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November 2010 Archives

Solar.jpgThe sun is the most abundant form of energy on the planet: more energy from the sun strikes the Earth in an hour than is used on the planet in an entire year. Still, the current cost and efficiency of solar cells are two key barriers to implementing solar energy on widespread and large scales. Dr. Wayne Gladfelter, Distinguished Professor in the College of Science & Engineering at the University of Minnesota, recently received an $870,000 solar research grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to address these barriers. The project, leveraged with $80,000 of IREE funds, involves increasing the efficiency of zinc oxide dye-sensitized solar cells for use in solar energy applications. Gladfelter and his team are going to investigate ways of improving these cells by conducting studies that will lead to an unparalleled understanding of how light is absorbed and energy is transported within them. This understanding can then be applied to increasing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of solar cells, thus facilitating the expansion of solar energy across the nation and the rest of the world.

Photo: Stock photo

davidson1.jpgIn a recent talk at the "Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters Academy Evening series, University of Minnesota Solar Energy Laboratory director and IREE researcher Jane Davidson, along with Michael Corradini, Wisconsin Distinguished Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Engineering Physics at UW-Madison, discuss the pros and cons of various energy systems, including nuclear, solar and wind systems.

Link to the talk: Fuels Paradise: A Conversation on Nuclear and Renewable Energy Technologies

Photo: Josh Kohanek

Under Pressure: IREE Resercher Publishes in Biomass and Bioenergy

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heilmann.jpgDr. Steven Heilmann, IREE-funded researcher and University of Minnesota Biotechnology Institute faculty member, recently published an article in Biomass and Bioenergy. The research focuses on producing a coal-type substance, referred to as bio-char, from algae. The bio-char is retrieved from algae using hydrothermal carbonization, a process that acts much like a pressure cooker to remove and recycle the liquid, metal and lipid (i.e. fatty) components in the algae. This "pressure cooking" leaves behind a substance similar to coal that can then be converted to gasoline and other fuels used to produce heat and electricity.


Abstract: Hydrothermal carbonization is a process in which biomass is heated in water under pressure to create a char product. With higher plants, the chemistry of the process derives primarily from lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose components. In contrast, green and blue-green microalgae are not lignocellulosic in composition, and the chemistry is entirely different, involving proteins, lipids and carbohydrates (generally not cellulose). Employing relatively moderate conditions of temperature (ca. 200 !C), time (<1 h) and pressure (<2 MPa), microalgae can be converted in an energy efficient manner into an algal char product that is of bituminous coal quality. Potential uses for the product include creation of synthesis gas and conversion into industrial chemicals and gasoline; application as a soil nutrient amendment; and as a carbon neutral supplement to natural coal for generation of electrical power.


For the full article, please visit the College of Biological Sciences News Site and scroll to the "Research" heading.


Citation: S.M. Heilmann, H.T. Davis, L.R. Jader, P.A. Lefebvre, M.J. Sadowsky, F.J. Schendel, M.G. von Keitz and K.J. Valentas, Biomass and Bioenergy 2010; 34:875-882 Hydrothermal carbonization of microalgae.

Photo: College of Biological Sciences, University of Minnesota

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for krasutsky1.jpgEthanol plants produce billions of gallons of renewable fuels each year. In the process, however, they also produce millions of tons of byproducts. A promising approach to using these byproducts while boosting energy and economic benefits is getting a trial run through a $250,000 investment by the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment, a signature program of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment.

The three-year project, which started on July 1, 2010, is being led by researchers from the Duluth-based Natural Resources Research Institute. Working with several industrial partners, the researchers will construct and assess the commercial potential of an integrated biorefinery that will convert byproducts from ethanol production known as dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS) to a variety of high-value products, including animal feed, ethanol, biodiesel, jet fuel, pharmaceutical components and replacements for petroleum-based chemicals.

Currently, the average ethanol plant generates three products: CO2, ethanol and DDGS. When applied to the average ethanol plant, the integrated technology tested in this project is expected to increase the number of products the plant can produce to seven, more than doubling the plant's product diversity and increasing its annual profits by $21 million. The four additional products are 1) high-protein distiller's grains, used to make protein-rich livestock feed; 2) "green" diesel, which is diesel fuel derived from renewable sources with the potential to be converted to "green" jet fuel; 3) biodiesel; and 4) zein, used throughout the food, textile and pharmaceutical industries and able to be processed into bioplastic polymers that are employed to make a wide varity of plastic products.

If applied to the entire ethanol industry, the improved capacity is expected to enhance energy efficiency by 15 percent and increase the amount of transportation biofuel produced by 20 percent.

Successful completion of this project will be a crucial step toward large-scale commercialization of an integrated biorefinery. Large-scale application of the technology would position Minnesota to help the U.S. meet its renewable energy needs: Foreign oil imports could potentially be reduced by 1.065 billion gallons annually, and national ethanol production could be increased by 10 percent, adding nearly 1 billion gallons of ethanol to current ethanol production without the environmental stresses related to growing more corn.

Photo: Josh Kohanek

Welcome to the IREE Insights Blog

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The Initiative for Renewable Energy & the Environment (IREE) is addressing critical renewable energy challenges by supporting research projects and partnerships that promote statewide economic development; sustainable, healthy and diverse ecosystems; and national energy security.

IREE takes on these are far-reaching goals one project, one partnership at a time. Whether you're interested in current IREE news or want insights on how IREE projects are changing the face of renewable energy - this blog is for you!

  The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and not necessarily
  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from November 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2010 is the next archive.

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