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NYC skyline with no lights_blackout 1977

Massoud Amin on Implications of 1977 New York City Blackout

September 15, 2016

A short film featuring Dr. Massoud Amin of the U's Technological Leadership Institute is a powerful reminder of the importance of reliable electricity to society (you can view the film here). Its subject is the 25-hour July, 1977 New York City blackout; Dr. Amin was in the city when it occurred and discusses what he witnessed and how it relates to his life's work to improve the US power grid and advocate for robust infrastructure. During the blackout, which was caused by a lightning strike, chaos reigned. According to the New York Times, "1,000 fires were reported, 1,600 stores were damaged in looting and rioting and 3,700 people were arrested. Neighborhoods from East Harlem to Bushwick were devastated. The authorities later estimated that the total cost of the blackout exceeded $300 million."

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Field of corn

The Unfulfilled Promise of Corn-based Biofuels

July 28, 2016

According to an article in Bloomberg, "More than a decade after conservationists helped persuade Congress to require adding corn-based ethanol and other biofuels to gasoline, some groups regret the resulting agricultural runoff in waterways and conversion of prairies to cropland – improving the odds that lawmakers might seek changes to the program next year." The federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which led to mass production of corn-based ethanol, has proven to be sadly ineffectual; in fact, groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Wildlife Federation have begun to realize that the use and manufacture of biofuels has had "severe, unintended consequences," partly as a result of the way regulatory regimes were implemented. Despite a political divide between legislators from the Corn Belt and others, a revamped RFS appears to be moving forward in the House of Representatives.  

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Pollution from factory

Innovative Minnesota Law Challenges Coal-fired Power

April 19, 2016

An administrative judge has determined that the costs of climate change, which Minnesota is required to account for when deciding how to generate electricity, have previously been assessed much too cheaply. In her ruling, Judge LauraSue Schlatter mostly agreed with the US government's calculation of the social cost of carbon emissions, ruling that the federal figures are more realistic than those Minnesota had been using. This means the state is likely to face a ten-fold increase in its calculation of climate change costs, which will probably make wind and solar energy significantly cheaper than burning coal. Kevin Lee, the attorney who represented a group of physicians in the case, noted they are "thrilled. . . . It's a huge victory for the environment and for public health in Minnesota." The law requiring the state to account for social costs of pollution was passed in the 1990s, and is unique in the nation. To learn more, listen to the entire Minnesota Public Radio story here

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Anu Ramaswami

University Awarded $12 million NSF Grant to Improve Urban Futures

August 28, 2015

The University of Minnesota has received a $12 million dollar award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to bring together scientists, industry leaders, and policy partners committed to building better cities of the future. The project is led by Anu Ramaswami, director of Consortium member Center for Science, Technology and Environmental Policy, professor at the Humphrey School and in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering. The grant has two other co-directors: Patricia Culligan at Columbia University and Armistead Russell at Georgia Institute of Technology. Since estimates indicate more than three billion more people will live in cities in 2050, the grant-funded network will focus on ways to reimagine infrastructure to create high-density cities that are highly functional, promote the health of residents and the environment, and are livable. “We have to think in new ways about a city’s physical infrastructure to develop sustainable solutions,” says Prof. Ramaswami.

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Wild rice in field

New Techology Uses Bacteria to Clean Water so Wild Rice can Thrive

June 25, 2015

Despite its cultural, environmental and economic signficance to Minnesota, wild rice has been threatened by high levels of sulfate resulting from agricultural and industrial sources. A team of researchers led by Michael Sadowsky, director of Consortium member The Biotechnology Institute, is developing a solution using bacteria drawn from the ecosystem and (eventually) powered by renewable energy. Sadowsky explains, “This system takes advantage of naturally occurring processes to effectively remove sulfates from the state’s water. . . . [It] will allow us to expand water treatment in hard-to-reach areas of the state where much of the wild rice is produced.” The project is part of the state-funded MnDRIVE Transdisciplinary Research Program, where researchers from different departments work beyond the limits of their disciplines to address complex challenges.

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Deepwater Horizon oil rig burning

BP Oil Spill: Looking Back, Looking Forward

April 20, 2015

Five years ago today, the Deepwater Horizon oil platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven workers and causing environmental and economic destruction. In the aftermath of the disaster, the Consortium presented a lecture by Prof. Daniel Farber, JD, of the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment at the University of California, Berkeley. His talk, "Blue Bayou: The BP Deepwater Horizon Blowout and the Social and Environmental Erosion of the Louisiana Coast," argued for environmental law to take a more holistic view, one that considers multiple environmental threats and links communities with ecosystems; the lecture is available on video here. National Public Radio broadcast two five-year retrospectives today analyzing long-term effects of the spill and changes to safety standards since its occurrence. 

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Wind turbines

U Professor Advocates Investment in Energy Grid to Benefit US Economy

April 13, 2015

An article in Forbes outlines the argument for investing in the grid to build the US economy, quoting Massoud Amin, engineering professor at the University of Minnesota and chairman of the IEEE Smart Grid. “This vision is also about job creation and economic benefits,” Amin said, noting that for every $1 invested in the nation’s network, as much as $6 is returned, not to mention the 47,000 new jobs since 2012.

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Alexandra Klass

Alexandra Klass Named Distinguished McKnight University Professor

March 30, 2015

Professor Alexandra B. Klass of the Law School has been named a Distinguished McKnight University Professor—one of just five University of Minnesota faculty members to receive the distinction this year. The Distinguished McKnight University Professorship program recognizes the University's "highest-achieving mid-career faculty who have recently attained full professor status… and whose accomplishments have brought great renown and prestige to Minnesota." Prof. Klass is an affiliated faculty member with the Consortium. 

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Caleb Levar, principal author of the study

Researchers Discover Surprising Versatility in Bacteria that Derive Energy from Metals

January 15, 2015

new discovery by researchers at the University of Minnesota's BioTechology Institute shows how a friendly microbe known as Geobacter is able to thrive in a wide range of environments and emerging biotech applications.The research results were published this month in mBio, an open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, and suggest new ways of using bacteria to remotely detect specific metals, monitor underground chemical cleanup, and power devices using electricity-producing microbes.

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Prof. Jeff Gralnick

Microbial and Plant Genomics Institute Names New Director

September 12, 2014

Dr. Jeff Gralnick has been named the new director of the Microbial and Plant Genomics Institute (MPGI). He began his three-year term this month. Dr. Gralnick's research is related to engineering compounds that could generate power in microbial fuel cells or react against certain toxic metals in the environment Working in collaboration with Prof. Daniel Bond, Gralnick made a key discovery about how bacteria can convert organic compounds into electricity. 

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