• Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nuclear engineering, doctorate in engineering, Purdue University.
• Age: 50
• Previous position: Technology development director, Argonne National Laboratory
• Other talents: Photography and county fair 4-H judging in numerous categories
Mark Petri joined the Iowa Energy Center (IEC) as its director on Feb. 25. He moved to Iowa from Chicago, where he served as the technology development director at Argonne National Laboratory. In that position, he coordinated a $40 million portfolio of multidisciplinary research programs in sustainable energy production, transmission and efficiency. During a yearlong sabbatical in 2007, he served as science and technology adviser to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois. He has also taught energy policy and entrepreneurship courses as an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, and last year led a group of students on a six-week visit to China to study energy production. Based in Ames, the Iowa Energy Center’s mission is to advance the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy use.
Tell me about the opportunity that this position presented for you.
What I liked about the opportunity here at the IEC is that we have a mission to take breakthrough ideas that are coming from places like Iowa universities and community colleges and help transition those into actual practice.
What’s an example of how the center does that?
For instance, if someone has a clever idea on making more energy-efficient biofuels, we can provide the facilities where you can demonstrate that on a larger scale than you could do at a research laboratory as the intermediate stage to actually building production-scale units. So we have this great mission that I like as an engineer, where it’s not just about doing fundamental research and writing some papers; we’re really striving to help those researchers already out there to get those things commercialized.
Successes the center has had?
One area I think the center is particularly proud of is the Alternative Energy Revolving Loan Program, which provides no-cost loans to small- and medium-scale wind farm developers or even single-turbine projects. We do due diligence on those projects, and then make arrangements with lending institutions that then manage those projects. This program has helped to build a significant number of wind projects across the state. That’s been very successful.
What’s the key takeaway for Iowans about the Iowa Energy Center?
Everything from the production of energy to its transport and use has been going through major changes in the past decade, and it’s continuing to change. There’s this whole range of emerging technologies that’s affecting the entire supply chain of energy, and it can be very confusing for anyone to sort through what these changes are. What we aim to do at the Iowa Energy Center, with our modest resources, is to provide a place that can give objective information and resources to the people of Iowa so they can make more informed, intelligent choices for their homes or businesses.
So you worked with Northwestern students in China last year?
I’m very proud of that. A few years ago, there was a nation-to-nation agreement (between China and the United States). One of the items of cooperation was to try to bring more U.S. students into China. President Obama established a program called the 100,000 Strong Initiative, with the idea of getting 100,000 students into China for educational purposes. Chicago was given a lead role in that initiative, and one of the earliest projects was assigned to Northwestern University. They wanted someone from the outside to come in and teach these classes and then escort them to China.
What are your hobbies?
I’m a photographer. I like hiking and I do a lot of photography. I’ve done some exhibits of my work, so that’s sort of my artistic outlet.
Do you think you may enter some of your work at the Iowa State Fair?
What I did in Illinois, and I’d like to find these opportunities here, is that I did a lot of county fair (4-H) judging in all sorts of fields. Science certainly, but also woodworking, and cakes, pies and jams. Every year, I would judge speech and public presentations. ... Preparing for my move to Iowa, I bought a copy of the movie “State Fair” and the movie “Butter.” That was my way of learning Iowa culture. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to the state fair, and the bacon festival.