2010 News Archive

An archive of news released by the Institute on the Environment during calendar year 2010.

University of Minnesota first in the nation to begin using high-tech indoor solar simulator

(12/9) In a windowless solar energy lab in the Mechanical Engineering Building at the University of Minnesota, researchers are tapping the power of a new piece of high-tech equipment that can replicate the amount of sunlight equivalent to more than 3,000 suns. The new concentrating solar simulator, the first of its kind in the nation, will be used by researchers in the university’s College of Science and Engineering in a variety of experiments, including converting concentrated sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into synthetic hydrocarbon fuels. The indoor lab will provide consistent experimental conditions independent of weather and time of day. More info

IonE NorthStar Initiative Head to Help Set Agenda for Federal Sustainability Push

(11/24) Timothy Smith, head of the Institute on the Environment’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise, has been invited to participate in a select group advising the U.S. government on how it can improve the environmental sustainability of its purchasing. Smith and 20 other sustainability leaders from around the country will meet with the federal General Services Administration, the government’s landlord and procurement agency, four times over the next year to recommend ways it can better incorporate sustainability principles into its procurement activities.

U of M to host Midwest’s premier energy, economic and environmental conference Nov. 30-Dec. 1

(11/18) What role will renewable energy play in recharging the U.S. economy? Can improvements in energy efficiency help businesses reduce their carbon footprint while boosting their bottom line? What does the future hold for wind energy in the Midwest? These are among the many urgent questions on the agenda during E3 2010: The Midwest’s Premier Energy, Economic and Environmental Conference, taking place Nov. 30 through Dec. 1 in St. Paul.

Insitute announces new Mini Grant program

(11/17) The Institute on the Environment (IonE) of the University of Minnesota is launching a new “Mini Grants” program, which is intended to provide support and funding for interdisciplinary teams that seek to organize and develop new activities around environmental research, education or engagement. The grants are meant to encourage collaboration across disciplines, units or campuses at the University of Minnesota.

University of Minnesota students head to UN climate change talks

(11/16) Sixteen University of Minnesota students will participate as official observers at the UN Climate Change Conference negotiations in Cancun, Mexico, at the end of this month, where leaders from around the world will work toward long-term cooperative action to address climate change.

Momentum magazine wins seven Publishing Excellence Awards

(11/5) During the 14th-annual Minnesota Publishing Excellence Awards, the IonE’s Momentum magazine received awards in seven categories, including: Gold, Best Overall Design; Gold, Best Feature Story (for the winter 2010 cover story); Gold, Technical Article (for the winter 2010 article “Nanotech: A History Lesson”); Gold, Best Publisher’s Letter (for the winter 2010 Director’s Note); Silver, Best Feature Story (for the fall 2009 cover story); Silver, Best Single Topic Issue (for the fall 2009 Land Issue);and Bronze, Best Overall Publication. Momentum was judged as part of the “Special Interest, Under 60,000 Circulation” category, competing against a number of prominent regional magazines. The Minnesota Publishing Excellence Awards recognize and foster outstanding publishing achievements from across the state; the competition includes nearly 100 categories in the areas of editorial, design, circulation, general and overall excellence.

Expanding Croplands Chipping Away at World’s Carbon Stocks

(11/1) According to a study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), nature’s capacity to store carbon, the element at the heart of global climate woes, is steadily eroding as the world’s farmers expand croplands at the expense of native ecosystem such as forests. The PNAS study was prepared by a team of researchers from the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Stanford University, Arizona State University and The Nature Conservancy.

University of Minnesota one of only three schools in nation to earn straight “A’s” in sustainability

(10/27) The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is one of only three schools in the nation that has received all “A’s” in the College Sustainability Report Card scores released today. This is the fifth consecutive year the U of M has improved its marks and the first time the university has received A’s in all nine categories. The College Sustainability Report Card surveyed 322 schools this year. More info

U of M to host “Experiments on Rivers: The Consequence of Dams”

(10/21) The University of Minnesota will host a major conference on dams – “Experiments on Rivers: The Consequence of Dams” – from November 11-12, 2010 at the Nolte Center on the Twin Cities campus and in the auditorium of the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory near downtown Minneapolis. The goal of the conference is to develop a research and policy agenda around the long-term future of dams and other large-scale engineered structures in rivers.  Conference attendees will be encouraged to think broadly about the consequences of dams on human and natural ecosystems and begin to raise questions about the steps that might be necessary if we consider removal of dams. IonE’s River Life program is a co-sponsor of this event.

Institute on the Environment awards $1.9 million in Discovery Grants to six projects with global reach

(10/12) The Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota has announced the selection of six projects to receive $1.9 million over four years through its Discovery Grant program. From reducing health and environmental harm caused by household stoves in developing countries to carrying out an adventure learning program that connects climate hot spots around the world with learners via social networking, the projects will accelerate innovation in environmental research and problem solving related to improving air and water quality, protecting ecosystems and the services they provide, and reducing the threat of global climate change.

