FY2021 Research Impacts and Accomplishments

FY2021 Research Impacts and Accomplishments

We are highlighting the work from each of our platforms over the past year. NRRI’s research platforms address Minnesota’s soil, forest, water and mineral resources. 

Applied Ecology and Resource Management

Seeking to understand the world we live in and how to minimize our impacts 

Major initiative: Climate change and water management

FY21 Accomplishments & Impacts: 

  • Received $2.33M from the EPA to support research teams that monitor Great Lakes shorelines as part of the Coastal Wetlands Monitoring Program.
  • Received a $3M grant to collect sediments and analyze contaminants throughout the Great Lakes.
  • Received $536,000 to evaluate shipboard ballast water treatment systems and determine the impacts of non-native species introduced to the Great Lakes.
  • NRRI and industry partner patent a first step invention that can lead to sulfate remediation in water systems using altered peat material as a filtering medium.
  • Investigating the potential of biochar for stormwater treatment and removal of chemical pollutants. 
  • Pilot testing two low-cost sulfate remediation technologies to meet Minnesota’s sulfate standards in deployable mobile units. One approach uses a unique chemical precipitation and filtration process and the second employs a microbial bioreactor followed by a sulfide capture step using regional mineral materials.
  • Made major investment in trace analysis capabilities, including emerging contaminants such as pesticides, flame retardants, plasticizers, solvents and musks.

Minerals and Metallurgy 

Defining our mineral resources; demonstrating competitive and responsible use of mineral resources

Major initiative: Minerals & Iron Ore of the Future

FY21 Accomplishments & Impacts:

  • Received U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funding of $2.1M to research Minnesota’s iron products for expanded steel making markets.
  • Received U.S.DOE Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) funding for “Making Cement at Ambient Temperature Using 55% Municipal Solid Waste Ash.”  NRRI received $300,000 as a sub-awardee to project lead, Designs by Natural Processes, Inc., in collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories.
  • High Pressure Grinding Rolls technology was upgraded with industry partner Weir Minerals. This led to four new clients in FY21 that are interested in improving the energy efficiency of their operations. 
  • Upgraded Coleraine facilities, testing equipment and methods in response to growing requests from Minnesota’s mining industry to perform new strategic research projects.
  • Assisted startup company, Prairie River Minerals, to complete a pilot-scale test of their dense medium separation technology which led to the construction of their first industrial-scale demonstration plant near Coleraine, MN. 
  • NRRI and university collaborators received $322,250 from the Minnesota Department of Transportation/Local Road Research Board for “Taconite as a lower cost alternative to Calcined Bauxite for high friction surface treatment on low volume roads in Minnesota.” 
  • An award from the U.S. Geological Survey Earth Mapping Resource Initiative (Earth MRI) program was made to a team of researchers from the Minnesota Geological Survey, Department of Natural Resources and NRRI for completion of high resolution aeromagnetic and radiometric geophysical surveys.

Materials and Bioeconomy 

Developing new ideas to utilize our forest resources and organic waste streams 

Major initiative: Functional Carbon Materials

FY21 Accomplishments & Impacts:

  • More than six projects underway to understand the potential of biochar for environmental remediation and as a new market for forest resources.
  • Collaborating with Minnesota Forest Resources Council at the Cloquet Forestry Center to demonstrate opportunities to convert fire hazard trees to biochar to enhance forest regeneration success. 
  • Industrial scale demonstration projects are underway for multiple clients interested in biomass-based product development for soil fertilization and other unique agricultural, silvicultural and pharmaceutical applications.
  • Collaborative research with the U.S. Forest Service shows the bridge construction industry that building with wood can save time and money while sequestering carbon.
  • NRRI and Washington State University are working together to promote innovations in cross-laminated strand veneer lumber using a heat treatment process.
  • NRRI helped social enterprise, Better Futures Minnesota, with a deconstruction and materials resale project in Duluth. The program received a 2021 Environmental Initiative Award.
  • Demonstrated better methods to make clean syngas from forest biomass for renewable hydrogen, fuels and metal processing. 
  • Major investment in material characterization of advanced carbon products from forest biomass, including BET and porosimetry surface characterization.

Data Collection and Delivery 

Making complex data accessible and understandable to inform decision-makers 

Major initiative: Minnesota Atlas expanded to a statewide resource

FY21 Accomplishments & Impacts:

  • Minnesota Mammals website was upgraded to meet University usability standards and to be more user-friendly.
  • NRRI scientist published a book titled “Diatom Monographs, Monoraphid and Naviculoid diatoms from the Coastal Laurentian Great Lakes" that includes 28 newly discovered species of diatom algae.
  • Completed integrating multiple computer modeling to project 80 years of change in Minnesota's forests to better understand how climate and management decisions impact the ecosystem services they provide.

Commercialization Services 

Providing expertise coupled with technical core competencies to drive innovation.

Major initiative: MN LaunchPad for entrepreneurs

FY21 Accomplishments & Impacts:

  • Helped establish Launch Minnesota Northeast Minnesota entrepreneurial hub called Innovate 218.
  • Implemented Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool for business and industry engagement.
  • Created standardized customer documentation: proposal, budget and statement of qualifications for Business & Industry engagement.