Case Study: Southern Illinois University Secures New Biotech Center

School research facility uses proximity card access system to control variety of access, from long-term employees to temporary clients and contractors at alternative fuel facility


Access to the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center (NCERC) at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) is under control. The new facility has installed an IR Geoffrey electronic access control system that secures the complete facility and manages access using proximity cards. In addition to protecting the building's security, the system ensures that information needed for access documentation is automatically recorded.

The 36,000-s.f. NCERC is located on the SIUE campus, about 25 minutes from downtown St. Louis. The $20 million facility, built with $14 million from the federal government and $6 million from the state of Illinois, was dedicated in September 2003. It is designed to support the research and development of processes that produce ethanol from corn or its components through fermentation; to bridge the gap between laboratory scale corn-to-ethanol research and commercially viable production processes. Rod Bothast, director of the center, said its primary thrust will be to act as a host for outside "customers" who can use the facility to validate their research.

"It could be a private company, it could be a university researcher, or it could be a government research group that wants to test its technology and validate it to the point where they can actually get into production," Bothast said. "Clients will propose projects, and projects will be reviewed and prioritized by a scientific advisory board. The goal is to have the facility running as many days as possible, testing technologies with the greatest promise."

Ethanol, also known as etyl alcohol or sometimes as grain alcohol, is like gasoline, a highly flammable liquid. It has been used to power automobiles and is often studied and considered due to its renewable nature.

Security Plays a Role

When a research project is being conducted, operations typically will continue around the clock, so authorized people need to have access at all times. In order to maintain security and provide access control flexibility, NCERC has installed an IR Geoffrey electronic access control system.

Card readers are installed on all exterior doors, as well as some interior locations. The system is programmed to unlock the front door during business operations hours, but after hours and on weekends, all doors are locked and require a proximity card for entry. James E. Cole, Process Engineer, says, 'Part of the reason for the card access system is that we can issue cards to employees and occasionally to contractors and keep the security of the building intact."

The system also enables the facility to document important information. Cole says, "We have readers on some doors so we can verify who had access to regulatory agencies. There are card readers on the doors so we have an audit trail to verify when someone was there."

Because the facility will be used by various clients to perform research, the system's flexibility is important. Once someone's contract expires or a contractor is finished with a project, that person's card can be invalidated quickly. Control is maintained without the need for re-keying and there are no keys that can be lost, copied or stolen.