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Students criticize Washington U.'s technology partnership

By Adam Allington, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis, MO – A group of students at Washington University are accusing the school of getting "too cozy" with the coal industry.

Last year the university created a research group called the "Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization", funded in part through $12 million from Peabody Energy, Arch Coal and Ameren.

"Clean coal" is a conceptual industry term given to power plants that may eventually store carbon dioxide emissions underground, rather than releasing the greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

Washington University senior Melissa Legge says the "clean coal" term is a misnomer, and the school should put more effort behind renewable energy research.

"The use of this marketing term is a sign that Washington University has begun to serve the interests of the coal industry. It is clear that that the money from these coal companies is beginning to distort the decisions of the administration and even the credibility of the research done at this university," Leggy said.

But Richard Axelbaum, the consortium's director, says the world simply relies on coal too much to not research next-generation technology.

"So being that we've concluded that coal is going to be used extensively worldwide, we want to be able to accomplish that. And the fact that the coal companies are giving the university funds to develop technologies like that is a very appropriate use of their funds," Axelbaum said.

Some students are also critical of the recent move to add the chief executives of Arch Coal and Peabody Energy to the school's board of directors.