Dr. Thad Druffel and Dr. Jagannadh Satyavolu at the University of Louisville Speed School of Engineering have been awarded Endowed Chair status. Both men are engineers and work at the Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research on the Speed School Campus.
Dr. Thad Druffel is Theme Leader for Solar Manufacturing Research and Development at the Conn Center. He received his PhD in Chemical Engineering from University of Louisville and has been with the Conn Center since 2010.
Druffel has mentored post-doctoral, graduate, undergraduate and high school researchers, and this research has resulted in publications, patent applications, presentations, collaborations, spinout companies and funding. He developed a class in Engineering Entrepreneurship in Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency.
He is the founder of Bert Thin Films, LLC, and a technical adviser to Pascal Tags, companies pursuing commercialization of research initially conducted at the Conn Center. With the nonprofit WaterStep, he volunteers with entrepreneurial opportunities in the water/energy nexus in developing economies.
Druffel said this appointment as endowed chair is an affirmation of the research he has been conducting, and allows him to continue collaborations, such as the teaming arrangement that has students working for three month stints at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado. Druffel will now have more opportunities to extend industry and other national lab collaborations.
His current research involves re-purposing former newspaper and other printing facilities like Kodak, Fuji and Polaroid to convert them to producing renewable energy products thereby making energy more accessible to people.
“What is the next technology everybody is excited about that needs large areas? Renewable energy. Figuring out how to re-invent existing manufacturing to actually making power – that’s what I do.”
Druffel said he has seen the evolution in renewable energy from possibility to feasibility over the decades. “When I was first working with it, I was living in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer, and large scale it was still kind of a dream,” said Druffel. But today, I don’t think solar and renewables are necessarily on the fringe anymore – they’re serious contenders,” he said.
Beyond the economic sense of renewable energy, Druffel said there are other considerations. “When you look at the climate, we do have issues there. It makes sense for the planet. We can’t overlook that.”
Druffel is excited that it will be the next generation that leads the charge on renewable energy. “They’re going to take the mantle. The economics are in place now and we have a generation coming that wants this. Everything’s coming together and it’s going to happen.”
Dr. Jagannadh Satyavolu is Theme Leader, Biomass and Biofuels for the Conn Center. He brings decades of experience from both academia and industry. He received his PhD in Chemical Engineering from Ohio State University. He taught at Georgia Tech, and worked at the manufacturer Cargill for nearly 20 years. He came to the Conn Center part-time in 2011, and became full-time in 2013.
Satyavolu said his time in industry served him well learning how to teach, mentor and manage projects, and he brought those skills back to academia when he came to the Conn Center.
He is responsible for the development of biomass and biofuels research strategy and programs, funding, staffing, lab infrastructure, and alliances with private industry, universities, outside research labs, and government agencies.
The professor’s research has led to more than 15 U.S. and international patents for concept to commercialization projects. Two of his current projects span the spectrum of chemical engineering, from working on the creation of a new low-calorie sugar to the production of a bio-based coal substitute made from wood.
Satyavolu said that as an engineer, he has never had an ivory tower mentality. “Fundamentals and research are great, but bringing changes to the community – that where’s my passion is.”
Satyavolu said he expects that with the appointment as Endowed Chair, there will be an enhanced visibility and exposure for the biomass and biofuels program, for the team working on it, and for the Conn Center. “We can have greater industry support and enjoy more success on the federal funding side. I believe this will help the program accelerate at a faster pace.”
The endowed chair status also is validation for the work, said Satyavolu. “The promotion is confirmation that we are doing something right, and we can continue it and do it better.”