FY2022 Research Impacts and Accomplishments

FY22 Applied Research Review

Strategic Initiatives - Where Delivery Meets Impact

To meet its mission of delivering integrated research solutions, NRRI is focused on three strategic initiatives that address the challenges of a resource-based economy and its interconnections with the national and global economies. These initiatives are bold, comprehensive, and long-term efforts incorporating diverse expertise across NRRI, the University of Minnesota system and our research partners.

NRRI frames research challenges by listening to partners and stakeholders from across the state and region, by understanding the known science, and by identifying gaps in needed knowledge or capability. We then build strong research teams around those challenges that integrate the needed expertise from across the Institute and our many collaborators and partners. This is how NRRI delivers integrated, applied research with regional, national and international impacts.

Sustainable Development Goals logo

United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

One way to communicate the impacts resulting from NRRI’s delivery of integrated research solutions is to link them to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). These goals outline key aspects of the global commitment to a sustainable future and have become the currency of communication between industries, governments, and the public. Included within these goals is a commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion where all have equal access, are treated with dignity and are empowered to bring their best selves forward. NRRI has adopted the SDG framework and is committed to promoting diversity, equality, and inclusion principles. 

Delivery and Impacts

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Delivery and Impacts

Ecosystem Resilience Initiative

Ecosystem Resilience Initiative

Initiative Focus: To understand and document Minnesota’s complex ecosystems, develop tools to monitor, remediate and manage these systems, and provide scenarios to maintain or improve their composition, diversity, and resilience.

Challenges: Minnesota has a wealth of natural resources associated with the many unique, interconnected ecosystems across the state.  These ecosystems provide recreational opportunities, critical wildlife habitat, food, and fresh water as well as the raw materials to support advanced industry and economic development. A thorough understanding of how healthy ecosystems function, the effects of human-caused impacts and approaches to restore or remediate impaired ecosystems is critical to maintaining a healthy environment and the related services that Minnesota values.

Initiative Sustainable Development Goal Impacts: 

FY22 Initiative Deliverables and Impacts 

Water Research: 

  • Successfully demonstrated effective and inexpensive sulfate remediation technologies in treatment of municipal wastewater and industrial water effluent to offer alternative treatment options.
  • Surveyed the entire Lake Superior basin for legacy and emerging contaminants for first year of the $3M EPA-funded Great Lakes Sediment Surveillance project, contributing to informed decisions about remediation and restoration in the Great Lakes. 
  • Assessed and validated 3 technologies to prevent introduction of invasive species via ballast water in ports around the world.
  • Contributed coastal wetlands and phytoplankton monitoring data to the State of the Great Lakes report published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment and Climate Change Canada, supporting decision making and binational planning in support of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. 
  • Assessed the condition of over 40 Great Lakes coastal wetlands for the U.S. EPA-funded Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Monitoring Program, contributing to a long-term data set for these critical ecosystems.
  • Collaborated with the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Center to launch a citizen science early warning program for the invasive spiny water flea.
  • Served on the Governor's Climate Action Plan Committee to inform future mitigation actions and policies.
  • Identified environmental factors causing toxic cyanobacteria blooms in Minnesota lakes, enhancing our ability to predict future blooms.
  • Monitored how lake water quality responds to varied wildfire impacts across watersheds, contributing to climate change adaptation strategies for northern lakes and forests.
  • Conducted environmental impact study of alternative road deicers and abrasives to reduce freshwater salinization in Minnesota waters.

Forest and Wildlife Research:

  • Completed a pilot project assessing the role of wildlife in fungal dispersal and impacts on forest health. 
  • Completed 28th year of monitoring for Minnesota’s National Forest Breeding Bird Program, providing long-term data and information to enhance biodiversity and forest management. 
  • Completed a four year assessment of breeding and post-breeding habitat needs of three bird species, results to be used to improve forest management and conservation efforts. 
  • Completed evaluation of forested peatland network assessing vegetation, hydrology, and wildlife responses to peatland management decisions. 
  • Monitored and evaluated breeding and migratory birds on restored wetlands and island habitats in partnership with Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Land Trust to assess effectiveness of restoration actions.

