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Clean Energy Supercluster Seed Grants Further More Green Initiatives

Colorado State University's Clean Energy Supercluster, which was created to accelerate campus-wide research in clean energy and carbon dioxide capture, was recently awarded almost $200,000 in seed grants to fund university research.

The seed grants serve to help finance research projects so they will be able to obtain further, more extensive funding in the future. This is the second round of seed grants the Supercluster has distributed.

"(The seed grants) jumpstart new and promising activities so that faculty members will be able to be particularly competitive in turning...seed grants into larger funding opportunities from agencies or companies," said Professor Bryan Willson, the chief scientific officer for the Clean Energy Supercluster.

"It's always easier to get funding once you've gotten preliminary results from an idea," Willson said. He said the seed grants do not provide enough money to finance the researchers' projects, but provides them with resources to secure more funding in the future.

Though over 40 projects applied for the grants, the Supercluster was only able to fund 10 of them. The grant amounts were determined by budget proposals the researchers submitted and ranged from $15,000 to $29,000

Willson said the seed grants will both increase and diversify CSU's clean energy and carbon dioxide capture research and said the financed projects represent a broad spectrum of research.

Some of the projects concentrate on the mechanical side of clean energy technology while others are focused on its social science component, he said.

"I'm excited about different aspects of all of them," Willson said.

The funds for the seed grants came from the profits of successful Clean Energy Supercluster ventures and money allocated to the Supercluster's budget by the vice president of research Jim Sites, the steering committee chair of the Supercluster, said.

An $18,000 seed grant went to Nora Lapitan, a crop and soil sciences professor, and her team to fund research looking into utilizing the Miscanthus plant as an alternative source of biomass fuel.

Corn is currently used as the main source of biomass fuel, which is problematic because it causes ethanol production to compete with food production. Researchers believe Miscanthus, a native to South East Asia, could solve this problem.

"We would like to use (Miscanthus') existing genetic diversity to grow cultivars that will grow well in Colorado," she said, adding that the plant is found in a variety of climates in Asia.

Lapitan said that if Miscanthus was planted on 9.3 percent of current U.S. cropland, it would provide enough ethanol to offset 20 percent of America's current gasoline usage.

Her team also aspires to have the plant grow in marginal lands, where crops used for food production are unable to grow, in order to avoid competition for cropland between them.

Kenneth Wilson, professor and head of the CSU Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology Department, and his team received a $29,000 seed grant for their project on environmental and social monitoring at Maxwell Ranch Wind Farm.

"Our main objective is to increase our understanding of the social and environmental changes that occur with wind farm development, and ultimately, to provide guidelines for implementing wind technology that enhance clean energy technology by maximizing environmental stewardship and sustainability," Wilson said of his team's goal in an e-mail.

Robert McGrath, the deputy laboratory director of science and technology at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, said such green technology has the capability of playing an important role in America.

"...We have to reduce dependence on foreign oil and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions," McGrath said, explaining that this can be accomplished through the widespread use of renewable energy.

He said he looks forward to collaborating with the Clean Energy Supercluster in the near future in order to further green technology innovations.

Over 100 staff members, employed across all eight of the university's colleges, are involved in the Clean Energy Supercluster, according to their Web site.

This story was filed by UWIRE, which offers reporting from more than 800 colleges and universities worldwide. Read more at www.uwire.com.