2 MSU-led projects chosen to receive grants from URC
Two alternative energy projects led by MSU professors were chosen last week to receive grants from the University Research Corridor, or URC, the partnership among MSU, Wayne State University and University of Michigan, the state’s three research universities.
Provosts from each of the universities provided $100,000 throughout three years to fund the grants, which were announced at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference last week.
The proposals, which were chosen from 13 projects presented to the URC, had to involve researchers from at least two of the universities.
h3. Alternative energy grants
The University Research Corridor awarded grants to two alternative energy projects that involve MSU researchers.
Donald Morelli and Jeffrey Sakamoto, a professor and assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science, respectively, are working on a project that is looking at how to create more efficient thermoelectric materials, or materials that use heat to produce electricity.
Ilsoon Lee, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science, also won a grant for his group’s research on lowering production costs of creating ethanol. To lower costs, the group is looking at more efficient ways to use switchgrass and corn stover, the leaves and stalks that make up about half a corn crop, which are considered waste, to make ethanol.
One group is working with nanomaterials to find a way to more efficiently create thermoelectric materials, or materials that use heat to create electricity.
Thermoelectric materials already exist but the issues lie in how to make those materials more efficient, said Stephanie Brock, a Wayne State associate professor of chemistry.
“The issue is not a way to make the devices,” Brock said. “It’s the materials to make the devices from. To make ones efficient and cost effective we need a higher level of merit.”
Brock is working with Donald Morelli and Jeffrey Sakamoto, an MSU professor and assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science, respectively, to help create those materials and find new ways to use existing materials.
The project allows the researchers to focus on their areas of expertise, helping the research get done more effectively, Brock said.
“We were all working on various aspects of the project beforehand,” she said. “This allows us to take the various experience of different folks, it definitely helps us.”
Ilsoon Lee, an MSU assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science, is part of the other project, which is researching a more efficient way to produce biofuels.
The project is focusing on using waste materials, such as switchgrass or corn stover, the leaves and stalks that make up about half of corn crops, to reduce production costs of making ethanol.
Production costs are dependent on the enzymes used to create the glucose, or sugars, needed to make ethanol and the pretreatment of the materials being used.
The study is researching how to make both processes more efficient, Lee said.
“Right now, we need more technology to break down the materials down into biofuels,” he said.
The problem with using corn, the main source for ethanol, is the competition with the food market, Lee said.
The U.S. Department of Energy is targeting a plan to reduce the cost of ethanol by 2012, Lee said.
“Corn is abundant in America, but it competes for food,” he said.
“If we use cellulose waste, like switchgrass, by applying modern nanotechnology we can reduce the cost of production.”