Energy storage, biodiversity, water, and more: IonE Fellows receive funding to advance sustainability in Minnesota
Each year, the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) carefully considers project proposals ranging in topic from clean water to habitat to air quality, totaling more than $180 million, and recommends about 25 percent of these initiatives for funding from the State of Minnesota’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. This year, five of our Fellows, including our Energy Transition Lab’s Ellen Anderson, were awarded significant funding to further their work in sustainability.
IonE’s Ellen Anderson, a recent recipient of the Environmental Initiative’s Critical Collaborator Award, received a grant of $550,000 to further her project Demonstrations for Community-Scale Storage Systems for Renewable Energy. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are only productive when the weather cooperates; for that reason, storage systems are essential to ensure communities have access to reliable, ongoing renewable energy.
The grant will allow Anderson’s team to select three small-scale local energy sites — such as college campuses, hospitals, and municipal buildings — to test a battery storage system. Anderson and her team plan to establish a site in the Twin Cities metro area, a rural agricultural area, and an area of northern Minnesota, each of which will present its own benefits and challenges to the process of renewable energy storage.
The metro area test site will be in a low-income community in north Minneapolis, where Anderson’s initiative will develop a micro-grid connected to community solar gardens that are designed to serve financially disadvantaged residents. “We have an opportunity to explore how a battery could be used to provide real benefit to a local community that could use more investment and opportunities to participate in the clean energy economy,” says Anderson.
Results will be closely analyzed and broadly disseminated in an energy storage guide, which Anderson hopes will allow communities in Minnesota and beyond to implement their own forms of renewable storage.
“Most energy storage initiatives are big utility-scale projects,” she says, “but there is a lot of need for smaller-scale communities to understand how battery storage can help them add value to renewable energy, save money, and reduce carbon emissions.”
A range of innovative projects
Project funding was also awarded to several of our IonE Fellows and their teams, who work across various disciplines.
George Weiblen, of the College of Biological Sciences and the Bell Museum, will work to expand the Minnesota Biodiversity Atlas, a public database used for everything from identifying species in the field to conservation planning. Nicholas Jordan, of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences, plans to test a farmer-led, market-based approach to integrate alfalfa into the state’s corn and soybean-based farming operations in order to address water resource conservation challenges that have evaded solutions for decades.
Two additional IonE Fellows also received grants for water-centric research. John Gulliver, of the College of Science and Engineering and St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, will investigate alternatives to road salt that will result in lower contributions of chloride to Minnesota’s lakes, streams, and rivers; and Randall Singer of the College of Veterinary Medicine will quantify and record the Minnesota waterways with the highest prevalence of antibiotic contamination. Singer ultimately hopes to assist with statewide antibiotic resistance mitigation efforts in the natural environment.
The projects listed above are among only 66 grant recipients of 217 proposals, which makes this recognition and support for Anderson and the other IonE Fellows even more notable.
“It’s exciting, and it paints a picture of the ways that IonE is having a broader impact,” says Anderson. “It’s a combination of leadership development, education, and real-life impact that all spring from research. That’s what IonE does really well.”
Grace Becker is the communications assistant at the Institute on the Environment and an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota, where she studies strategic communication, sustainability, and Spanish.