University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Initiative for Renewable Energy & the Environment

Start-up could cut cost of gasoline and plastics production

March 23, 2012DanBioproductsComments Off on Start-up could cut cost of gasoline and plastics production

A new University of Minnesota startup company, Argilex Technologies, will develop and manufacture zeolite nanosheets that could cut the price of gasoline and plastics production, and make the overall process more energy efficient.

The technology is based on research developed by a team led by Michael Tsapatsis, a chemical engineering and materials science professor in the University’s College of Science and Engineering. The research team invented a process for making the ultra-thin films, which can separate molecules with minute size and shape differences. This unique material could eliminate the distillation process in the production of fuel and plastics—an added expense due to rising energy costs.

“Some of the students who worked over the last 10 years on zeolite membranes and catalysts in my group have been supported by IREE. I am grateful for that support,” says Tsapatsis regarding early funding he received from the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment.

“Separating mixed substances can demand considerable amounts of energy, part of which is wasted due to process inefficiencies,” explains Cesar Gonzalez, CEO of Argilex Technologies. “In days of abundant and inexpensive fuel, this was not a major consideration. But as energy prices rise and policies promote efficiency, the need for more energy-efficient alternatives has grown.”

Co-founded by Gonzalez and Tsapatsis, Argilex launched in early March 2012. Proof of concept in the laboratory scale has been achieved, and Tsapatsis hopes to create larger-scale prototypes soon.

Read more about the technology.

Reprinted with permission from the College of Science and Engineering

Revisited: There’s Fuels in that Thar Sun

June 1, 2011DanPublications, SolarComments Off on Revisited: There’s Fuels in that Thar Sun

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 on Published! Dr. Martin Saar in Geophysical Research Letters

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.

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:

Register! IREE to Co-sponsor Energy for Defense Event

May 3, 2011DanEventsComments Off on Register! IREE to Co-sponsor Energy for Defense Event

Join us for the “Energy for Defense” event. This event will feature key presenters from the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Energy (DoE), and industry representatives who will discuss the opportunities and challenges for small businesses in the power and energy field.
For more information or to register, click here

IREE-funded Researcher Jane Davidson to Present on April 5

March 30, 2011DanEvents, Grants, SolarComments Off on IREE-funded Researcher Jane Davidson to Present on April 5

UMN SUNgas – A Vision for Renewable Fuels
April 5, 2011 | 6:30pm: Doors open; 7pm: Lecture
Tate Laboratory of Physics, Van Vleck Auditorium
116 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis

Turning fossil fuel into energy is easy–you just burn it and live with the carbon dioxide byproduct. What if we could reverse the process and turn carbon dioxide back into fuel? Join mechanical engineering professor Jane Davidson, who will present her research team’s efforts to solve one of the world’s most pressing challenges: the need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously meeting an exploding global demand for energy.

Davidson will discuss the potential of using concentrated solar energy to produce synthetic hydrocarbons that have properties equivalent to what we are deriving from petroleum today.

For more about Jane Davidson or her presentation, click here.

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

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).