U of M delegation participates in the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) annual conference

(10/11) Nearly a dozen faculty, staff and students from the University of Minnesota are shining a light on the U of M’s sustainability efforts by participating in the annual AASHE conference taking place October 10-12 in Denver, Colorado. AASHE provides resources, professional development and a network of support to enable institutions of higher education to model and advance sustainability in areas ranging from governance and operations to education and research.

Ethanol Plant Plus?

(9/14) Ethanol plants produce billions of gallons of renewable fuels each year. In the process, however, they also produce millions of tons of byproducts. A promising approach to using these byproducts while boosting energy and economic benefits is getting a trial run through a $250,000 investment by the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment, a signature program of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. The three-year project, which started on July 1, 2010, is being led by researchers from the Duluth-based Natural Resources Research Institute.

U of M researchers awarded grant for research on sustainable bioenergy feedstock production

(9/10) Professors Jason Hill and Tracy Twine in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences were awarded $1 million from the Department of Energy for their project titled “Development of Methodologies for Determining Preferred Landscape Designs for Sustainable Bioenergy Feedstock Production Systems at a Watershed Scale.” The goal of this work is to estimate the biophysical and economic impacts of different placements of feedstock production operations on the landscape in order to maximize net benefits returned to farmers, biorefineries, and the public. The University of Minnesota is one of only three lead institutions nationwide receiving the award under DOE’s Sustainable Bioenergy Feedstock Production program. The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment is providing matching funds to support this research.

Tropical forests were the primary sources of new agricultural land in the 1980s and 1990s

(9/1) A new article published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences states global demand for agricultural products such as food, feed and fuel is now a major driver of cropland and pasture expansion across much of the developing world. Researchers, including IonE’s Jon Foley, examined pathways of agricultural expansion across major tropical forest regions. Between 1980 and 2000 more than 55 percent of new agricultural land came at the expense of intact forests, while another 28 percent came from disturbed forests. More info | View the Stanford University News Release

University of Minnesota team to lead $10M NSF project on advancing study of global climate change

(8/19) A multi-disciplinary team of researchers led by University of Minnesota computer scientist Professor Vipin Kumar in the University’s College of Science and Engineering – and including scientists at IonE – has been awarded a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study climate change. 

All Things Green

(8/19) Student organizations with an environmental focus, energy-saving initiatives on campus, courses and faculty-led research centered on sustainability, and green news and events are among the resources you’ll find a click away at the University of Minnesota’s new Environment and Sustainability Portal. Check it out!

University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment to host international bioenergy convention

(8/10) Bioenergy industry experts, policymakers, NGO leaders, stakeholders, academics and presenters from around the world will gather in Minneapolis for the Global Sustainable Bioenergy (GSB) Project’s North American Convention Sept. 14-16, hosted by the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment.

Institute on the Environment joins forces with international Natural Capital Project

(6/29) The Institute on the Environment is announcing a new partnership with the Natural Capital Project, a worldwide effort to align economic forces with conservation. The other partners include Stanford UniversityThe Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund. Founded in 2006, the Natural Capital Project aims to mainstream the values of nature into major resource decisions.  Working with public, private and nonprofit partners around the world, “NatCap” is developing practical, science-based software for mapping and valuing societal benefits provided by healthy ecosystems.

University of Minnesota researchers clear major hurdle in road to high-efficiency solar cells

(6/17) A team of University of Minnesota-led researchers in the College of Science and Engineering has cleared a major hurdle in the drive to build solar cells with potential efficiencies up to twice as high as current levels, which rarely exceed 30 percent. By showing how energy that is now being lost from semiconductors in solar cells can be captured and transferred to electric circuits, the team has opened a new avenue for solar cell researchers seeking to build cheaper, more efficient solar energy devices. The work is published in this week’s Science and benefited from previous IREE-funded research. More info

U.S. Departments of Commerce and Energy to promote smart grid as job creation opportunity during event at the University of Minnesota

(6/7) Mary Saunders, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Manufacturing and Services with the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Steve Hauser, Vice President of Grid Integration with the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), will be featured speakers at the upcoming Business of Smart Grid conference at the University of Minnesota on Wednesday, June 9. The event is being sponsored by the Minnesota Trade Office, a division of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, and the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE), a signature program of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

IonE’s Pat Nunnally edits new book on the I-35W bridge collapse

Book cover: The City the River the Bridge(6/3) Pat Nunnally, River Life coordinator, is the editor of a new book from the University of Minnesota Press titled “The City, the River, the Bridge.” Stemming from a 2008 University of Minnesota symposium on the bridge collapse and the building of a new bridge, the book addresses the ramifications of the disaster from the perspectives of history, engineering, architecture, water science, community-based journalism and geography. Contributors examine the factors that led to the collapse, the lessons learned from the disaster and the response, the policy and planning changes that have occurred or are likely to occur, and the impact on the city and the Mississippi River. More info

University of Minnesota / Indian Institute of Technology team wins Acara Challenge 2010

(5/24) A team of students from the University of Minnesota and the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee recently won the Acara Challenge 2010. The Acara Challenge focuses on creating businesses that address clean water and clean energy for underserved populations in India.

