SUNY Cobleskill moves ahead on waste-to-energy plant

State University of New York at Cobleskill President Donald Zingale said Thursday his 2,500-student

State University of New York at Cobleskill President Donald Zingale said Thursday his 2,500-student campus is ideally positioned to become “the model for the rest of the SUNY system” in adapting to future educational needs.

Zingale made that prediction during a breakfast forum about an hour before federal, state and local officials gathered near the college’s dairy barns under a rain-drenched tent to launch plans to build an $8 million prototype research facility to turn livestock manure and cafeteria waste into a synthetic gas fuel and electricity.

The biowaste-to-energy project will be the first of its kind in the United States, according to Renee Comly, chief executive of W2E USA in Princeton, N.J.

Comly said her company will donate a $500,000 prototype gasification system for SUNY-Cobleskill’s planned Center for Environmental Science and Technology building.

According to former agriculture dean Douglas Goodale, who has spearheaded the project for several years, construction bids are expected to be sought in January, with the first gasifier phase to open by next September.

Nearly $4 million in U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Energy research and development funds have already come as part of the last two federal budgets.

“These are part of the dreaded earmarks,” said U.S. Rep. Michael McNulty, D-Green Island.

Noting hundreds of millions of federal dollars he’s helped funnel to various local projects in the 21st Congressional District over the past 20 years, “I’m proud of every single dollar,” said McNulty, who is not running for re-election.

The SUNY system also included $3.73 million in state funds in the current budget for construction costs.

Also celebrating the planned waste-to-energy project Thursday were Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, and representatives of U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford.

The only other such systems in the world, according to Comly, are at two sites her company is running in India and South Korea.

Noting that W2E plans to put lab and research facilities at Cobleskill as well as participate in training students, Comly predicted: “This will be the renewable energy center for the United States.”

That sort of innovative, experience-based training was the focus of Zingale’s earlier talk about the direction of higher education.

“It’s wrong to drive into the future with your eyes on the rear-view mirror,” said Zingale, a Brooklyn native who took over the presidency at SUNY-Cobleskill in May after about 30 years as a college administrator in California.

“The way we’ve always done things just won’t work anymore,” Zingale told about 75 faculty and community leaders gathered at the college’s fall forum.

“We want the aura of this campus to be forward thinking and not caught up in the perceptions of the past,” Zingale said.

He estimated that within 10 years, SUNY-Cobleskill will be one of the few public universities, and the only one in the Capital Region, “seamlessly” providing associate, bachelor’s and some master’s degree programs.

Much of that is expected to come from blending academic, agricultural and liberal arts education with research and training focused especially on emerging environmental technologies, he said.

Increasing agreements with various community colleges to ease students’ transition into SUNY-Cobleskill bachelor’s degree programs, as well as foreign students, will play a significant role, Zingale said.

California universities have long focused on attracting motivated community college students rather than what Zingale said has been New York’s tradition of focusing on “native students” direct from high school.

Zingale cited three misconceptions of higher education traditions he said some administrators still find hard to break:

“We know what’s best. . . . If higher education is so critical to society, society will invest [in it]. . .. And the academy not only owns knowledge, it is the gatekeeper.”

Today, Zingale said, “the job of higher education is the creation of informed, empowered and engaged citizens of the world.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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