"Environment" research area

Director's Letter 2019

Dear MnDRIVE Colleagues,

Five years ago, the Minnesota State Legislature and the University of Minnesota embarked on an ambitious partnership to support research in areas critical to the state’s well-being and economic future. The new Minnesota Discovery, Research, and InnoVation Economy initiative (MnDRIVE) identified bioremediation, the use of microbes or their enzymes to clean and protect the environment, as one of four core areas for research. As we reflect on the first five years and the body of work we’ve produced to date, we’d first like to thank you for contributing your energy and talents. Together we have created a world-class hub for bioremediation research, enhanced by hiring five bioremediation experts across five departments and two campuses. From the treatment of municipal wastewater and agricultural runoff to the remediation of arsenic at Superfund sites, MnDRIVE researchers are partnering with stakeholders from agriculture, the chemical industry, state government, and others on homegrown, research-based solutions to pressing environmental challenges.

We are proud of our large portfolio of applied research. Through our Seed Grant Program, we have supported over 65 innovative pilot research projects studying the use of microbes or enzymes to mitigate the impact of human activity on our environment. Our Demonstration Grant Program has supported promising and scalable research, initiated in the lab, that is now being deployed and tested in the field.

Examples of implementable solutions include:

  • Randall Hicks (UMD) and Mikael Elias (UMN) have developed an enzyme-based coating that inhibits biofilm formation and is being used to protect steel-based port infrastructure in the Duluth-Superior Harbor.
  • In Wilmar, MN Gary Feyereisen, Carl Rosen, and Satoshi Ishii (UMN) are adapting inexpensive woodchip bioreactors for use in cold climates.
  • Closer to home, Timothy LaPara and Bo Hu are working with Second Harvest Heartland to convert food waste into energy, while Cara Santelli partners with Geosyntec to develop solutions to clean up selenium-contaminated soils

Looking forward, we are expanding our research focus beyond bioremediation to include plant and chemical remediation strategies. We’re also excited to launch a new multi-year engagement strategy designed to build research capacity across the University system, increase our engagement with industry and government partners, and move new remediation technologies from the lab into the field. 

In pursuit of these goals we will: 

  • work closely with State agencies to identify areas of need, potential funding sources and collaborative opportunities across MN
  • increase the number, breadth and depth of partnerships between industry and university stakeholders
  • explore and develop new research, IP licensing and patent opportunities.

To support our effort to grow the MnDRIVE Environment community and make it easier for you to engage and follow our collective progress, we will initially be focusing effort on: 

  • standardizing our annual funding calendar with two RFPs each year, one in October and a second in April
  • enhancing communications efforts through the publication of an annual summary report, spring and fall newsletters, and an events calendar
  • increasing industry and state engagement through events, sponsorship, and collaborative research opportunities. 

Lastly, we’re also pleased to introduce the newest member of our team, Dr. Jeff Standish, who will help execute this strategy in his role as industry and government liaison. Jeff’s background is grounded in research and project management, within both academia and the private sector. His prior work as Manager of Corporate Sustainability for the University’s Institute on the Environment has focused on building research connections through public/private partnerships. We are excited to add Jeff's expertise and capacity to the MnDRIVE team.

In closing, thank you for your ongoing support of MnDRIVE. We very much look forward to working with you into the future by stimulating your great ideas and sponsoring your research - to better our environment for all Minnesotans.

Sincerely yours,

Michael Sadowsky & Paige Novak

Co-directors, MnDRIVE Advancing Industry, Conserving our Environment