IREE Insights Header

January 2011 Archives

IREE Researchers Featured on Kare 11

| No Comments

IREE researchers Lanny Schmidt and Eray Adyil were featured in a Kare 11 news piece highlighting the University's efforts to find sources of renewable energy.

Just Released!

| No Comments

$4 Million Available for Renewable Energy Projects
The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment, a signature program of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment, is offering $4 million in funding for innovative projects that create the potential for technology breakthroughs in renewable energy while maximizing benefits to the environment. Funding is available to U of M researchers for three types of grants:

Large Grants - integrated, multi-disciplinary projects; up to three years and $750,000 each

Early Career Grants - integrated, multi-disciplinary projects; up to three years and $150,000 each led by tenure-track faculty members with a hire date not more than six years before submission of the grant application

Seed Grants - pilot projects that explore the potential for high-risk, high-potential ideas in the initial stages of development; one to two years, up to $70,000 each

Basic research, applied research and technology demonstrations in the areas of bioenergy, biofuels and bioproducts; solar; wind; renewable hydrogen; hydroelectric; geothermal; conservation and efficient energy utilization; and policy, economics and ecosystems are all eligible for funding. The majority of the funds should be used to support students, post-docs, and research staff.

Proposals will be accepted until 11 p.m. CST March 29, 2011.

Funding decisions will be made in mid-May, with projects beginning July 1. For more information please see the IREE Funding Page.

The World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing is the leading and largest conference on industrial biotech. This meeting is designed for today's business leaders, policy makers and investors in biofuels, biobased products, renewable chemicals, and more. Entering its eighth year, the event is expected to bring together more than 1,300 high-profile thought leaders for an exchange of ideas and business solutions. The event offers unique networking opportunities, an overview of the latest biotech developments, and real world scenarios for bringing technological solutions to market.

Papers & Panels Submission Deadline:
January 23, 2011

Poster Submission Deadline:
March 13, 2011

Topics Needed Include:

* Microbial Enzyme Production
* Advanced Biofuel Technologies
* Algae and GM Feedstock Crops
* Renewable Chemical Platforms and Biobased Materials
* Specialty Chemicals, Pharma Intermediates, Food Ingredients
* Marine Biotechnology
* Public Policy, Infrastructure and Business Development
* Synthetic Biology and Metabolic Engineering

Contact us at or 202.962.6630.

Impossible Pathways:
Going Where No Bacteria Have Gone Before

| No Comments

Oh, what fun it would be to be bacteria these days. At least in Dr. Daniel Bond's lab.

Bond, Assistant Professor and Researcher at the University of Minnesota's Biotechnology Institute, is engineering bacteria that are capable of producing electricity from ethanol and ethanol from waste glycerol, a common byproduct of biodiesel. He is also working to understand the mechanisms involved with employing bacteria to convert solar energy into chemical fuels and electrical energy. To date, Bond's work in these areas has leveraged nearly $2.1 million and is leading to at least one patent.
Bond's work with IREE began in 2005 with the ambitious goal of vastly improving the efficiency of bacteria-based ethanol fuel cells, a type of microbial fuel cell (MFC). MFCs differ from traditional fuel cells in that they get their current from mimicking biological reactions found in nature rather than from chemical reactions. As bacteria consume a fuel source, such as ethanol, the electrons in the fuel that the bacteria are disposing are sent to an electrode, thus producing electricity and completing the biological circuit.

MFCs produce very little pollution, are highly efficient and and do not have the risk of explosion found in hydrogen fuel cells, so they represent a viable alternative for renewable electricity production. In addition to producing electricity, MFCs can be used for bioremediation, in which the bacteria purify wastewater by munching up the nasty stuff (i.e. their fuel source) and converting it to electricity, ensuring that the energy in the wastewater is used rather than, well, wasted.

Bond's lab was able to develop cultures of bacteria that could produce enough electrical current to improve fuel cell current (i.e. efficiency) by a factor of 30. "This initial work has really allowed us to do everything my lab does today," states Bond. Not only was his groundbreaking work, initially funded by IREE, the first done with bacteria-based ethanol fuel cells, it was leveraged to win two National Science Foundation (NSF) grants totaling $765,000 as well as two Institute on the Environment (IonE) grants totaling $619,000.

