Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment awards $4.85 million in large grants to seven projects

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MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (3/23/2009) – Following a highly competitive review and selection process, the University of Minnesota’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment has selected seven projects to receive a total of $4.85 million in funding.

IREE’s 2009 large grants program will help launch early-stage, high-potential projects in emerging fields of renewable energy and the environment.

In addition to scientific and technical merit, considerations applied during the final selection process included the potential for major breakthroughs on national and global scales, an alignment with Minnesota’s competitive advantages, a strong interdisciplinary approach, and a clear business plan and exit strategy for securing future support.

“We’re convinced these investments will help position the University of Minnesota, the state and the broader region as a world leader in sustainable energy systems,” says Dick Hemmingsen, IREE director.

“IREE’s new research portfolio aligns perfectly with the Institute’s goal of addressing today’s grand environmental challenges,” says Jonathan Foley, Institute on the Environment director. “I’m confident that through these investments we’ll transform the energy landscape both here and abroad.”

The projects selected to receive IREE large grants include:

Thermochemical Fuels: Solar at Night
Project lead: Jane Davidson, Mechanical Engineering
Goal: To harvest and store concentrated solar energy via high-temperature, thermochemical processes. Faculty and students will collaborate with national and international experts to develop processes and reactors that gasify biomass with concentrated solar energy. As a result, the fuel produced during the day could be stored, transported and used where/when it is needed.

Sustainable Polymers: Tomorrow’s Advanced Materials
Project lead: Marc Hillmyer, Chemistry
Goal: To design, prepare and implement advanced polymers from biomass for a wide range of applications, and to establish a Center for Sustainable Polymers at the U of M. The team of scientists and engineers will lead research projects aimed at developing commercially feasible, pressure-sensitive adhesives, toughened plastics and polyurethanes from renewable resources.

Thermochemical Approaches to Conversion of Biomass in Small-Scale, Distributed Systems
Project leads: Michael Tsapatsis, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science; Roger Ruan, Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering
Goal: To build a portfolio of integrated catalytic, reactor and power generation technologies that are scalable, continuous and suitable for distributed processing of biomass sources. This work will address bioenergy research needs for heat, electricity and liquid fuels.

Laterally Integrated Photovoltaic Systems
Project lead: Philip Cohen, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Goal: To develop an inexpensive, integrated package using holographic concentrator optics to split the solar spectrum and direct each band toward polycrystalline solar cell components. This system could reduce the expense and complications of multi-junction cells, mechanical tracking and concentrator optics in current photovoltaic systems.

Air Pollution Impacts of Conventional and Alternative Fuels: A Spatial and Temporal Life Cycle Analysis Decision Support Tool
Project lead: Julian Marshall, Civil Engineering
Goal: To perform a spatially- and temporally-explicit life cycle assessment for several biofuels and the fossil fuels they displace. This research will provide critical new knowledge about the costs, benefits and tradeoffs in greenhouse gas emissions and air quality related to biofuel production systems.

Combining Geothermal Energy Extraction and CO2 Sequestration to Produce Clean, Renewable, Carbon Negative Electricity
Project lead: Martin Saar, Geology and Geophysics
Goal: To investigate the feasibility of developing a geothermal power plant that generates electricity in low to intermediate heat flow regions (such as Minnesota), while sequestering carbon dioxide in the subsurface. This project could reduce climate change caused by human activities while utilizing Earth’s natural heat flow as an energy source.

Evaluation, Validation and Demonstration of Small-Scale Renewable Energy Systems for Homes and Businesses
Project lead: Michael Reese, Morris West Central Research and Outreach Center
Goal: To evaluate small-scale renewable energy systems and become an accredited performance test center. The team will work to create a business model and to jumpstart the infrastructure for a self-sustaining, fee-based center, which can facilitate the testing, validation and demonstration of such systems.