By Lynn L. Bergeson
On February 17, 2020, researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst) announced that one of its laboratories has developed a device using a natural protein to create electricity from moisture in the air. Electrical engineer Jun Yao and microbiologist Derek Lovley have created what they call “Air-Gen,” which consists of an air-powered generator with electrically conductive protein nanowires produced by the microbe Geobacter. The Air-gen connects electrodes to the protein nanowires in such a way that electrical current is generated from the water vapor naturally present in the atmosphere. According to Yao, the device generates clean energy 24/7. What Yao and Lovley describe as a low cost, non-polluting, and renewable device, can generate energy even in areas with extremely low humidity, such as the Sahara Desert. Although the current generation of Air-gen devices are only able to power small electronics, both scientists state that the ultimate goal is to develop large-scale systems that will highly contribute to sustainable energy production.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On January 23, 2020, DOE announced that up to $133 million will be available for new and innovative advanced vehicle technologies research designed to increase affordable, efficient, and secure transportation energy. This Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 opportunity will be funded by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and supports priorities in: (1) advanced engine and fuel technologies; (2) lightweight materials; (3) new energy efficient mobility systems; and (4) alternative fuels technology demonstrations. Topic areas and funding amounts include:
- Up to $40 million for batteries and electrification;
- Up to $27.5 million for advanced combustion engines and fuels;
- Up to $15 million for materials technology;
- Up to $13.5 million for energy efficient mobility systems;
- Up to $36 million for technology integration; and
- Up to $1.2 million for transportation and energy analysis.
Concept papers for this funding opportunity are due on February 21, 2020, and full applications are due on April 14, 2020.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
In late December 2019, CRDF Global, an independent non-profit focused on the global scientific community and alternatives to weapons research, announced a partnership with the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine (MES) in launching the 2020 U.S.-Ukraine Alternative Energy Research Competition. Currently accepting proposals from joint teams of U.S. and Ukrainian researchers, the competition will focus on the advancement of alternative energy sources. Intended to work toward a future of affordable solutions to address the rapid increase of the global population and, consequently, energy consumption increase, the competition is accepting proposals that directly apply to photovoltaic or biofuel technology. These include proposals on engineering, nanotechnology, biochemistry, microbiology, and plant study research. Awards of up to $72,000 will be provided for 12 months. Proposals are due no later than February 28, 2020.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On October 25, 2019, Iowa State University’s (ISU) Vice President for Research, Dan Kirkpatrick, announced that Sundeep Vani, Ph.D., has joined the team as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for Biobased Products, a newly created role. Announced in an ISU press release, Dr. Vani’s role will be to serve as a conduit between research and industry. Dr. Vani will work closely with the Biobased Product platform leader, Brent Shanks, his team, and the Iowa Innovation Corporation (IIC) CEO. Identifying promising emerging technologies and facilitating their development into market scale will also be at the top of Dr. Vani’s list of priorities. Dr. Vani stated that he is “excited to join Iowa State in this mission to grow Iowa’s economy through the state’s overall Biosciences initiative.” His addition to the team is partially attributed to Iowa’s legislature in July 2019 granting the university $825,000 in fiscal year 2020.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.
On October 16, 2019, the University of Surrey, United Kingdom, announced that its researchers have partnered with colleagues from France, Germany, and Spain to start working on a new technique to tackle plastic waste. According to the university’s article, this novel technique may revolutionize the recycling industry. The plan is to create engineered microbial communities that will digest two types of plastic polymers -- polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyurethane (PU) -- and transform them into molecules that can be used to develop a more environmentally friendly material called Bio-PU. This more environmentally friendly material is often used as a construction and insulation material.
According to the University of Surrey, current physical or chemical methods to degrade PET and PU are inefficient. Impurities in PET polymers and high energy costs associated with the high temperatures required to break down the material make its degradation very difficult. Similarly, degradation of PU is limited due to the difficulty in breaking down urethane bonds in the material. Given these challenges, University of Surrey Senior Lecturer in synthetic biology Dr. Jose Jimenez highlights that “[m]oving away from the reliance on single use plastics is a positive step; however, the problem of how we deal with current plastic waste still needs to be addressed.” Hence, the project will investigate the ability of microorganisms to digest plastic waste and turn it into a more environmentally friendly material that can be recycled.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On September 30, 2019, DOE’s Smart Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs Office announced the opening of applications for Cohort of Innovators through October 31, 2019. Three DOE National Laboratories are accepting such applications: (1) Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) Chain Reaction Innovation; (2) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) Innovation Crossroads; and (3) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL) Cyclotron Road program. Each of the programs recruits a cohort of entrepreneurial scientists and engineers from around the world for two years. The goal of the programs is to allow innovators to mature their ideas until they can align with the most suitable commercial partners to take their technology to scale. Selected participants will receive a two-year fellowship, which includes a stipend depending on education and experience, along with health insurance and a travel allowance. Research funding and access to research facilities, equipment, and expertise are also provided, accompanied by a startup curriculum and a community of peers. The startup curriculum includes intensive entrepreneurial training, mentorship, and networking opportunities. Again, applications are due by October 31, 2019, and can be found in the National Laboratories’ respective websites: ANL, ORNL, and LBL.
- WTVB News, “Trump Meets with Senators from Key Farm States, Touts Biofuel Deal Progress”
- Market Realist, “Big Biofuels Issue: Trump Meets with Refiners, Senators”
- Cornell Alliance for Science, “Plant Breeding Innovations Required to Weather Climate Change, Report Says”
- Global News Canada, “Burnaby Becomes Latest B.C. City to Declare a Climate Emergency”
- just-food, “Danone-Backed Meat-Analogue Business Sustainable Bioproducts Eyes Launch”
- CBS Minnesota, “Governor Walz Establishes Biofuels Council”
- Los Angeles Times, “California Lawmakers Fail to Act on Recycling Bills to Phase Out Single-Use Plastics”
- Fast Company, “It’s Now Cheaper to Build New Renewables Than It Is to Build Natural Gas Plants”
- Reuters, “Trump Backs Plan That Would Boost Biofuel Quotas 10% in 2020”
- Reuters, “Facing Farmer Anger, Trump Scrambles Cabinet to Brainstorm on Biofuel Policy: Sources”
- Cosmeticsdesign.com, “Sulapac: The Startup Making Biodegradable, Plastic-Free Beauty Packaging a Reality”
- The Times, “EU Curbs Used Cooking Oil in Biodiesel Due to Fears of Fraud”
- Plastics News, “Resin Distributors Taking Different Paths to Sustainability”
- Engineering.com, “Algae Filter Paper Offers New Hope for Stopping Waterborne Illness”
- The Gazette, “Amy Klobuchar: Trump Treating Farmers Like ‘Bargaining Chips’”
- Forbes, “Boston Startup Puts a New Spin on Silk, Replacing Petrochemicals in Clothing and Skincare”
- The Asahi Shimbun, “Rain-Resistant Wheat Variety Developed Using Genome Editing”