IREE and Minnesota Corn Growers announce jointly funded projects

(5/17) The Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council (MCR&PC) and the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE), a signature program of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, recently announced the two organizations have agreed to cooperatively fund five research projects in 2010. All five projects are being conducted in whole or in part by the University of Minnesota.

Institute on the Environment launches NorthStar Initiative to address grand sustainability challenges

(5/17) The University of Minnesota is launching a unique new collaboration with some of the world’s most influential decision makers from the private sector, government, consulting and non-governmental organizations. As part of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, members of the NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise (NISE) will collectively work toward solutions to global sustainability challenges.

Eight teams from the U.S. and India compete to launch businesses for clean energy and water in India

(5/12) The University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment will host the international finals of the Acara Challenge 2010 on Monday, May 17. The Acara Challenge 2010 focuses on creating businesses that address clean water and clean energy needs for underserved populations in India.

University of Minnesota professor Stephen Polasky elected to National Academy of Sciences

(4/26) University of Minnesota applied economics professor and IonE resident fellow Stephen Polasky has been elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. He is one of 72 new members and 18 foreign associates from 14 countries who were elected today in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Polasky becomes just the 32nd University of Minnesota faculty member to receive the honor in the 147-year history of the academy. 

The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment awards over $5.1 million to 24 energy projects at the University of Minnesota

(4/21) The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE), the signature program of the Institute on the Environment, recently awarded over $5.1 million to 24 renewable energy research and demonstration projects at the University of Minnesota.

IREE awards over $3.7 million in large grants to nine projects

(4/19) The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE) recently awarded over $3.7 million to nine renewable energy projects at the University of Minnesota. The multi-year projects focus on a wide-range of topics including solar energy, next generation biofuels, materials for increased energy efficiency, solar recycling of carbon dioxide to produce renewable fuels, life-cycle analysis of biofuels and more.

Institute on the Environment selects new resident fellows

(4/8) The University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment is pleased to announce its second cohort of resident fellows. The fellows will begin their three-year appointments with the Institute in July 2010. Each of the Institute’s resident fellows will receive flexible funding to pursue cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research and problem solving and to create new models of teaching and training. The fellowships will also help accelerate professional and leadership development.

U of M receives $2.5M for electrical power engineering education

(4/8) The University of Minnesota was recently awarded $2.5 million in Recovery Act funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to lead a nationwide consortium of universities to revitalize electrical power engineering education. The funding is part of a nationwide $100 million effort for 54 smart grid workforce training programs that will help prepare the next generation of workers in the utility and electrical manufacturing industries. The award builds on a recent $8 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to the University of Minnesota and regional partners for advanced wind energy research and strengthens efforts to create a center of excellence for smart grid research at the university. The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment will provide significant matching funds for this project. 

Nathan Mueller wins NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

(4/7) IonE research assistant and graduate student Nathan Mueller has been awarded a highly competitive NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. The fellowship provides funding for three years of graduate studies. Mueller’s proposal – “Feeding the World Without Destroying the Earth: Quantifying the Impact of Agricultural Management Practices on Crop Yield Gaps and Global Environmental Change” – was selected from thousands of applicants from across the country. As the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in the U.S. and abroad.

Is Earth Past the Tipping Point?

(3/17) For 10,000 years, our world seemed endless. The sky was the limit. But today’s world looks much smaller. We’ve cleared, consumed and polluted our way across the globe. The planet is shrinking. Have we pushed Earth past the tipping point? To explore this groundbreaking topic in detail, read “Boundaries for a Healthy Planet,” IonE Director Jon Foley’s cover story in the April issue of Scientific American; and watch the IonE’s latest video, “Big Question: Is Earth Past the Tipping Point?” Both the article and video draw on research from “Planetary Boundaries: A Safe Operating Space for Humanity,” published this past fall in the journal Nature.

