IREE-funded researcher, Michael Tsapatsis, is leading an international team that has made a major breakthrough in developing a catalyst used during chemical reactions in the production of gasoline, plastics, biofuels, pharmaceuticals, and other chemicals. The discovery could lead to major efficiencies and cost-savings in these multibillion-dollar industries.
The research is to be published in the June 29, 2012 issue of the leading scientific journal Science. Read the full research paper entitled “Synthesis of Self-Pillared Zeolite Nanosheets by Repetitive Branching,” on the Science website.
Read the press release from the College of Science and Engineering for the complete story.
New steam engine has the potential to change both the rail industry and clean energy research.
MINNEAPOLIS - Plans to create the world’s first carbon-neutral higher-speed locomotive were announced today by the Coalition for Sustainable Rail (CSR), a collaboration of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE) and the nonprofit Sustainable Rail International (SRI). CSR draws on the carbon-neutral solid biofuel research expertise of the University of Minnesota and the modern steam mechanical engineering capabilities of SRI to develop the most powerful carbon-neutral locomotive to date.
CSR Project 130 has a simple goal: create the world’s cleanest, most powerful passenger locomotive, proving the viability of solid biofuel and modern steam locomotive technology. The Coalition will put its technology to the test by planning to break the world record for steam locomotive speed, reaching 130 miles per hour and demonstrating the viability of this revolutionary, clean transportation technology.
The locomotive will run on torrefied biomass (biocoal), a biofuel created through an energy-efficient processing of cellulosic biomass. Biocoal exhibits the same energy density and material handling properties as coal, but unlike coal, it is carbon neutral, contains no heavy metals, and produces less ash, smoke and volatile off-gases. Since it exhibits such similar characteristics to coal, biocoal has the potential to revolutionize the way the United States generates clean electricity.
“Participation in the Coalition for Sustainable Rail has enabled our team to pursue one of the more exciting and potentially groundbreaking research projects in the history of IonE,” said Rod Larkins, Special Projects Director of IonE’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment. “Once perfected, creating the world’s first carbon-neutral locomotive will be just the beginning for this technology which, we hope, will later be used for combined heat and power energy in the developing world as well as reducing the United States’ dependence on fossil fuels.”
Preliminary research shows that CSR’s test locomotive will cost less to maintain and less to fuel, and will exhibit greater train handling performance than any diesel-electric locomotives available today. The modern steam locomotive has relied on technology that has been neglected for decades. This is about to change. With the ability to burn biocoal efficiently and without negative impact on the environment, CSR’s modern steam locomotive will also exhibit significantly better horsepower output at higher speeds than the current diesel-electric locomotives that pull the majority of passenger trains in the United States.
“This project presents a novel approach to U.S. locomotive development, looking to technologies of the past to inspire solutions for today’s sustainability challenges,” said SRI President Davidson Ward. “I’m confident that the leading energy researchers we’re working with at the University of Minnesota, along with our team of engineers, will be able to bring this technology to the forefront of America’s energy and transportation conversations.”
In November 2011, SRI acquired a large test bed steam locomotive through a transfer of ownership from the Great Overland Station Museum in Topeka, Kan. This locomotive, built in 1937 for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, will be reconfigured by SRI’s locomotive modernization experts, then tested as part of CSR Project 130.
The success of CSR Project 130 has implications that extend beyond the railroad industry, proving the viability of biocoal for use in the developing world. Locomotive engineering on combustion and boiler technologies allows CSR to design power boilers and electric generators on scales from 5 to 5,000 kilowatts. This technology is adaptable for homes in villages of the developing world as well as for use in the U.S. Every dollar spent on engineering support of CSR Project 130 can generate up to three times the benefit in outgrowth technologies to solve energy problems in the United States and around the world.
“When I think of the University of Minnesota’s motto, ‘Driven to Discover,™’ it is precisely the kind of research-based innovation present in CSR Project 130 that sets our school apart,” said Don Fosnacht, Ph.D., Director of the University’s Center for Applied Research and Technology Development. “The idea of integrating cutting-edge materials science and engineering into a technology base that has not been touched since the 1960s is quite unique, and entering into an industry with as much potential for growth as the U.S. railroad market just adds to CSR Project 130’s impact.”
In May, SRI completed a cosmetic restoration and stabilization of Locomotive 3463 in Topeka. Plans are to move the locomotive to Minneapolis within the next 12 months. Once moved, CSR will complete the detailed engineering needed to modernize and reconfigure the locomotive.
For more information on the Coalition for Sustainable Rail and CSR Project 130 visit www.csrail.org.
Sustainable Rail International: Sustainable Rail International (SRI), an IRS approved 501(c)(3) and Minnesota nonprofit corporation, is a scientific and educational organization whose mission is to advance biofuel research and production; to research and develop sustainable railroad locomotives; to promulgate associated sustainable technologies; and to support and conduct nonpartisan educational and informational activities to increase awareness of sustainable railroad locomotives. Founded by Rob Mangels, Shaun McMahon, John Rhodes and Davidson Ward, SRI maintains internationally renowned steam locomotive mechanical engineers and U.S. industry professionals among its diverse members.
Institute on the Environment: The University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment discovers solutions to Earth’s most pressing environmental problems by conducting transformative research, developing the next generation of global leaders and building world-changing partnerships. Learn more online at www.environment.umn.edu.
The University of Minnesota has become well-known as a center for lignocellulose biodegradation research, particularly in regards to woody cell wall breakdown. Robert Blanchette, a Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology, and Jonathan Schilling, an Associate Professor in the Department of Bioproducts & Biosystems Engineering have teamed up to begin interdisciplinary research that combines forest biology, wood microbiology and bioprocessing technology to provide superior fungi for the next generation of bioconversion systems.
Their research will provide a better understanding of how fungi degrade wood and other lignocelluosic materials so they can be used in processes involving the bioconversion of plant biomass. To use nonedible plant biomass as a feedstock for fuels and chemicals, it is necessary to alter cell wall components and free cellulose from surrounding lignin. Our goal is to identify the organisms with the greatest potential for bioconversion potential and with the ability to pioneer and outcompete other microbes in biological pretreatment scenarios.
Read more about Blanchette’s Seed Grant from IREE.
Plastics are a vital part of our lives, but they also are rife with adverse environmental impacts. In “Can We Make Plastics Sustainable?”, the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and the Center for Sustainable Polymers explore how we can enjoy the benefits of plastics and keep our planet healthy, too.
Claudia Schmidt-Dannert and her team are engineering nanoscale bioreactors that can function inside a microbial cell to increase the efficiency of bioproduct production processes and enable production processes in microbial cells that would otherwise be toxic for the cell. Her group has recently discovered a mechanism by which it is possible to create protein-based nano-compartments inside microbial cells and specifically target enzyme biocatalysts into these engineered nano-compartments to carry out synthetic reactions.
Sequestration of synthetic reactions into such nanoscale bioreactors greatly increases reaction efficiencies by concentrating catalysts and reaction intermediates and by preventing the release of toxic byproducts that would otherwise kill the microbial production organisms. A major part of their effort is directed towards the development of a nano-scale bioreactor that would allow biofuel producing microbial cells to degrade and survive toxic byproducts present in biomass feedstocks used in the biofuel production process. Removal of these toxic products will increase biofuel production yields and decrease costs.
More recently they have established strategies for the encapsulation of complete production pathways into these compartments. They have modified the compartment shells such that they can be rapidly isolated together with their cargo-proteins from cells engineered to overexpress both shells and cargo, thus allowing the use of isolated nanobioreactors for synthetic reactions.