Renewable energy continues to advance at U

Jason Juno

The University’s research continues to further its role in the state’s commitment to renewable energy.

Minnesota is at the intersection of forest and prairie, meaning there is an abundance and wide variety of biomass – plants that can be used for renewable energy or products, said Dick Hemmingsen, director of the University’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment.

The initiative is run partially on state funding. It provides money for research into renewable energy.

Hemmingsen said the University wants to become a national center of excellence for biofuels research, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty endorsed the idea in September.

It needs funding, though, which has not been started, Hemmingsen said.

The University does some of the most comprehensive research in renewable fuels, Hemmingsen said.

“I think Minnesota and the University of Minnesota are positioned well (enough) to establish ourselves in that,” he said.

The state and the University need to pursue renewable energy more aggressively in terms of the amount of research currently being done and the policies that promote future research, Hemmingsen said.

“You don’t get there by just detailing it, you get there by demonstrating your capacity and desire to do so,” he said.

The initiative’s officials will be looking to see if its broad focus on types of renewable energy should be narrowed, Hemmingsen said. For example, the group could focus solely on wind if this type of energy seemed more promising, he said.

With the work in ethanol, biodiesel and wind, he said, Minnesota is ahead of other states.

Tony Bittner, University Fleet Services maintenance manager, said many of the department’s vehicles also use E85, which contains 85 percent ethanol, a fuel additive made from corn.

The University’s Twin Cities campus has four Toyota Prius cars, and there are two at the Crookston campus, he said.

Bittner said the University also has two new Ford Escapes, but it has not put the vehicles to use yet.

These cars decrease fossil-fuel usage, because they run on electric power and switch to gas when they need to be charged or when extra power is necessary, Bittner said.

Pawlenty expressed his support for renewable energy in last week’s State of the State address when he said, “Let’s make Minnesota the Saudi Arabia of renewable fuels.”

He said Minnesota could lead the way globally by being the renewable-fuel capital of the United States.

The passage of his plan to increase the amount of ethanol in gas sold in the state to 20 percent would “cement” the state’s lead in renewable energy, Pawlenty said.

Using fuels from Minnesota is more beneficial than using foreign fossil fuels, he said.

“Utilizing homegrown renewable fuels is good for our farmers, it’s good for rural economic development, it’s good for natural security and it’s good for the environment,” Pawlenty said.

Mike Harley, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Initiative, said a strategy is needed “to achieve anything like the governor’s vision.”

The state lacks an energy strategy, Harley said. Minnesota should make an investment in strategy and the work, he said.