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Initiative for Renewable Energy & the Environment

IREE-Funded Research Published Today in Science

June 29, 2012DanBioproducts, PublicationsComments Off

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.

Abandoned Mines Hold Potential to Capture Wind Energy

December 22, 2011DanPublications, WindComments Off

A study released last Friday by the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute shows that abandoned open pit mines on Minnesota’s Iron Range have the potential to help energy providers more efficiently use intermittent renewable energy sources, such as wind, to meet state renewable energy mandates.

Read the press release

Read the full study report

 

Revisited: There’s Fuels in that Thar Sun

June 1, 2011DanPublications, SolarComments Off

Solar Gasoline.pngSince 2009, Dr. Jane Davidson’s team has been investigating using solar energy to produce liquid fuels (see 12/20/10 post). The team and its research are continuing to gain momentum via a feature article and accompanying online interactive tool in the May 2011 of Scientific American. The article, 7 Radical Energy Solutions, features seven energy alternatives in the works at various labs throughout the country. One of the seven, Solar Gasoline, focuses on the work being done by Davidson’s team. In this case, the energy is produced from one of Earth’s most abundant but underused resource: the sun. More energy in the form of sunlight reaches the Earth in an hour than the entire globe uses in one year. Tapping this energy for cost-effective liquid fuels would be a tremendous leap in renewable energy solutions and would enable wider use of solar energy in fuel cells, for electricity on-demand and for transportation purposes.

The liquid fuel, a combination of hydrogen and carbon monoxide and termed syngas, is produced by concentrating sunlight and using the heat to produce a chemical reaction, which in turn produces liquid fuel. There are still some hurdles to overcome, such as cost and finding more durable materials for the reactor. But considering how far Davidson’s team and the technology have come thus far, the future is bright for Solar Gasoline.

Photo: Scientific American.
Scientific American article by David Biello.

Published! Dr. Martin Saar in Geophysical Research Letters

May 19, 2011DanGeothermal, Grants, PublicationsComments Off

Drs. Martin Saar and Jimmy Randolph have had a paper accepted to Geophysical Research Letters on the feasibility of developing an enhanced geothermal power plant system that generates electricity in low to intermediate heat flow regions like Minnesota while simultaneously sequestering carbon dioxide in the ground.

IREE supported this research via a $600,000 Large Grant, and the project has leveraged just over $1.7M.

Abstract
Geothermal energy offers clean, renewable, reliable electric power with no need for grid‐scale energy storage, yet its use has been constrained to the few locations worldwide with naturally high geothermal heat resources and groundwater availability. We present a novel approach with the potential to permit expansion of geothermal energy utilization: heat extraction from naturally porous, permeable formations with CO2 as the injected subsurface working fluid.

Fluid‐mechanical simulations reveal that the significantly higher mobility of CO2, compared to water, at the temperature/pressure conditions of interest makes CO2 an attractive heat exchange fluid. We show numerically that, compared to conventional water‐based and engineered geothermal systems, the proposed approach provides up to factors of 2.9 and 5.0, respectively, higher geothermal heat energy extraction rates. Consequently, more regions worldwide could be economically used for geothermal electricity production. Furthermore, as the injected CO2 is eventually geologically sequestered, such power plants would have negative carbon footprints.

Full Citation
Randolph, J. B., and M. O. Saar (2011), Combining geothermal energy capture with geologic carbon dioxide sequestration, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L10401, doi:10.1029/2011GL047265.
Or, see: http://www.geo.umn.edu/orgs/geofluids/publications_home.html

Do the Hydrocarbon Hustle!
Larry Wackett Published in Journal of Biological Chemistry

March 25, 2011DanBioenergy, Grants, PublicationsComments Off

wackett1.jpgAn article by Dr. Larry Wackett, faculty member in the College of Biological Sciences and the University’s BioTechnology Institute, will be published in the April 1st issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

The article, on which Wackett is lead author, highlights work done by then-graduate student (now Ph.D.) Janice Frias, who, states the UMN press release, “made the critical step by figuring out how to use a protein to transform fatty acids produced by the bacteria into ketones, which can be cracked to make hydrocarbon fuels. The University is filing patents on the process.”

Hydrocarbons are the building blocks of fossil fuels, such as petroleum, and take hundreds of millions of years to form. They also emit the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. So the challenge is two-fold: hurry up hydrocarbon production and make them clean. With the work being done in Wackett’s lab, these challenges are being addressed everyday to make renewable fuels a reality. These fuels have the added benefit of using the same infrastructure as current fossil fuel production and transport, thus making them a cost-effective and relatively simple alternative to fossil-derived fuels.

This research is being funded via a $2.2 million by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-e) program. The Initiative for Renewable Energy & the Environment (IREE), a signature program of the UMN Institute on the Environment, helped leverage this money for the state and the UMN with an initial investment of $300,000.
Photo: Josh Kohanek

ADMINISTRATION
The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE) is a signature program of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment.

REPORTS
Check out IREE's research impacts, pioneering projects, external collaborations, educational initiatives and more in the 2012 annual report (PDF).

Measuring the carbon footprint of Gevo, Inc.’s Luverne, MN corn supply: A survey based assessment of the potential for delivering a low carbon corn grain feedstock for biofuels. Read the report (PDF).
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