GoNorth! heads to Greenland

(3/8) University of Minnesota professor Aaron Doering, an IonE resident fellow and education director for the GoNorth! adventure learning series, will soon depart to Greenland with his fellow explorers for the 2010 GoNorth! expedition. More than 4,500 classrooms around the world use the GoNorth! curriculum, a free online education program designed by the University of Minnesota’s College of Education & Human Development and NOMADS Adventure & Education. Every year, the team makes the trip to a different Arctic region. Doering and his team have already traveled to Canada, Alaska, Russia, Norway, Sweden and Finland. While dogsledding across some of the coldest, most remote landscapes on the planet, the team beams into K-12 classrooms via satellite to help teachers deliver lessons on climate change, marine science, traditional Inuit cultures and a lot more. Read the article in Momentum / See the KARE-11 report

The Truth About Lions

(3/1) In more than 30 years studying lions up close, Craig Packer has been reckless only once, when an adult male didn’t like him getting too near his tranquilized mate. For Packer, a University of Minnesota ecology professor and an IonE Discovery Grant recipient (for the Whole Village Project), it was an educational moment. He learned how fast he could move. That’s just one of many stories about Packer in “The Truth About Lions,” an article in the January 2010 issue of Smithsonian magazine (the one with the lion on the cover). More info

Quantifying climate regulation by ecosystems

(2/26) Ecosystems provide multiple benefits to people, including climate regulation. Previous efforts to quantify this ecosystem service have been either largely conceptual or based on complex atmospheric models. A new article in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, co-authored by IonE Director Jonathan Foley, looks at previous research on this topic and proposes a new and simple analytical approach for estimating the physical regulation of climate by ecosystems. More info

Gopher Rangers

(2/15) Nearly 50,000 students attend the University of Minnesota at any given time. Thanks to a new Gopher Ranger program, many of these students are gaining a new respect for the river that runs through their campus. Led by the IonE’s River Life program and the National Park Service, this hands-on learning effort connects undergrads from across majors to the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area—the national park designated for the 72 miles of Mississippi that flows through the Twin Cities metro, in which the U of M is located. The students start by exploring and learning about the river, before moving into more advanced experiences like assisting with canoe trips and restoring natural habitats. More info

A Neighborhood of Raingardens

(2/8) The College of Liberal Arts’ Mark Pedelty, an IonE resident fellow, recently received a grant to fund Part 2 of A Neighborhood of Raingardens, a three-part film about a citizen-based rain garden project. Specifically, Pedelty was awarded a Cynthia Krieg Watershed Stewardship Fund grant from the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District. The film shows how Metro Blooms, a local nonprofit, is working with residents to install 150 rain gardens in Minneapolis’ Powderhorn Park neighborhood. The goal is to clean up Powderhorn Lake, a body of water on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s list of impaired lakes. Part 1 of the film explained rain garden ecology and looked at Metro Blooms’ planning and volunteer recruitment, as well as the scientific challenges related to the monitoring plan. Part 2 will document the most important stage of the project, rain garden installation, which will entail a frenzied pace of design, excavation and planting in summer 2010. The film has been funded, in part, by the IonE, the institutional sponsor of Pedelty’s grant application. Stay tuned for updates.

Environmental impacts of school commutes

(1/29) The Institute of Technology’s Julian Marshall, a University of Minnesota professor and IonE resident fellow, recently co-authored a paper in the journal Environmental Science and Technology titled “Vehicle Emissions during Children’s School Commuting: Impacts of Education Policy.” The study shows that eliminating district-wide school choice (i.e. returning to a system with neighborhood schools only) would have significant impacts on transport modes and emissions, whereas in many cases, proposed shifts in school choice and bus-provision policies would have only modest impacts. More info

Peter Reich wins major international award

(1/28) Regents Professor Peter Reich, an Institute on the Environment resident fellow, has been named this year’s winner of the prestigious BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge award in ecology and conservation biology. Reich, of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Forest Resources, was honored for his work in global metabolic plant ecology, most notably his discovery of universal rules of leaf design and related scaling of plant physiology from seedling to tree, from cell to ecosystem, and from the stand to the globe. 

Algae as Biofuel: Perks and Problems

(1/27) Science News recently ran an article on the promises and pitfalls of algae as a biofuel source. That algae is not a silver bullet to solve the energy crisis should come as no surprise, according to the Institute on the Environment’s John Sheehan, who served as a source for the article. “The energy problem is the most fundamental, most difficult challenge we have faced for a long time,” he said. “After 150 years of punching a hole in the ground and getting fuel to come out as a liquid, it is not going to be easy.”
Read the full article

Isler wins McKnight Land-Grant Professorship

(1/7) Ibrahim Volkan Isler, an IonE resident fellow, is among the 2010-12 recipients of the McKnight Land-Grant Professorships for his research on “Googling the Planet: Robotic Sensor Networks for Environmental Monitoring.” The goal of the McKnight program is to advance the careers of the University of Minnesota’s most promising junior faculty at a critical point in their professional lives. The award consists of a research grant in each of two years, summer support, and a research leave in the second year. The winners were chosen for important contributions to their field; the degree to which their achievements and ideas demonstrate originality, imagination and innovation; the significance of their research; and the potential for attracting outstanding students. More info