Tag Archives: energy

Bengola Natural Energy Park in Munitibar

Munitibar, the town in the heart of Bizkaia that my dad is from, is small, maybe 500 people or so. It has 3 — soon to be 4 — bars and 2 churches, an anachronism from starting off as two separate barrios that eventually merged. I often think that they have it right, a bar/church ratio significantly higher than 1. (I think that the bar/church ratio in Los Alamos is probably closer to 0.03.)

Munitibar is small, but it has ambition. My uncle and aunt showed me a new energy park that is being constructed in the open fields just a bit south of the plaza. The park, Bengola Natural Energy Park, is dedicated to renewable energy and is meant to be a center that demonstrates how different forms of renewable energy work and can contribute to our energy production systems, including wind, solar, and more. There are exhibits, so to speak, of different types of windmills, for example, in an open meadow overseen by the village cemetery (in an interesting contrast of old and new traditions).

The site of the center and museum is on an old iron works site, which was later converted into a mill. In the excavations for the main building, they uncovered some of the foundation and stone work of that original iron works, which have since been incorporated into the building as an example of using water to power industry. They are diverting water into a collecting pool that will feed into the building to drive, I believe, a new water wheel to demonstrate how energy can be extracted from water.

There are multiple scupltures and other features with quotes highlighting the ecological nature of the park. Some of those quotes are in the photos posted here — I would be very grateful if anyone was interested in translating them to English so I can better understand what the message is. There is a stage, a sort of ampitheater, for lectures and concerts dedicated to ecological themes. There is also a very large stone sundial, though local kids have already defaced it by popping wheelies with their motorcycles on it. I guess it’s impossible, no matter where you are, to prevent that kind of stuff.

The park is still being finalized and the main building was under active construction when I was there. It was quite extensive, with some large exhibition rooms and what seemed to be possibly some conference rooms. It was originally expected to be completed sometime this summer, but with the crisis, it isn’t clear that the funds will be available to finish it off. But, if not now, I’m sure it will be in the near future. Whenever it is finished, I look forward to seeing how they present renewable energy and the ways it can be used to enhance the way we interact with our environment.

More information about the park can be found here.

Looking towards the future

I just got back from Europe, a trip that took me to both Germany and Spain. While in Spain, I visited two research centers. Both centers were very impressive, primarily because of the vision they represent. When one considers how government funded science research, even in a country like the US, is subject to the whims of political winds, it is refreshing to see initiatives that have a longer term focus and perspective.

These two centers, Nanogune and Energigune, are part of a bigger effort to establish research centers that bridge academia and industry. That is, a primary goal is to take the basic science conducted at universities and transfer it in a usable way to industry. They are the bridge between research and application, with the goal of accelerating that process. There are 7 such centers in the Basque Country, though I only saw these two as they most align with my own research.

Nanogune, situated in Donostia/San Sebastian, is focused on nanotechnology. In the continuum from basic research to industrial development, Nanogune maybe sits a bit closer to basic research than Energigune. They aren’t driven by any particular application, but rather the development of functional materials based on nanotechnology more generally, particularly the basic science of those materials. Controlling matter at the atomic level to develop new materials is a challenging goal, one that is common with a number of other countries. Nanogune is a focused center working to realize the promise of nanotechnology. Given the focus on more basic research, Nanogune sits in or near the campus of the University of the Basque Country.

About one and a half hours away in Vitoria-Gasteiz, sits another center, Energigune. Energigune is a bit more focused on developing new energy materials, specifically batteries and supercapacitors. As such, they are a bit more industrial focused, residing in a technological park in Araba. The goal is specifically to develop new materials for these applications. Again, this challenge is being tackled by a number of groups around the world, but Energigune is bringing together a number of scientists under one roof dedicated to this particular class of materials.

Both centers are young, less than 3 years old, but already they have impressive experimental capabilities and scientists. I was especially impressed that such a small region of the world is investing so significantly in scientific development. They are taking a long view with the understanding that the future of their economy and their region depends on investing in basic science and exceptional scientists to develop the foundation for industrial development. It is a view that is too often lacking from political entities. It is also a way of doing science and investing in the future that I think other nations, including the US, would do well to mimic.