Smart Money

The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment, a signature program of the Institute on the Environment, recently awarded nearly $5.6 million to 19 worthy endeavors. The 2009 large grants program will support major steps toward a sustainable future—funding “Thermochemical Fuels: Solar at Night,” “Sustainable Polymers: Tomorrow’s Advanced Materials,” and five other pioneering projects. Rounding out IREE’s research portfolio, this year’s seed grants will help launch a dozen projects in the early stages of development; focus areas range from energy production for large wind turbines to dye-sensitized solar cells. “We’re convinced these investments will position the University of Minnesota, the state and the broader region as a world leader in sustainable energy systems,” says Dick Hemmingsen, IREE director.

Biofuels Done Right

While biofuels may help to solve energy and climate change issues, current studies show their widespread production could disrupt global food security, biodiversity and water quality. To weigh the pros and cons precisely, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center has joined forces with the IonE. Sponsored by the Department of Energy, the partners will produce the first geographically-detailed assessments of land availability for bioenergy production. The experts will measure feedstock yields from croplands, pastures and forests using satellite- and census-based data, as well as new statistical fusion techniques. They’ll also look at the pressures on food supply and natural ecosystems. “Already, the center is doing state-of-the-art work in assessing the trade-offs of bioenergy systems in the Great Lakes region,” says Jonathan Foley, director of the IonE and a lead scientist on the project. “Together, we’ll expand this work to reach the rest of the world.”

The Big Green Apple

Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory recently scored $400,000 to help produce clean energy for New York City. Fotis Sotiropoulos, director of SAFL, will lead a team of researchers in developing computational models for optimizing underwater turbines to generate power from tidal, river and ocean currents. The effort is funded, in part, by IREE.

Bold Enterprise

Minnesota was made for environmental problem-solving—and not just because of our 10,000 lakes. No other place in the world has the geographic advantage of a top-ranked research university, a diverse natural landscape and a thriving business community. This state lays claim to some 20 Fortune 500 companies and many other major players in the global economy. Now more than ever, it’s time to combine these advantages and make things happen. The NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise (NISE), a new program of the IonE, promotes collaboration among business, academic, government and nongovernmental sectors to bring vital social and environmental change. Working together across industries and disciplines, these experts will develop high-demand, high-impact and timely approaches to sustainability. As one of the University of Minnesota’s key investments, NISE will facilitate the stakeholder-driven research and private-sector participation needed to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges. “Rather than reinventing the wheel, we’re building on our previous efforts with the U of M’s Center for Sustainable Enterprise Development,” explains Tim Smith, director of NISE. “By sharing our expertise and resources, we hope to export Minnesota solutions to the globe while creating new opportunities here at home.”