Funding to support alternative energy research

jbrehm2, October 18, 2010 | View original publication

Funding to support alternative energy research

Rural Nebraska is well-suited for development of alternative energy sources, and a new federally funded project will support University of Nebraska-Lincoln research and outreach efforts in this area.

Groundbreaking for the project, titled Sustainable Energy Options for Rural Nebraska, is scheduled at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 21 at the Haskell Agricultural Lab near Concord. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-2nd, is expected to attend, along with several UNL officials. Fortenberry was instrumental in getting $500,000 in funding for the project.

"Nebraska has abundant wind, solar energy, and crops for fuel feedstocks; thus, energy independence should be a major goal for rural Nebraska," said Bill Kranz, UNL irrigation specialist and one of the researchers on the project.

The Haskell Ag Lab, where research will be conducted, is a diversified agricultural research station with about 480 acres of rain-fed and irrigated croplands. The other unique aspect of the laboratory is that it is home to a farm manager residence and an office building as well as swine and beef production facilities making it an excellent location to evaluate alternative energy production systems for on-farm use.

Data from wind and solar studies show that electrical energy production is feasible in northeast Nebraska, which already is home to wind-power production from the Elkhorn Ridge Wind Farm and the Crofton Hills Farm.

Kranz noted that Nebraska has about 93,000 active irrigation wells statewide that supply water to more than 8.2 million acres of crops and already is the second-leading ethanol producing state.

"The use of ethanol-fueled irrigation power units could greatly reduce the state's demand for fossil fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Kranz said. "Well-designed projects demonstrating the cost-effectiveness of alternative energy technologies can support their utilization and growth of energy-related industries in Nebraska, enhancing the state's rural economy."

The new federal funding will support research and outreach on several alternative energy options for rural Nebraska, with the long-term goal to integrate clean energy production into the existing energy-supply system at Haskell and educate citizens through UNL Extension.

Initially, electrical generation systems powered by wind and solar energy will be installed at Haskell. Researchers will compare costs, management and energy output over time, including seasonal variations in wind and sunshine intensity.

UNL researchers also will track efficiency, output, costs and other factors associated with ethanol-fueled engines as irrigation power units. Finally, they will develop a Web-based system to help rural Nebraskans determine if alternative energy systems can meet their needs.

"By the time this project is completed, rural constituents will be able to make informed decisions about the feasibility of alternative energy systems based on technical, economic, and environmental considerations," said Twig Marston, director of the Northeast Research and Extension Center at Norfolk. Also, he added, UNL scientists will "expand capabilities for current and future studies on alternative energy technologies in rural settings, a test-bed for making improvements to existing renewable technologies and a micro-grid system capable of modeling smart-grid networks."

Others involved in the project include: Jerry Hudgins, electrical engineering; John Hay, biological systems engineering; Loren Isom, Industrial Agricultural Products Center; Deepak Keshwani, biological systems engineering; Wei Qiao, electrical engineering; and David Shelton, Haskell Agricultural Laboratory

The Northeast Research and Extension Center and Haskell Agricultural Lab are part of the university's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.