Natural resources offer abundant research potential

    According to the 2012 New Technology Jobs Report produced by the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council in partnership with Cool Choices, an organization dedicated to sustainability, these sectors have the potential to create thousands of jobs that will affect Wisconsin’s economy.

    Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council agrees.

    “Wisconsin is good in a variety of disciplines that in the past were more siloed,” he said. “Now, many of the disciplines Wisconsin was founded upon – manufacturing and even agriculture – have allowed us to pursue more interdisciplinary research, which provides more opportunities for the economy and the marketplace.”

    The report also indicated that in 2010 there were 2,000 Wisconsin jobs supporting the wind industry; the state ranked 16th in the country for solar jobs, and already had more bio-fuel producing anaerobic biodigesters than any state in the country.

    Biodigesters turn
    waste into Clean energy
    Farmers, food processors and other institutions with large amounts of waste products install digesters to provide energy for their operations and to sell back into the grid.

    UW-Oshkosh built the first dry fermentation, anaerobic biodigester in the nation in early 2010. The biodigester converts yard and food waste from the campus and community sources into 400-kilowatt output, which in turn produces five percent of the campus’s electricity and heating energy.

    The dry fermentation process moves composting indoors. It is a very different design from wet digesters that run on manure or sewage.

    Wisconsin now has 31 biodigester systems in the state, 22 of them on local farms.

    Ron Raines, biochemistry professor at UW-Madison and founder of Madison-based Hyrax Energy, discovered new technology that transforms cellulosic, or non-food plant biomass, into renewable fuels and high-value chemicals.
     “Hyrax has done considerable market research into the cost of ionic liquids, and has developed a process model that has been validated by third parties,” Raines said.

    The process creates fermentable sugars that can be converted into a variety of important chemicals, including fuels and plastics.

    Fresh water: 21st century gold
    The Southeastern Wisconsin region, led by local industry leaders and the UW-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Science, has positioned itself to become a world hub for freshwater research and development.

    “Wisconsin as a whole has an opportunity to focus on fresh water and its technologies,” said Still. “The Milwaukee Water Council is certainly a player, but there is water research happening throughout the state in the Fox Valley area, Superior, River Falls and even La Crosse. The entire state has a significant opportunity to impact local economies.”

    Dr. Lorena Rios-Mendoza, assistant professor of chemistry at UW-Superior, recently began research on plastic pollution in the Great Lakes, a prevalent problem in the Pacific Ocean. She seeks to learn how tiny pieces of bottles, toys, fishnets and other plastic trash could be affecting the fresh water supply, marine life and, potentially, individuals who consume the fish.

    The Water Council, established in 2010 to position the Southeastern Wisconsin region as a water hub, consists of 130 Wisconsin companies, including Veolia Water, Badger Meter, MillerCoors and AO Smith. Companies involved specialize in water treatment or technology. 

    “When it comes to water research, the campus, particularly the UWM School of Freshwater Science, is really in the middle of things,” said Mike Lovell, UW-Milwaukee Chancellor. “We’re not only focused on leading cutting-edge research in the field of freshwater, we continue to work closely with the Water Council to attract water-oriented businesses to our region.”

    Energy research: Microgrids reduce energy dependence
    In addition to water technologies, UW-Milwaukee is also a member of the Wisconsin Energy Research Consortium and has partnerships with Glendale-based Johnson Controls, to provide industry specific research surrounding more effective energy storage and battery use, Lovell said.

    Adel Nasiri, associate professor in the Power Electronics and Electric Motor Drives laboratory at UW-Milwaukee, is in the initial phases of installing a “microgrid” prototype on the UW-Milwaukee campus that will utilize renewable energies like solar and wind, and integrate the power loads into the electrical grid.

    “By the end of the year we will have the core system running in Milwaukee and an emulation system up and running in Madison,” Nasiri said. “Our goal is to mature the microgrid technology and become a significant player in this emerging industry.”

    The micgrogrid can operate as an independent energy storage unit or function in parallel to an existing utility grid, Nasiri said.

    A recent report from Pike Research estimated the campus microgrid market would increase by 164 percent between 2011 and 2017. According to the report, Microgrids for Campus Environments, the campus location offers the largest sector for the global “grid-connected” microgrid market today. Researchers expect the campus microgrid market will reach $777 million in annual revenue by 2017.

    Rockwell Automation, Johnson Controls, DRS Technologies, S&C Electric, Eaton Corporation and Kohler are all committed industry participants in the project, Nasiri said.

     “Companies want to be involved in the research of microgrid use,” Nasiri said. “Through our research we hope to find answers to seamless integration, effective energy storage, and energy management and optimization for group loads and sources.” 

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