URC commercializing green technology, a samplingSeptember 17, 2008
Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University work with their faculty and students to help them obtain patents and license new technology through technology transfer offices. Some alternative energy examples:
U-M commercializing several solar advances
Solar researchers at U-M are seeking new, more cost-effective ways to gather sun- light and reduce the high cost of installing conventional solar panels. Professors are developing photovoltaic films, inks and fibers that could be painted, printed or woven onto other materials that are easier to install and lower the cost for clean, renewable solar energy.
Professor Stephen Forrest and his group are employing a new "vapor phase deposition" manufacturing technique to make thin-film organic solar cells with rougher surfaces that absorb more light because of their greater surface area. This technology is being commercialized through Forrest's company Global Photonic.
Other U-M solar innovations have been patented, but are approximately two to 10 years away from commercialization. Professors are developing silicon inks that act as solar cells that are more efficient than many of the thin film technologies currently being developed. With grants from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, professors are developing organic photovoltaic fibers that could be woven into energy-harvesting clothes, tarps, and other textiles.
MSU helps launch Michigan Biodiesel, LLC
Researchers at MSU's Biomass Conversion Research Laboratory are developing an integrated process for breaking down cellulosic material, estimating the performance and defining the costs. Integrating pre-treatment of cellulosic material with other operations is a vital step in facilitating improvement in biomass fuel production.
In 2004, the MSU Product Center helped connect Michigan farmers with an MSU Extension educator to launch a biodiesel production facility, Michigan Biodiesel, LLC. MSU researchers and technology are one key reason why Mascoma Corporation, in partnership with MSU and Michigan Technological University, and Michigan forestry company J.M. Longyear, plans to develop the state's first cellulosic ethanol plant in Chippewa County.
Wayne State boosts biodiesel production
Wayne State professor Simon Ng, director of the Alternative Energy Technology Program in the College of Engineering, and director of the National Biofuels Energy Laboratory that resides at NextEnergy, is leading research in many areas of biodiesel fuel production and characterization.
One area of focus is heterogeneous catalyst development for continuous biodiesel production using a variety of low-cost feedstocks. WSU's Technology Commercialization Office is managing three patented catalyst formulations and has facilitated industry engagement with a major global biodiesel producer, as well as a catalyst company and a fuel additive company.
Ng's catalysts have the potential to replace homogeneous catalysts used in biodiesel production today with the benefit of a continuous biodiesel production process, elimination of environmentally hazardous waste water and sludge, and the flexibility to use feedstocks other than expensive soybeans.
U-M developing adaptive blades for wind turbines
U-M professor Sridhar Kota is the founder of FlexSys Inc., which is developing high-efficiency adaptive blades for both the wind turbine and air vehicle industries. The blades adjust their shape, morphing in response to wind conditions in order to maximize energy collection and efficiency and to reduce structural loads when wind gusts are high.
MSU collaborating with Ballard Power Systems on fuel cells
MSU professor Keith Promislow is working on research that is important to the development of fuel cells that are more reliable, can operate at higher temperatures and cost less to manufacture than those currently available. He is a long-time collaborator with Ballard Power Systems, a Canadian firm that is one of the fuel cell industry's leaders. His research includes mathematical modeling of nano-scale properties of polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells.
Wayne State home to TechTown, NextEnergy, other companies
Wayne State University co-founded TechTown, a 47-acre, multimillion dollar research and business technology park. TechTown is a community of entrepreneurs, investors and corporate partners that empowers entrepreneurs to build successful technology businesses. Among its 39 tenants is NextEnergy, a non-profit corporation founded in 2002 to advance alternative energy technology in Michigan. Three other alternative energy-focused corporations reside there as well. Multiple patents have been issued to Wayne State professors for alternative energy discoveries, including a power booster to increase efficiency and reduce emissions for hybrid vehicles.
MSU working with Dow Chemical and NASA on solar collection
MSU's Krishnamurty Jayaraman is an example of MSU professors working with industry to bring advanced solar energy closer to the marketplace. His work, supported by Midland-based Dow Chemical and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is part of a familiar story in American technology, where the space program pushes technology forward that could later improve products used by average consumers. His current work includes research on producing large, injection-molded plastic pieces to tight enough tolerances that they can replace certain glass components in solar collection, realizing a significant reduction in the mass of the components.
U-M developing 72 mpg hydraulic-electric hybrid
In collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency's National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory, professors and students from U-M are testing hydraulic-electric hybrid vehicles. The Xebra, a small electric truck, uses a hydraulic launch system to capture, store and reuse energy lost used during braking. Researchers estimate they can improve city mileage by 45 percent, and triple acceleration and hill-climbing ability. Manufacturers of a small gasoline-powered version of the Xebra claim that without regenerative braking the vehicle will reach 72 mpg.
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