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College chose four areas for the Center of Excellence in renewable energy, sustainability

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
The San Juan College School of Energy is pictured, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — San Juan College went to work last year building the foundation for its Center of Excellence for Renewable Energy and Sustainability.

A new law that passed last year named four institutions — including San Juan College — as centers of excellence. It provided funding to the college "to work toward developing and promoting innovation in and expanding sustainable and renewable energy industries."

The $500,000 of state funds was used mainly for foundation work, including exploring options, according to School of Energy Dean Alicia Corbell. She said the college will receive more state funding this year to support its work as a Center of Excellence.

San Juan College identified four key areas that it will focus on: electric vehicle technicians, lithium ion batteries, hydrogen power and water sustainability.

Despite some hopes that the funding would be used to revive the former renewable energy program, San Juan College chose not to take that route. Corbell said there are other colleges in New Mexico that offer those degrees and certificates. Corbell said the college offers training in wind turbine maintenance as well as solar, but does not offer a specific degree as a solar technician or a wind turbine technician.

A photovoltaic array is pictured, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, outside of the Trades and Technology Center at San Juan College.

In contrast, there aren't as many programs available in the four chosen focus areas, but Corbell said there are jobs available that will offer good wages for graduates. She said the average San Juan College graduate makes $50,000 or more upon graduation and it anticipates graduates in the four programs will make a similar amount.

“If you’re not going to be able to make more money after gaining additional education, then we don't offer it,” she said. "So these will be high-paying jobs."

The college is still exploring all four areas, but Corbell said it should soon know if all four are viable programs. Once San Juan College knows a program is viable, it will take between four and six months to develop curriculum.

Water security and sustainability

San Juan College will be developing the curriculum for water security and sustainability. 

Corbell said water security and sustainability fits well with the School of Energy because water is an important part of energy production. She gave examples like hydropower.

Hydrogen Power

Navajo Nation's interest in hydrogen power was one of the driving reasons Corbell said that San Juan College chose to pursue offering a hydrogen power program.

In November, the Navajo Nation announced plans to convert methane into hydrogen.

Corbell said hydrogen power is a broad category with a great deal of potential.

Electric vehicle technician

The San Juan College Trades and Technology Center is pictured, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, in Farmington.

Electric vehicles are becoming more and more common and very few colleges offer programs training students to be electric vehicle technicians. 

Corbell said the training would be provided through the School of Trades and Technology, which also offers automobile mechanic classes.

Lithium ion battery repurposing and recycling

San Juan College also hopes to solve some of the challenges facing the renewable energy and electric vehicle industry. The lithium ion battery is widely used in renewable energy storage as well as to power electric vehicles. It is also used in smart phones. 

However, the lithium ion battery brings with it some environmental concerns, and they can be expensive to replace.

Corbell said the college has spoken to Los Alamos National Laboratories about a feasibility study for the program, which would explore the best methods for handling lithium ion batteries at the end of their life.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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