So, Bond has the electricity production piece in the works. But what about the ethanol used in the fuel cells? Could bacteria book a ticket for that journey, too?

As a matter of fact, yes, they can.

Via one of his IonE Discovery Grants, Bond is now using bacteria to convert waste glycerol into ethanol that has efficiencies and purities not found in normal fermentation. This "impossible pathway" to using bacteria to produce ethanol is not available in any other organism other than Shewanella bacteria and has potential to add value and sustainability to the biodiesel industry, because waste glycerol is a major waste product in biodiesel manufacturing. This work is leading to a patent, and Bond has been working with local Minnesota businesses to scale the technology.

Bond's second IonE Discovery Grant, on which he is a co-principal investigator with Dr. Claudia Schmidt-Dannert (project leader) and Dr. Jeffrey Gralnick (co-principal investigator), has also been highly successful, leading to a $700,000 NSF grant. The research involves engineering Shewanella bacteria that can convert solar energy into chemical or electrical energy. Although this research is in its beginning stages, it could have major implications, as capture and conversion of solar energy will be key to the sustainability of future biotechnologies.

"Most of my colleagues are in hunker-down mode afraid to take risks," states Bond, "and we've been able to charge ahead to move towards the next generation of bioproducts..."

Charging ahead indeed. And bringing bacteria along to boot.

Dr. Bond's Homepage

Photo: Test tubes from Dr. Bond's lab. Source: University of Minnesota

IREE in 2010
Variety with a Focus

| No Comments

In 2010, IREE invested $5.5 million in 29 projects across a broad portfolio of renewable energy. Solar; Bioenergy & Bioproducts; Wind, Hydro & Geothermal; Policy, Economics & Ecosystems and Conservation & Energy Efficiency were all represented in this portfolio.

Because energy in the U.S. is used by the transportation, residential, industrial and commercial sectors, there is a wide range of uses for it and, therefore, differing needs and contexts in which it is used. Adding to the complexity is the geographic location in which a certain sector is using the energy. For example, it may be quite windy in one location but calm in another, which means that the different sectors have to decide what energy source is best not only for that sector but for their location, too: what works well for, say, Fed Ex in one location may be highly inefficient and costly in another location.
Because of this complexity, a research portfolio broad enough to capture the variety of renewable energy sources in the works today, yet that is focused enough to take advantage of sources with especially high potential in Minnesota, is key to tackling grand issues in renewable energy.

Read on to find out more about the projects and areas in which IREE invested in 2010!

Get Involved! 4th Annual Int'l. Biomass Conference & Expo

| No Comments

The 4th Annual International Biomass Conference & Expo is now accepting abstracts for the event, which will take place May 2-5, 2011 in St. Louis, MO. This event was in Minneapolis in 2010, and is a well-attended event.

For program information and abstract submission guidelines, please see

Abstract submissions are due January 7, 2011.

This Just In! IREE 2011 Funding Opportunities

| No Comments

The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE), a signature program of the Institute on the Environment (IonE), intends to release a formal Request for Proposals for new projects in late January, 2011.

The following types of grants will be eligible for consideration:

• Large Grants, ranging from $250,000 - $750,000, up to 3 years in duration. Proposals seeking the higher levels of funding must be multi-investigator with a strong interdisciplinary and strategic focus.

• Early Career Grants, ranging from $100,000 - $200,000, for 2 or 3 years duration. Early Career Grants will be avaialble to tenured or tenure-track faculty who are within 6 years of their first faculty appointment.

• Seed Grants, limited to $75,000 per award, and generally one year in duration.
We anticipate that approximately $3 million will be available to support new projects through this competition. A similar IREE grant competition is anticipated for Spring 2012.

Proposals will be due on April 1, 2011. We anticipate that funding decisions will be announced in June, and funding would be available near the start of the next fiscal year (July).

Full details and the formal RFP, which will be released by late January, 2011, will be announced here, so deep checking IREE Insights for updates!

  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 January 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2010 is the previous archive.

February 2011 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.