Some “boys from Brazil” are setting up a high-tech enterprise in Cullowhee, but this group of enterprising South Americans has nothing to do with nefarious plots or clones of notorious dictators. Instead, this band of Brazilians is collaborating with Western Carolina’s Kimmel School to develop new technology that could help wean the nation from its dependence on petroleum-based power.
The Brazil-based renewable energy corporation Vale Energy Solutions (Vale Soluções em Energia, or VSE), agreed this fall to bring the headquarters of its U.S. operations to WCU to take advantage of faculty resources and laboratory space in the Kimmel School. The public-private partnership was formalized Oct. 11 when university and company representatives signed documents hailed by WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo.
“VSE will benefit from our faculty expertise and other resources. WCU faculty will benefit from having access to new high-tech equipment, and WCU students will benefit from hands-on educational experiences, internships and international exchange opportunities in Brazil,” Bardo said. The region and the environment also could be big winners because of the partnership, he said. “If the project works like we think it will, we may be able to build a manufacturing facility to make these new turbines, which could mean as many as 300 new jobs. We hope those jobs will be in Western North Carolina.”
The relationship enables VSE and its U.S. subsidiary, TAO Sustainable Power Solutions, to work with the Kimmel School to engineer a new turbine power system that runs on renewable energy sources. TAO occupies offices located on the second floor of WCU’s Center for Applied Technology. “VSE is interested in developing this technology to satisfy a worldwide need: efficient distributed power generation from renewable fuels,” said Robert McMahan, Kimmel School dean. “Brazil produces enormous amounts of sugarcane, which is already used to produce automotive transport fuels for their domestic use. This program will result in the development and production of systems that can use these and other renewable fuels to generate power while also, in some cases, cleaning potable water from contaminated or brackish sources. The company turned to us for the expertise to help make this happen.” The company also plans to use the technology to help bring the world’s first “green Olympics” to Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
James Pessoa, president and CEO of VSE and TAO, said the agreement is just the first step in a long-term partnership. “This is a great honor for me and for VSE to be here to sign and to celebrate our technological collaboration agreement for the development of advanced turbines,” Pessoa said. “I’m certain that this is the starting point of a long-range and very fruitful collaboration between VSE and Western Carolina University.” Among possible future projects is a potential “game-changer” – a turbine that would produce not only nonpolluting energy but also fresh, drinkable water from such sources as saltwater, brackish water and industrial effluent.