URC Sector Report 2008

2008 Alternative Energy Sector Report

URC analysis: State can become a leader in alternative energy

MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. (May 29, 2008) – The University Research Corridor announced Thursday investments in two new energy initiatives and released an independent analysis showing Michigan is ready to “become a leader in alternative energy.”

“The University Research Corridor will play a vital role in making alternative energy an important driver of economic growth in the state,” said Patrick Anderson, CEO of Anderson Economic Group LLC (AEG) and a co-author of the report.

AEG found the URC received more than $79.5 million in alternative energy research grants in 2007, with 77 percent coming from federal grants and 11 percent from business, which invests $16.7 billion in Michigan R&D each year, more than any state except California. The preliminary report was made public to advance ongoing conversations at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference.

URC leaders also announced the winners of a URC grant competition seeking “revolutionary but feasible” energy ideas from researchers at member institutions Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University. The winners are two joint collaborations aimed at efficient development of cheaper forms of electricity and fuel.

Out of 13 proposals, URC provosts and vice presidents of research chose:

  • A team involving the three URC universities plans to develop far more efficient low-cost thermoelectric materials with industrial applications. The technology could be used for power generation and environmentally friendly heating and cooling systems.
  • A U-M and MSU project with Lansing-based Technova Corp. will develop revolutionary nano-biocarriers to rapidly and efficiently produce cheaper, more plentiful ethanol from switchgrass or corn stover (the leaves and stalks that make up about half of a corn crop). Production facilities would require a much smaller footprint than current ethanol plants.

“The ability of the URC universities to blend innovative research and education makes them national leaders in advancing alternative energy technology that we can put into use immediately right here in our state,” Anderson said. “The participation in this research by a number of our state’s major employers demonstrates that they see the immediate benefits of this research to their ability to compete in the world economy.”

The study also cited the importance of the existing relationships between the automotive industry and the URC for making Michigan a leader in alternative energy.

Michigan’s URC universities regularly work with the auto industry, which carries out more R&D in Michigan than in the nation’s other 49 states combined. R&D by the URC and industry, as well as the state’s massive engineering talent pool, experienced work force and natural resources make the state fertile ground for a growing energy industry, the study concluded.

AEG also reported:

  • The URC’s research and education capabilities combined with the strength of the state’s automotive R&D were among the main reasons Toyota Motor Corp. recently decided to invest $100 million over the next four years in a new North American research institute near Ann Arbor. MSU’s bio-fuels expertise attracted a $50 million federal grant while Wayne State’s energy work and partnerships with the the auto industry helped attract NextEnergy to WSU’s TechTown office park.
  • URC researchers continue to make advances improving the capabilities and potential for a host of alternatives including solar, nuclear, water, wind, biomass, and fuel cells.
  • The state’s auto industry gives it “a natural comparative advantage in developing alternative fuels for the transportation sector,” increasing the region?s potential to become a leader in developing fuel-efficient vehicles.
  • Michigan has a highly educated and skilled workforce that will allow for new products to be developed and manufactured in Michigan. The state’s manufacturing facilities, technical know-how and transportation infrastructure also would allow for production and exports to other states.
  • The URC is conducting 27 percent of its energy-related research on fuels, 25 percent on propulsion and power, 8.9 percent on nuclear energy, 8.5 percent on sustainability, 8.2 percent on solar and thermoelectric research and the rest divided between a host of areas including enabling technologies, efficiency, energy storage, fuel cells, energy policy, wind and hydro energy, hydrogen and transportation.
  • Michigan has the potential to significantly increase the role of alternative energy sources in electricity production within the state, and its development and production of fuels made from renewable sources. In 2005, just 3.3 percent of Michigan’s energy came from renewable sources compared to a national average of 8.8 percent.
  • Michigan has significant untapped natural renewable resources particularly in wind, water and biomass. At the same time, the state’s solar industry and other alternative energy sectors are expanding.

“This report illustrates the enormous potential of the URC to collaborate and leverage its combined talent to maximize our state’s inherent energy assets and help Michigan to realize its full potential as a global energy leader,” Noren said.

Simon added, “The URC put the word out about these new grants, seed grants to get a project started and hopefully attract more support just three months ago, but the proposals that came back?all involving two more of the three universities?were simply outstanding. The whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.”

Coleman concluded, “We established the URC to tackle big issues, and what bigger technological challenge is there than rising oil prices, which create a burden on the national economy and particularly Michigan’s economy. We must act.”

Photo Caption: Transparent solar concentrator