Mankato, Minn. — An effort to bring Swedish clean-energy technology to the United States has led to a Minnesota State University-Mankato research facility intended to boost Minnesota’s renewable-energy industry.
The newly-formed International Renewable Energy Technology Institute of Minnesota intends to accelerate the implementation of renewable-energy technologies, encourage entrepreneurship and facilitate the exchange of ideas and technology.
“It came about when the ambassador to Sweden (in 2006) recognized there was clean-energy technology that the United States didn’t have,” says John Frey, IRETI interim director. Frey retired as MSU-Mankato’s College of Science, Technology and Engineering dean in 2008 and now heads the institute.
Ambassador Michael Wood recognized that the United States could benefit from some of Sweden’s innovative technologies. Establishing a relationship could lead to increased manufacturing, job creation and increased energy independence in the U.S., he said. MSU-Mankato agreed and, in partnership with the Biobusiness Alliance of Minnesota, established the institute to move innovative technologies to commercialization.
“We want to assist Minnesota in becoming a state that is driven by the clean-energy economy.”John Frey
In 2009, MSU-Mankato received state funding to establish a certified center with three goals: serve as a third-party validating test center, provide research, development and prototyping services, and train individuals for the new renewable-energy market. IRETI will test efficiency and emissions for solid combustible fuel, cellulosic biofuel and biogas production systems, and eventually small wind and solar energy systems.
“This isn’t solely an MSU-Mankato project, it’s a Minnesota project,” Frey says.
IRETI is initially focusing on residential heating technologies that use solid biomass fuels. Specialized equipment measures things like heating efficiency, emissions and the amount of radiant heat escaping from the biomass stove. Add that capacity to an already strong automotive technology department at Minnesota State and Frey says a large portion of the nation’s energy needs are being addressed.
“About 35 percent of our nation’s energy consumption comes from residential usage and
27 percent from transportation. So combined, these two areas address about 62 percent of our nation’s energy needs,” Frey says. “Our intent is to be looking at both production and consumption.”
IRETI has an anaerobic digester gas optimizer that assesses the gas output of various feedstocks — information that scientist Al Doering says can be very useful to AURI and its clients. Doering heads AURI’s coproducts laboratory in Waseca and is serving on the IRETI advisory board.
“AURI can do many things, but we don’t have the capacity to test equipment or emissions,” Doering says.
“AURI is supporting IRETI whenever there is an opportunity for value-added agriculture,” Doering says. “Before you can move research to the applied stage, there is a lot of basic research that needs to be done.”