HOUGHTON — Microbiologist Steve Techtmann, pictured above, has won a federal research award to study microbial biosignatures that identify what waters ships traverse.
HOUGHTON — A good thing has come from the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
Some of the proceeds from the penalties assessed are being used to fund environmental research, including a project involving Michigan Technological University and five other universities.
HOUGHTON — Forget the hot, red blob that so many of us drew under the cone of a volcano in eighth grade science. Magma chambers are chemically and physically complex structures that new evidence suggests may be cooler than expected.
Volcanologists are gaining a new understanding of what’s going on inside a shallow magma reservoir that lies below an active volcano, and they’re finding a colder, more solid place than previously thought, according to new research published June 16 in the scholarly journal Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.aam8720). It’s a new view of how volcanoes work and could eventually help volcanologists get a better idea of when a volcano poses the most risk.
HOUGHTON — In a new study published in the academic journal Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews (DOI: 10.1016/j.rser.2017.05.119), a team from Michigan Technological University calculated the cost of combusting coal in terms of human lives along with the potential benefits of switching to solar.
Tens of thousands of Americans die prematurely each year from air pollution-related diseases associated with burning coal. By transitioning to solar photovoltaics in the United States, the study found up to 51,999 American lives would be saved at $1.1 million invested per life.
“Unlike other public health investments, you get more than lives saved,” said Joshua Pearce, a professor of materials science and electrical engineering at Michigan Tech. “In addition to saving lives, solar is producing electricity, which has economic value.”
Using a sensitivity analysis on the value of electricity, which examines the different costs of electricity that varies by region throughout the country, saving a life by using solar power also showed potential to make money — sometimes as much as several million dollars per life, says Pearce.
“Everybody wants to avoid wasting money. Just based off the pure value of electricity of the sensitivities we looked at, it’s profitable to save American lives by eliminating coal with solar,” he explains.
Pearce worked with energy policy doctoral student Emily Prehoda on the study, and their main goal was to better inform health policy. They gathered data from peer-reviewed journals and the Environmental Protection Agency to calculate U.S. deaths per kilowatt hour per year for both coal and solar. Then they used current costs of solar installations from the Department of Energy and calculated the potential return on investment.
Pearce and Prehoda also analyzed the geographic impact of coal-related deaths. “Here, we have solid numbers on how many people die from air pollution and what fraction of that is due to coal-powered plants in each state.”
Power of Solar
To fully replace all the coal production in the U.S. with solar PV, it would take 755 gigawatts — a significant increase compared to the 22.7 gigawatts of solar installed in the U.S. currently. The total cost of installing that much solar power totals $1.5 trillion, but that investment is figured into Pearce and Prehoda’s calculations, and is a profitable investment.
Said Pearce: “Solar has come down radically in cost, it’s technically viable, and coupled with natural gas plants, other renewables and storage, we have ways to produce all the electricity we need without coal, period.”
He says resisting the rise of solar energy is akin to if computer manufacturers kept using vacuum tube switches instead of upgrading to semiconductor transistors.
“My overall take away from this study is that if we’re rational and we care about American lives, or even just money, then it’s time to end coal in the U.S.,” Pearce said.
The World Health Organization reports that millions die each year from unhealthy environment, air pollution notably the largest contributor to non-communicable diseases like stroke, cancers, chronic respiratory illnesses and heart disease. Future work can expand this study globally.
“There’s roughly seven million people who die globally from air pollution every year, so getting rid of coal could take a big chunk out of that number as well,” Pearce said, adding that another goal of future research is to dig deeper into the life cycles of coal production as this study only looked at air pollution related deaths. Doing so will continue to illuminate the multiple positive impacts of solar power and its potential to do more than keep the lights on.
HOUGHTON — Vulnerabilities in the power grid are one of the most prevalent national security threats. The technical community has called for building up the resiliency of the grid using distributed energy and microgrids for stabilization. Power production from multiple sources increases the difficulty of triggering cascading blackouts, and following an attack or natural disaster, microgrids can provide localized energy security.
In a new paper published in the academic journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews (DOI: 10.1016/j.rser.2017.04.094), an interdisciplinary team of engineering and energy policy experts from Michigan Technological University says the first step is to outfit military infrastructure with solar photovoltaic-powered microgrid systems. Their results found that the military needs 17 gigawatts of PV to fortify domestic bases — and that the systems are technically feasible, within current contractors’ skill sets, and economically favorable.
Additionally, the paper’s lead author, Emily Prehoda, who is finishing her PhD in energy policy at Michigan Tech, says boosting bases’ energy independence supports local communities.
HOUGHTON — Researchers from Michigan Technological University have released the annual Winter Study detailing updates on the ecology of Isle Royale National Park.
For the second year in a row, the Isle Royale wolf population remains a mere two. Researchers from Michigan Tech say that as the wolf population stays stagnant, the moose population will continue to grow at a rapid pace. And this could have a significant impact on the island’s famed forests.
HOUGHTON — A person doesn’t have to get sick to catch a virus. Researchers hope to catch viruses for detection and vaccinations by understanding their sticky outer layers.
The complex structures making the surface of a virus are small weaves of proteins that make a big impact on how a virus interacts with cells and its environment. A slight change in protein sequence makes this surface slightly water-repelling, or hydrophobic, causing it to stick to other hydrophobic surfaces.
A new paper, published recently in the scientific journal Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces (DOI: 10.1016/j.colsurfb.2017.02.011), details surface hydrophobicity in porcine parovirus (PPV).
HOUGHTON — Michigan Technological University participated in a national pilot project that helped the federal government revise its regulations to make a major reduction in the number of federal certification forms and the administrative follow-up paperwork on federal research grants.
Michigan Tech’s Board of Trustees were told about the pilot project and the regulations changes at their regular meeting Friday, March 3. Continue reading Pilot Project at Michigan Tech Leads to Federal Regulations Changes
HOUGHTON — Michigan Technological University Professor Greg Odegard will lead a new, multidisciplinary and multi-institution Space Technology Research Institute.
The institute is funded by a $15 million 5-year grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Odegard, pictured at right above, is the Richard and Elizabeth Henes Professor of Computational Mechanics at Michigan Tech and associate chair and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics. He is also an adjunct professor of materials science and engineering at Tech.
Odegard’s team will include 22 faculty members from 10 universities, two companies and the U.S. Air Force Research Lab. Their STRI is called the Institute for Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design or US-COMP.
HOUGHTON — Michigan Technological University is one of 85 partners in a US Department of Energy-funded $70 million energy-saving project called the REMADE (Reducing Embodied-energy and Decreasing Emissions) Institute.