University of Minnesota

Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment grants final round of renewable energy research funds

February 13, 2013

Sustainable bioenergy, microgrids, energy storage and more are among the peer-reviewed investments in clean energy advances being funded by the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment at the Institute on the Environment in the final round of IREE’s nine-year-long renewable energy grants administration program.

IREE awarded $2.6 million to seven renewable energy research projects, which will begin in early 2013. Recipients were selected by a national team of panelists based on scientific and technical merit and the potential for high-impact technologies demonstrating a substantial likelihood of success in the near to mid term. The selected proposals feature highly integrated and interdisciplinary membership.

LandLabs: Developing Sustainable Bioenergy Systems by Integrating Technology R&D With Policy, Economic and Ecological Analysis and Innovation
Nicholas Jordan, lead (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences)

Working with community and industrial partners, the LandLabs team will develop a new commercialization pathway—ammonia fiber expansion—for lignocellulosic bioenergy. The project will develop a decision support tool to assess economic and environmental performance for various feedstock production, harvest and transport systems.

Data and Control of Renewable Energy Sources in Microgrids
Georgios B. Giannakis, lead (College of Science and Engineering)

This project aspires to increase the penetration of renewable energy sources into sustainable microgrids. This holistic framework will provide the first-even joint investigation of geography-based energy source configuration, in-house controller design, microgrid level power management, monitoring and scheduling driven by grid data analytics, electric vehicle integration and technology adoption.

Innovating for Sustainable Electricity Systems: Integrating Variable Renewables, Regional Grids and Distributed Resources
Elizabeth Wilson, lead (Humphrey School of Public Affairs)

This research targets three integrated aspects of the complex electrical system: developing control technologies, dispatch algorithms, and policy analysis and market research important for the creation of sustainable electricity systems in the 11-state Midwest Independent Transmission System Operatory (MISO) region.

Enabling the Next Generation of Super Hybrid Transit Bus
David Kittelson, lead (College of Science and Engineering)

Working with Metro Transit and others, this team will establish the research foundation for transformational improvements in bus technology to provide the basis for the future selection and use of buses with an appropriate level of hybridization, ranging from electrification of accessories with traditional propulsion to fully electrified super-hybrids in northern climates.

Integration of Renewable and Efficient Energy Technologies to "Green" Energy Consumed in Agricultural Production Systems
Mike Reese, lead (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences)

This project aims to reduce fossil-fuel consumption in agricultural production systems through renewable energy generation, energy conservation and energy optimization. Baseline energy audits and life cycle analysis (LCA) will be performed on conventional and organic dairy and cropping systems, measuring energy inputs and outputs of products and calculating greenhouse gas emissions. Energy-optimized systems that significantly improve efficiency, increase on-farm generation and decrease GHG emissions will be developed, evaluated and demonstrated.

Integrated Thermochemical Biorefinery for Production of Biofuels and Agricultural Fertilizers From Animal Manures and Municipal Waste
Ken Valentas, lead (BioTechnology Institute)

This project will further develop the hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) process. Previous work supported by IREE has demonstrated that the HTC process can convert 3-4 percent solids livestock or municipal waste feedstocks to a low-ash char with a heating value similar to high BTU coal with a significantly positive energy balance. The process simultaneously economically recovers phosphorus and fatty acids for conversion to fertilizer supplements and green jet or diesel fuel.

Compressed air storage (CAES) in Northern Minnesota Using Underground Mine Workings
Donald Fosnacht, lead (University of Minnesota Duluth – Natural Resources Research Institute)

This project will evaluate the potential use of compressed air energy storage systems using existing underground mine workings or created caverns from new mining operations. The stored compressed air can be used to generate electricity when it is released from the underground storage facility. The envisioned system will capture renewable electrical energy generated during periods of low demand for power generation at times of peak demand.

These are the last major grants to be awarded by IREE, since the 2012 Minnesota Legislature discontinued funding to IREE from the Xcel Energy Renewable Energy Development fund.

Each of these projects received supplemental funding specifically for the purpose of supporting undergraduate students. These funds are from previous E3 conference net proceeds, which were earmarked to support undergraduate education.

IREE is a program of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, which seeks lasting solutions to Earth’s biggest challenges through research, partnerships and leadership development. For more information visit

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