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Home > Press > MSU researchers lead the way in alternative energy research

MSU College of Engineering Dean Satish Udpa
MSU College of Engineering Dean Satish Udpa

Michigan State University's College of Engineering is working to improve the world's alternative energy future thanks to three grants totaling $141.5 million.

MSU researchers lead the way in alternative energy research

East Lansing, MI | Posted on September 21st, 2009

"We think that no single solution is going to be able to address the energy problem we're confronting today," said Satish Udpa, dean of the College of Engineering. "So we feel we need to be working in several areas simultaneously. We have strong programs in thermoelectrics, biofuels and battery storage technology."

MSU is the lead institution in a new $12.5 million U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored Energy Frontier Research Center focusing on the study of thermoelectric energy conversion. Led by Donald Morelli, professor of chemical engineering and materials science, the team is developing methods to convert heat to electricity. Applications range from waste heat recovery from automobiles to solar thermal energy conversion.

"When you burn a gallon of gas in an internal combustion engine, about two-thirds of the energy produced in that process is lost as heat either through the exhaust system or through the radiator," Morelli said. "But if we can capture some of that energy and turn it into something useful, we can make automobiles more efficient.

"Our best new energy source is available to us now; we just have to figure out how to use it."

Bruce Dale, professor of chemical engineering and materials science and associate director of MSU's Office of Biobased Technologies, is a member of the $125 million, five-year U.S. Department of Energy-funded Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center. Dale invented a unique process to help convert plant materials into fuels. He is now focused on eliminating the "food vs. fuel" dilemma of biofuels by coproducing animal feeds and biofuels.

"We have got to solve our fuel problem," Dale said. "This will be a defining challenge for us for the next few decades. We have to find a way to provide energy for the world that won't pollute and is sustainable. But it's not going to happen overnight."

College of Engineering researchers have secured about $4 million in funding from multiple federal, state and commercial organizations to develop the next generation of advanced battery and capacitor technology. Under the leadership of Jeff Sakamoto and Lawrence T. Drzal, professors of chemical engineering and materials science, new nanomaterials, nanomaterial architectures, processing techniques and electrode designs are being developed to produce high-energy batteries and high-power super capacitors for the personal, transportation and infrastructure sectors for both U.S. Department of Defense and civilian applications.

"We're trying to improve the energy and power density of lithium-ion batteries so they can be used in electric vehicles," Sakamoto said.

Drzal said that a lot of researchers are working on alternative ways to generate energy.

"Wind and solar are very environmentally benign, but they aren't always available when you want them," Drzal said. "The key is to have the ability to store energy made at various times and then be able to use it when you want it.

"So to make the transition from petroleum-based energy to alternative energies realistic, we're going to have to come up with better alternative energy storage devices and technologies. That's what we're working on at MSU."

To watch video conversations with College of Engineering researchers, please visit


About Michigan State University
Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.

Russ White, University Relations, Office: (517) 432-0923,

Copyright © Michigan State University

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