Supercomputer Would Diversify Economy, Enhance Energy Research

Cheyenne, Wyo. – Diversification of Wyoming’s economy, enhancement of energy research and attracting top-flight scientists and faculty to the University of Wyoming are among the benefits from a planned supercomputer center in southeast Wyoming, Governor Dave Freudenthal and UW President Tom Buchanan said Thursday.

Establishment of the $60 million data facility by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) west of Cheyenne is pending approval by the National Science Foundation and the Wyoming Legislature.  The data center would solidify the state’s long-term commitment toward innovative ideas, new products and new companies.

“This is a great day for Wyoming. This is exactly the type of economic development that will allow Wyoming to build our intellectual capital and become a world-class player in the high-tech arena,” Freudenthal said. “Wyoming will become a magnet for researchers, professors, students and entrepreneurs who rely on and can benefit from access to one of the world*s most powerful computers.”

The UW School of Energy Resources would be among the first to benefit, with its scientists having access to tremendous computing power that could help improve analysis of the state’s complex geology and possibly unlock new methods of mineral extraction.

Innovative ideas that flow from computational research can turn into copyrights, patents and increased revenue for UW, but more critical is the access to knowledge that will benefit a variety of disciplines, Buchanan said.

“This partnership validates our current expertise in computational science, as well as our intention to build national prominence in this area,” he said. “During the past decades, UW has built centers of excellence in geology and geophysics, atmospheric sciences, mathematics and engineering, and we’ve been growing our strengths in computational biology and energy sciences.”

“Taking the next leap in excellence requires computing power equal to the capabilities of our faculty – not only the extraordinary faculty we have now but also the faculty we will be hiring in the next few years,” Buchanan added.

Besides Freudenthal and Buchanan, other key players in crafting the proposal were Wyoming Business Council CEO Tucker Fagan; Cheyenne LEADS CEO Randy Bruns; Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Rick Kaysen; UW Vice President for Academic Affairs Myron Allen; UW Vice President for Research and Economic Development Bill Gern; and UW Vice President for Information Technology Robert Aylward.

A critical part of the state’s offer is helping to underwrite construction costs. Lawmakers are examining a proposal to appropriate $20 million to the Wyoming Business Council. Of that amount, $10 million would come from existing appropriations to the university*s matching endowment fund and $10 million would be new dollars. In addition, UW would provide $1 million a year for 20 years.

Senate President John Schiffer said he looks forward to learning more about the data center and commended all involved.

“It’s those kinds of partnerships that really build Wyoming and it*s those kinds of partnerships going forward that will allow us to take advantage of the opportunity,” he said.

House Speaker Roy Cohee said that although the center may be located near Cheyenne, it is truly a statewide project.

“It’s going to bring tremendous opportunities,” he said.

“It’s incredibly important to the state that Wyoming finally join the high-tech sector.”

Cheyenne LEADS has offered 24 acres in its North Range Business Park just north of the new Wal-Mart distribution center between Interstate 80 and Happy Jack Road. Access to fiber optic lines and uninterrupted power were also crucial to the agreement.

Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power Co., a subsidiary of Black Hills Corp., will provide electricity from a variety of sources, including wind power, to meet the facility’s needs. A portion of the power will be provided by Wygen II, a mine-mouth, coal-fired plant in northeast Wyoming completely owned by Cheyenne Light.

“An important feature of Wygen II is its mercury containment emission capabilities that were developed in consultation with the University of Wyoming,” Kaysen said.

Primarily funded by the National Science Foundation, NCAR is dedicated to exploring and understanding the earth*s atmosphere and its interactions with the sun, the oceans, the biosphere and human society

“This groundbreaking decision allows NCAR to ramp up its computing faster and at lower cost than any other option we considered,” NCAR Director Tim Killeen said. “The new facility in Wyoming will allow us to achieve computing capabilities that are an order of magnitude greater than we have today when the facility opens in 2010. That level of computing power will allow NCAR, UW, the University of Colorado, and the rest of the scientific community to tackle scientific problems such as climate change and energy research that are of increasing importance to the nation.”