Representatives from aluminum manufacturer Alcoa visited Ohio State Wednesday to review the company’s current relationship with the university. Alcoa has provided nearly $1 million in grants to OSU since 2011.
Klaus Kleinfeld, CEO and chairman of Alcoa, came to OSU with several members of his staff.
While not formally announced yet, Alcoa will be giving OSU $250,000 in new grants for work to be done in 2014, as well as a $175,000 extension of a previous project, Tricia Napor, vice president of the Alcoa Foundation, said in an email.
Alcoa has a variety of reasons to be invested in higher education including that OSU is a customer of Alcoa products and provides a pool for potential employees. Kleinfeld told The Lantern Wednesday Alcoa makes sure to stay engaged in a number of ways so that it can pull top candidates into the company.
The grants Alcoa provides the university are one method of spurring student interest in the company.
The most significant grant of $400,000 was given in July 2011 to OSU’s Institute for Materials Research to develop lighter weight vehicle structures. Under OSU professor Glenn Daehn, a team of students have been working on developing new alloys to make vehicles lighter and more efficient, while maintaining the crash resistance of traditional methods. The grant is set to be renewed this year with an additional $175,000 for work in 2013 and 2014, Napor said.
The grant is nonproprietary, meaning it is not being produced under exclusive legal rights of the inventor, and Alcoa would not have rights to the patents from any marketable materials developed, Paula Davis, president of the Alcoa Foundation, told The Lantern.
Alcoa has also given grants to OSU to develop ways to increase recycling in the U.S. The U.S. has a recycling rate of about 65 percent, Kleinfeld said.
While it is an ecological problem, for Alcoa it is also a business problem. The more aluminum that is recycled, the less raw metal Alcoa has to mine out of the ground. While the recycling rate in the industry is fair, the recycling rate for commercial goods, particularly in the U.S., is still very low, Kleinfeld said.
“It’s frustrating how much goes into the landfill here in the U.S. A lot of that is behavioral. Very often, people think recycling is just for do-gooders — for tree-huggers. They don’t understand that there is also a giant economic value in it,” Kleinfeld told The Lantern Wednesday.
Aaron Melchreit gave a presentation for the recycling grant program he worked on, which had the goal of bringing the national aluminum can recycling rate up to 75 percent by 2015. The proposal was to develop a reality television show about “canners.”
Canners is a name given to describe the poverty-stricken individuals that collect cans and turn them in for profit. Melchreit and his group filmed a pilot in the OSU off-campus region, where some people come to collect littered beer cans. Melchreit said he hopes a national television show in the style of “Duck Dynasty” or “Pawn Stars” would bring more attention to the problem of discarded cans.
Another grant, worth $120,000, gave OSU students the task of developing ways to increase the level of recycling during tailgating for football, though the students who worked on that program said they struggled to increase the rate of recycling.
Alcoa normally would expect rights to patents when investing money into research, but OSU’s money came from the Alcoa Foundation, which as a nonprofit does not allow Alcoa to profit off of those grants, Kleinfeld told The Lantern.
These grants are a sort of labor investment for Alcoa because the company can get top engineering students working on aluminum development, making them a natural choice for employment with Alcoa or aluminum consumers, like airplane manufacturers, after graduation.
“The idea behind this is that we want to educate students about aluminum because they’re going to go out (and) work at Boeing and Alcoa,” Davis said.
Kleinfeld said, however, it is much more likely that significant breakthrough would be made in Alcoa’s labs, located outside of Pittsburgh, than on a college campus.