Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment awards more than $745,000 in seed grants to 12 projects

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MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (4/2/2009) – The University of Minnesota’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment, a signature program of the Institute on the Environment, has selected 12 projects to receive more than $745,000 in seed grant funding.

IREE’s 2009 seed grants program will help launch high-potential projects that are in the initial phase of development. The goal of this program is to promote early-stage research in renewable energy and the environment and to position the work for future extramural funding opportunities.

In conjunction with IREE’s large grants program—which will support seven new projects with a total of $4.85 million—the seed grant program investments will expand IREE’s research portfolio to encompass a broader range of focus areas.

“All of the projects we chose represent the first step toward larger, longer-term impacts,” says Dick Hemmingsen, director of IREE. “The seed grants allow us to support some high-risk, high-reward projects we weren’t able to fund with the large grants program.”

The selected projects demonstrate a high degree of innovation; synergy with the University of Minnesota’s and the state’s competitive advantages; a potential contribution to the national need for renewable energy; and a clear strategy for attracting external funding support.

The projects selected to receive IREE seed grants include:

Biohydrogen-Based Biofuel Cells: Highly Efficient and Clean Electricity Generation Using Mixed Wastewater Feedstocks – A Rural Development Project
Project lead: Jun Zhu, Southern Research and Outreach Center
Goal: To investigate the feasibility of developing a biological fuel cell system, which consists of a bio-hydrogen-producing fermenter connected to an enzyme-based fuel cell that can produce electricity directly from waste biomass.

Creation of Energy Efficient Inorganic-Bonded Structural Insulated Panels
Project lead: Matthew Aro, Natural Resources Research Institute
Goal: To combine the properties of chemically-bonded inorganic binders with regionally-sourced and underutilized red pine forest thinnings in order to create moisture-, decay-, fire-, and mildew-resistant structural insulated panels. Compared to traditional structural insulated panels, the new products will require much less energy to produce.

Enhanced Biogas Formation from Animal Waste: Evaluation of a New Technology for Increased Biogas Quality and Quantity
Project lead: Michael Sadowsky, Soil, Water and Climate
Goal: To evaluate the scientific basis for enhanced biogas production, as well as improved gas composition produced by an anaerobic digester using the Hogen process.

Hydrostatic Transmission for Wind Power Generation
Project lead: Kim Stelson, Mechanical Engineering
Goal: To assess the potential economic and technical advantages of using a hydrostatic transmission rather than a mechanical gear box for wind power generators.

Hydrothermal Carbonization of Algae and Agricultural Wastes: Synthetic Bio-coal
Project lead: H. Ted Davis, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science
Goal: To use carbon that has been fixed and sequestered by algae and other plant materials to rapidly and efficiently produce synthetic coal.

Improved Energy Production for Large Wind Turbines
Project lead: Gary Balas, Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics
Goal: To study the tradeoffs associated with controlling wind turbines, with the potential impact of enabling the construction of larger, more efficient wind turbines.

Minnesota Microorganisms for Electrical Biocatalysis: Novel Bacteria from Minnesota Habitats that Use Electrodes to Increase Bioproduct Value and Capture Carbon
Project lead: Daniel Bond, Microbiology
Goal: To identify novel bacteria and obtain new models for the study of organisms able to link electricity to biological carbon capture and biocatalysis.

Next Generation Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells
Project lead: David Blank, Chemistry
Goal: Photovoltaic devices convert solar energy into electricity; in order to improve their performance, this project aims to reveal the unknown events that occur immediately after light absorption in dye-sensitized solar cells.

Reduction of Carbon Dioxide to Methane Using Nanostructured Heterojunction Photocatalysts
Project lead: Eray Aydil, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science
Goal: To examine and establish a new class of nanostructured photocatalysts with the aim of converting carbon dioxide and water to methane using sunlight.

State Climate Action Planning: Geography of Regional and National Climate and Renewable Energy Policy
Project lead: Elizabeth Wilson, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs
Goal: To investigate Minnesota’s greenhouse gas reduction policy and renewable technology choices by analyzing results from 14 state climate action plans facilitated by the Center for Climate Strategies.

Universal Utility Interface for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles with Vehicle-to-Grid Functionality
Project lead: Ned Mohan, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Goal: To develop a novel interface between a utility and PHEV battery pack in order to demonstrate a complete system with bidirectional power flow capabilities.

Use of Transcriptomics to Identify Lignin-Degrading Enzymes in Fungi
Project lead: Steve Gantt, Plant Biology
Goal: To better understand how lignin is broken down—a process that is vital to converting complex feedstocks to biofuel.