Iron and Minerals of the Future Initiative

Iron and Minerals of the Future Initiative

Initiative Focus: Assist Minnesota’s evolving mineral industries to develop a robust and competitive portfolio of value-add iron and other mineral products. This requires enhanced characterization and the development of new practices and technologies that increase efficiencies, reduce energy and water consumption, and reduce environmental impact.

Challenges: After some 140 years of mining, the iron ore on the Mesabi Range is getting deeper and more expensive to mine. At the same time, energy costs are going up and markets are changing, coupled with concerns regarding environmental impacts. NRRI is helping Minnesota’s Iron Range prepare for changing mining practices and processes to meet the demands of changing ore bodies, reduce carbon intensity, develop a broader, iron-based product portfolio, and address environmental concerns.

In addition to the current iron industry, Minnesota has a wide range of other minerals and metals as in-ground, waste, and recyclable materials.  NRRI continues to work with partners to understand how to utilize these potential resources in a responsible manner.

Initiative Sustainable Development Goal Impacts: 

FY22 Initiative Deliverables and Impacts 

  • Developed new Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) materials and processes for Electric Arc Furnace steel production to increase relevance of Minnesota’s industry to the changing steel industry.
  • Characterized and identified process technologies for underutilized iron resources to support Minnesota’s iron ore mining activities into the future.
  • Supported current iron producers and mineral prospectors throughout the state.
  • Provided technical assistance for uses of iron ore in long-term battery storage, an emerging energy storage technology.
  • Continued process development to demonstrate production of high-purity iron oxide, titanium dioxide and vanadium products from Minnesota critical mineral resources.
  • Assisted in development and implementation of a federally funded regional survey of critical mineral potential in northwestern Minnesota in support of a national effort to assess the availability of critical minerals.
  • Investigated use of taconite byproducts for pavement surfacing products and water treatment applications.

Future Forest Industries Initiative

Future Forest Industries Initiative

Initiative Focus: Develop engineered materials from renewable resources that address market needs through applied science and engineering, guided by Sustainable Development Goals and Life Cycle Assessment.

Challenges: Minnesota’s forests and forest industries are facing significant challenges ranging from climate change and species migration to changes in global product markets and evolving consumer expectations. Development of new technologies to utilize renewable biomass and organic waste streams offers new carbon-based materials, economic opportunities and approaches to sequestering carbon. 

Initiative Sustainable Development Goal Impacts: 

FY22 Initiative Deliverables and Impacts 

  • Demonstrated a thermal modification process for producing durable decking and cladding materials from regional timber; supported growth of Arbor Wood in expanding production of thermally modified timber products.
  • Developed water-resistant mass timber products using small diameter timber, an underutilized resource in Minnesota’s forests.
  • Developed engineered carbon materials from biomass for metallurgical and water treatment applications, contributing to the goal of decarbonizing steel production processes.
  • Developed advanced biodegradable polymers for controlled release fertilizers coatings, thereby replacing petroleum-based coatings.
  • Investigated expanded applications for biochar to reduce methane emissions (potent greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change) from landfills and the agricultural industry. 
  • Developed a new analytical method for biochar and other porous materials to characterize pore size distribution, which determines the potential end use and effectiveness of biochar products.
  • Developed practices for diversion and reuse of construction and demolition waste, resulting in reduced waste and a reduced carbon footprint.
  • Demonstrated clean hydrogen production from biomass residuals, advancing efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of manufacturing industries.

