The University of Minnesota has been awarded a $1.8 million federal grant to develop filtration technology that it says could reduce U.S. energy consumption by as much as 3 percent.
 
The grant, which will be distributed over a three-year period, is from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. The U of M will use the funds to develop membrane technology that can speed up filtration processes in manufacturing and require less energy. Specifically, the technology will enable energy-efficient separations in the chemical, petrochemical, water, fossil fuel, and renewable energy industries.
 
According to the U of M, 30 percent of total energy consumption in the United States is attributed to manufacturing. A major portion of that figure—and as much as 6 percent of total nationwide energy consumption—is from energy used in separation and purification processes.
 
Last year, researcher Michael Tsapatsis—a professor of chemical engineering and materials science from the U of M’s College of Science and Engineering—and his team published research about their discovery of a means for developing ultra-thin film membranes that can quicken filtration processes in manufacturing and use less energy. Science magazine named the research one of the biggest breakthroughs of 2011.
 
The U of M said the grant is intended to bridge the gap between academic research and commercial application.
 
“We have the science, but this grant will allow us to scale up the research and move it closer to market,” Tsapatsis said in a statement. The two other members of his research team are chemical engineering and materials science professors Chris Macosko and Prodromos Daoutidis.
 
Researchers claim the technology has numerous applications, but the university will focus on separations in biofuels and bioplastics production, as there is a “large existing market” for both applications, it said.
 
If the early applications gain commercial traction, other opportunities for the technology will emerge, the U of M said.

“Our next step is to bring these revolutionary membrane materials to commercial reality by developing a low-cost manufacturing approach that can be scaled-up efficiently,” Tsapatsis said in a statement.

Like many universities, the U of M has ramped up its emphasis on technology commercialization in recent years. In September, it said that discoveries by its researchers launched a record 12 start-ups in fiscal 2012, which ended June 30. The previous record was set last year, when nine companies were launched.
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