Building on well-recognized sustainable energy research programs by aggressively seeking expertise and sources of funding
Advancing MSU’s position in the renewable energies field will require the university to actively pursue additional opportunities and partnerships to promote and build on existing alternative energy research. Already, faculty and students are involved in interdisciplinary research in agriculture, plant science and engineering to solve complex problems in converting natural materials to energy, for automotive and other uses:
- The MSU Bioeconomy Institute opened in March 2011 as a 138,000-square-foot professional research and development facility where MSU scientists conduct research, provide educational and outreach programs, and facilitate private sector research by start-up companies, early stage entrepreneurs, and embedded researchers from larger corporations. The institute is supported in part by interest from a $5.2 million community endowment fund raised by the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area and a $3.4 million grant from the Michigan Strategic Fund.
- AgBioResearch (formerly the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station) engages in innovative, leading-edge research in the areas of food, natural resources and energy. It relies heavily on close partnerships and collaborations with MSU Extension, six MSU colleges, federal and state agencies, commodity groups and other key stakeholders, and exceptional legislative support to fulfill its mission. AgBioResearch projects are funded through state, federal and private funds. In Michigan, state contributions represent more than 80% of the total AgBioResearch annual budget. Michigan commodity organizations contribute research funds to improve production, processing and marketing of their respective products, and foundations and industries contribute funds toward basic research.
- In September 2011, a consortium between Michigan State University, Lakeshore Advantage, Prima Civitas Foundation, and the New North Center received $580,000 in U.S. Economic Development Administration funding plus $500,000 from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to create a “Proof-of-Concept Center for Green Chemistry Scale-up.” MSU is using the grant to operate the site, offer support services to entrepreneurs, assist client firms in obtaining U.S. Department of Agriculture BioPreferred designations, recruit green-technology incubator occupants and more.
- The Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) is one of three national centers funded by the U.S Department of Energy to conduct transformational biofuels research. It is led by the University of Wisconsin- Madison, in close partnership with MSU and other universities, to explore scientifically diverse approaches to converting various plant feedstocks — agricultural residues, wood chips, and nonfood grasses — into liquid transportation fuels. In addition to its broad range of research projects, the GLBRC is also collaborating with agricultural researchers and producers to develop the most economically viable and environmentally sustainable practices for bioenergy production.
- The Energy and Automotive Research Laboratories at MSU’s College of Engineering opened in 2007 to identify ways to realize greater fuel efficiency, determine how to collect waste heat and convert it to electricity and work to develop new bio-based fuels. Funding for the lab comes in part from a $2 million U.S. Department of Energy grant, as well as from individual and corporate donors, including the Richard H. Brown Foundation, Consumers Energy Foundation, Ford Motor Co. Fund, General Motors Corp., Hallenbeck Construction Co. Inc., Roy H. and Dawn I. Link, James B. McKeon, and John D. and Dortha J. Withrow, the MSU Provost’s Office and the College of Engineering.
MSU was awarded more than $300 million in research revenues from federal agencies in FY 2011. The Department of Energy, which would likely be the main source of grant funds for alternative energy research, accounted for just fewer than 9% of the funds. Research funds cannot be used for university operating expenses. However, increasing the number of research grants received for alternative energy development and demonstration will create more options for incorporating renewable energy into MSU’s energy infrastructure.
MSU already has a solid and growing foundation in alternative energy research. Building on these efforts will shorten research and development time and better position the university to take advantage of new opportunities.
The federal government’s, and to a more limited extent state government’s, primary method for encouraging the insertion of new technology lies in two programs: (1) tax-based incentives (credits, deductions) and (2) grants. Only the second program is relevant to Michigan State University. To effectively pursue and secure energy grants it is advisable to have a team assigned to that task rather than to rely on ad hoc activities since the latter tends to lead to missed opportunities and uneven results.
Potential renewable energy resources.
By focusing alternative energy research projects in accordance with the Energy Transition Plan, grant writing teams could be more successful in accessing funds. Over time, successful grant projects in alternative energy will help MSU build a world-class program in which to leverage additional opportunities.