Cross-Initiative Impacts

Data Collection and Delivery

Focus: Make complex data accessible and understandable to inform decision-makers 

Major Initiative: Forest Climate Adaptation Simulation Tool (ForCAST)

FY22 Initiative Programs and Impacts 

  • Launched the ForCAST website and interactive mapping application which allows users to evaluate Northeastern Minnesota forest management scenarios on the basis of climate change, water quality, wildlife habitat, forest composition, and the economic value of ecosystem services, including wood products.
  • Completed the statewide geographical expansion and enhancement of the Minnesota Natural Resource Atlas and conducted training for multiple agencies and user groups. 
  • Conducted an extensive review of all NRRI websites and addressed issues related to technology, content and accessibility as part of NRRIs efforts to be compliant with University and Federal standards. 
  • Improved and expanded NRRI’s comprehensive geological database to increase accessibility of these data to both internal and external collaborators.  

Commercialization Services

Focus: Provide business expertise to support Institute technology core competencies to promote market-driven innovation. 

Challenge: Develop innovative ways to maximize NRRI's impact and return on research investments.

FY22 Programs and Impacts 

  • Assumed a commercial leadership role for Advanced Road Patch, sulfate remediation, and Hybrid Poplar programs to increase potential for commercial success.
  • Hired a technology scout to assist in intellectual property identification, valuation, and market research of NRRI emerging technologies.
  • Provided leadership support for Innovate 218, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) northern entrepreneurship hub via Launch Minnesota.
  • Defined and implemented customer engagement/business development best practices to improve NRRI's customers' experience, reduce inefficiencies, and increase odds of success.

State-Funded Research Update

State Funded Research in FY22

NRRI has delivered these impactful demonstration projects funded by the Minnesota state legislature through the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).

Project Dates 07/01/2019 – 06/30/2022

2019 Legislative Appropriations - LCCMR Funds - Completed FY22

Completed Projects that ended on 06/30/2022

  1. Develop and demonstrate an online decision support tool for management of MN’s forest landscapes (MnForcast.org): $500,000
  2. Expand MN’s Natural Resource Atlas (MnAtlas.org) statewide with data layers now totaling over 500 – making spatial data accessible to all: $800,000
  3. Demonstrate biochar application for forest health projects with support from the Minnesota Forest Resources Council: $400,000
  4. Advance technologies to produce clean syngas from Minnesota’s beetle-killed forest residuals and other biomass: $500,000
  5. Pilot mobile water treatment demonstration systems for sulfate reduction; successful demonstration at two wastewater treatment plants: $300,000
  6. Characterize Western Mesabi Range to better understand the remaining ore resources and product opportunities: $275,000
  7. Develop emerging hydrometallurgy technologies that deliver greater efficiency while reducing environmental impacts: $158,000
  8. Survey non-battery, high capacity/low cost energy storage options for Minnesota with site evaluations: $150,000

2019 LCCMR Projects - Completed FY22

Completed Projects that ended on 06/30/2022

  1. Managing Minnesota’s Forest Birds of Conservation Concern to improve forest management with a 4-year study of habitat needs of three bird species: $500,000
  2. Maximizing Wildlife, Water, and Productivity in Peatland Forests by assessing vegetation, hydrology, and wildlife responses to management in forested peatlands: $600,000 (UMN Lead)
  3. Deploying artificial Den Boxes for Fishers – monitored 100 den boxes in northern MN for use by fishers, martens and tree squirrels to evaluate the role in fisher habitat management: $190,000

LCCMR PROJECTS - Ongoing in FY22

Projects that will end on June 30, 2023

  • Lignin-Coated Fertilizers for Phosphate Control $250,000

Projects that will end on June 30, 2024.

2020 and 2021 LCCMR Legislative Appropriation Projects

  • Forest Health: Statewide Application of Forest Management Assessment Tool: $500,000
  • Forest Health: Development and Demonstration of Biochar Opportunities: $340,000     
  • Minerals and Water: Demonstration of Three Sulfate Reduction Technology Applications: $300,000
  • Minerals and Water: Next-Generation Technologies and New Iron Products: $450,000