entrepreneurs, and private industry with their testing and commercialization of this.
"The dedication of this advanced fuel building means more cutting-edge research, new partnerships with industry, better opportunities for students and a greater role for Montana in reducing our dependence on foreign oil, " Tuss added. "As my 12-year-old daughter, Caroline, would say, it's all good. "
Greg Kegel, dean of the College of Technical Sciences at Northern, said the center had received, through grants and industry partnerships, a significant amount of equipment to use in its research.
"We ended up with all this equipment, millions of dollars of equipment, with no place to put it, " he said. "We needed a building, and this building was vacant. The grant we got from Senator (Jon) Tester helped us rebuild this. "
Tester said he has strongly supported the Bio-Energy Center since before it existed.
Montana Sen. Greg Jergeson in 2001 - who is again running for the state Senate as a Democrat against Republican Don Richman - recruited Tester to push through the construction of the Applied Technology Center, which started housing fuel research once equipment was donated by the Kiewit Corp. and Tractor and Equipment.
He then helped secure the EDA grant in 2010 to rebuild the fuel facility.
"With the work that has been done here and the work that will be done in this building Montanans will continue to lead the way towards the future of energy independence with both biofuels and conventional fuels, " Tester said. "We are responsible for getting the most out of Montana's energy future, and it will take vision and hard work, and it's happening right here at MSU-Northern. "
Tester said building the facility is a win-win situation - the country wins with more energy sources provided, business wins with more opportunity and cheaper fuel, and the people win with cheaper fuel, which leads to cheaper products in the market, and farmers win with new markets for their produce.
"It's a clear win-win, because America will only achieve energy independence when we have an all-of-the-above energy strategy, a strategy that moves us forward domestically with drilled, grown and processed fuels, and a strategy that helps us stop sending one billion dollars a day for oil to countries that don't like us very much, " Tester said.
Jim Rogers, economic development representative of the EDA in Wyoming, North Dakota and Montana, said a constantly discussed topic in his agency is how to directly apply technology developed at Montana's top-notch universities to real economic development projects, as well as finding jobs to keep the graduates of those universities in Montana.
"If there is a prime example of that, it's this project right here, " he said. "It's bringing together all of the resources using the high-quality students that we are cranking out of these colleges hourly. "
He said Northern is known for its leadership in fields like agriculture and diesel.
"But technology doesn't stand still. We are not doing the same things with equipment today that we did 50 years ago, 40 years ago or even 10 years ago ..., " Rogers said. "This is one potential great leap for us, and, to a certain extent, we don't know exactly what's going to come out of this, but we know that it's good. We know that it makes sense, and we know that it fills a niche in the state. "