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Activation Energy

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hillmyer3.jpgMost plastics are made from nonrenewable fossil fuels, are not biodegradable and in some cases release chemicals that can harm humans. But in recent years, a number of innovators have begun developing more sustainable plastics from renewable, bio-based materials instead. Three years ago, University of Minnesota chemistry professor Marc Hillmyer decided to direct his research down that innovative track.

To pursue his ideas for  making more environmentally friendly plastics, Hillmyer needed financial support. Unfortunately, many funding sources require preliminary evidence that novel ideas have merit - the classical university research Catch-22. Fortunately, Hillmyer was at the U of M. And the U of M has something other universities don't: the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment.

A signature program of IonE, IREE disburses funds from Xcel Energy's Renewable Development Fund and Conservation Improvement Program to support innovative renewable energy and environmental research and demonstration projects. IREE awarded Hillmyer $800,000 to establish a Center for Sustainable Polymers and pursue his idea of creating plastics from renewable, sustainable resources instead of finite fossil fuels.

This week, thanks to the "activation energy" provided by IREE, the University announced that Hillmyer had received a three-year, $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant to continue his work. 

"We are tremendously excited about this new support from the NSF," Hillmyer said. "With Minnesota's leadership in the area of biobased materials and the University's breadth of expertise, we are well positioned to make significant and important research contributions."

A great success story for the value of funding innovation - and just one of many IREE has to tell. Just within the past few weeks, for instance, Stephen Campbell, professor of electrical and computer engineering, received word that he was awarded a U.S. Department of Energy grant to advance the development of more efficient solar cells - thanks in part to preliminary support from IREE. 

All told, since it was founded in 2003, IREE has invested nearly $30.7 million in more than 200 renewable energy and environment research projects. Those funds have helped leverage an additional $63 million in funding from external resources to pursue technologies for a better world. Good for the researcher, good for the U, and good for all of us who stand to benefit from building a more renewable, sustainable world.

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  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.