After five years of researching biofuel sustainability, Institute on the Environment resident fellow Jason Hill hit a roadblock.
Hill and other University of Minnesota researchers have had trouble determining the best locations to sustainably produce biomass. Little is known about the subject and even less about possible environmental impacts.
But thanks to $500,000 of a $3.7 million grant from the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE), Hill and his team could very well be on the brink of a breakthrough.
This grant, announced Monday, will be awarded to nine University renewable energy projects. The multi-year projects will focus on a wide range of topics in the development of new renewable energy practices.
Funding for IREE comes from Xcel Energy’s Renewable Development Fund, as directed by the state Legislature.
Hill’s project, which will last three years, will evaluate the life cycle impact and productivity of various biomass production options as well as the delivery of ecosystem services. It will expose potential impacts to multiple environmental systems as well as a forecast of the costs and benefits to society.
“This is not simply an academic exercise,” Hill said. “We see our project as something that could help offer more opportunities for farmers and, at the same time, improve our environment.”
The initial pre-proposal process attracted more than 140 requests, which totaled more than $15 million.
IREE invited back 16 full proposals for a competitive review process that was conducted by a panel of 10 external experts. In the end, IREE made the final selections that would complement its existing portfolio and advance renewable energy research at the University.
“Many of these projects are in the early stages,” IREE Director Dick Hemmingsen said. “Our early investments will hopefully bring national attention to these projects.”
Claudia Schmidt-Dannert, an associate professor in biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics, is leading a project that received a $472,500 grant and will last three years.
“This is a new direction for us. It’s exciting to have the opportunity to explore new methods,” Schmidt-Dannert said.
This project will develop a consolidated bioprocess where several processing steps are combined into a single step and will better produce biofuel, Schmidt-Dannert said. This process could result in cost reductions in the production of biofuels. The goal is to have a prototype by 2013.
“Investing in these projects now will position the University and the faculty who received these grants to receive more significant external funding,” Hemmingsen said.
“We’re going to find real results and solutions,” Hill said. “There is so much potential and this is funding that will really benefit Minnesota.”