Michigan Tech Named University Partner for Half of State's Centers of Energy Excellence

By Jennifer Donovan | Published

The Michigan Strategic Fund now has funded six Centers of Energy Excellence in Michigan, and Michigan Technological University is the university partner for three of them. Michigan Tech also is a university partner for a seventh center, approved but not yet funded.

Governor Jennifer Granholm and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced the latest three alternative energy partnerships last week. The state grants go to private companies to partner with Michigan universities to develop innovative alternative energy programs. The goal is to make the state a leader in the alternative energy industry.

"This is an exciting new research model," said David D. Reed, vice president for research at Michigan Tech. "It's a three-way partnership--public, private and universities--each doing what they do best." He called it "a very targeted, specific way to tie university research to economic development."

Michigan Tech is the sole university partner in two of the new centers. Last summer, Michigan Tech and Michigan State University were named university partners in the first Center of Energy Excellence funded--a partnership with Mascoma Corp. and J.M. Longyear to develop a commercially viable cellulosic ethanol plant.

One of the new partnerships is with Working Bugs LLC, an East Lansing-based company that will work with Michigan Tech to develop specialty biochemical products from the waste from a corn ethanol plant. Working Bugs LLC received $2 million from the state. Chemical engineering professor David R. Shonnard will lead the research at Tech.

American Process Inc., based in Atlanta, heads the other new Center of Energy Excellence. American Process, San Antonio’s Valero Energy Corporation and Michigan Tech will work together to establish a pilot scale biorefinery at the Decorative Panels International hardwood plant in Alpena. American Process Inc. received $4 million the state. Shonnard will contribute research to improve the fermentation processes in the biorefinery, and Russ Alger, director of Tech's Institute of Snow Research, will work with the companies to develop sodium acetate as a novel anti-icing agent.

The search for innovative uses for the waste created by ethanol production could give Michigan needed economic leverage, Reed said. "Ethanol is a commodity that earns just pennies on the dollar," he explained. "If producers can get an extra nickel from something in the waste stream, that can give them an enormous competitive advantage."

Shonnard, who heads the Centers of Energy Excellence at Michigan Tech, called the partnerships "a great opportunity for faculty and students at Michigan Tech to conduct breakthrough research in support of new commercial enterprises in the emerging bioeconomy in Michigan."

Reed said the selection of Michigan Tech as the university partner in Centers of Energy Excellence, as well as a recently announced $1.5 million grant to a team led by mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics associate professor Jeff Naber to develop flex-fuel hybrid vehicles, validates the Wood to Wheels concept pioneered at Michigan Tech.

"Wood to Wheels drew expertise from all across Michigan Tech to work together on alternative energy solutions from the supply chain to the mill to the vehicle on the road," Reed explained. "These grants reflect the economic viability of that concept."

Michigan Technological University is a leading public research university, conducting research, developing new technologies and preparing students to create the future for a prosperous and sustainable world. Michigan Tech offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering, forestry and environmental sciences, computing, technology, business and economics, natural and physical sciences, arts, humanities and social sciences.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.