U to apply for $125 million research grant

The grant would allow the University to continue to research and develop biofuel.

by Allison Wickler

At a university with a newly heightened focus on research, a $125 million grant could help get a lot of work done.

University researchers and officials hope to receive one of two potential Department of Energy (DOE) grants, grants which are slated to fund a “bioenergy research center” at each chosen institution.

Claudia Neuhauser, a professor in the department of ecology, evolution and behavior, and head of the 100-member proposal-writing team, said a $20 million grant is common to develop a center at an institution, while a grant for individual research ranges from $2 to $3 million.

The application deadline is Feb. 1. Neuhauser said the DOE will announce the recipients in June, and the first year’s installment will likely be distributed in September.

According to the grant description, the DOE will allocate $25 million during the first year to buy new equipment and renovate existing research facilities.

The other $100 million will be used mostly for research, Neuhauser said, but an education component of the University’s plan would train students to become members of the workforce in the biofuel industry.

Researchers at the University have been working on obtaining energy from organic sources, biomass, other than fossil fuels. Proposal team member and plant biology professor Kate VandenBosch said further work is planned to develop energy from sources such as hydrogen and methanol.

VandenBosch said the proposal team thinks another “hot contender” is a partnership in the San Francisco Bay Area, which includes the University of California-Berkeley and Stanford University.

“We do have some novel strengths and some new or unusual things that we bring to the mix,” she said, “but it’s not a cakewalk by any means.”

Should the University receive the grant, it could become a “magnet for talent,” attracting students and workers who could enhance Minnesota’s position as a leader in biofuels work, she said.

Todd Reubold, assistant director of the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment, said the University has also been working for several years to host a National Center for Biofuels Research.

He said a University commitment to building this facility would show a greater dedication to biofuels research.

“It would be great if we could bring it all together under one roof,” he said.

Chemical engineering professor and proposal team member Yiannis Kaznessis said new faculty collaborations through this process will be an advantage in itself, even if the University doesn’t receive the grant.

“We can leverage this collaboration to go after other grant money,” he said.