FY2023 Annual Highlights

  • Received a $4.5M award from the U.S. Department of Energy ($2.9M federal, $1.6M match) based on a provisional patent for a fossil carbon densification technology with industrial partner Nucor Steel to decarbonize steel production using NRRI intellectual property for biocarbon densification technology.
  • Kicked off a $900,000 subaward from Worcester Polytechnic Institute funded by the U.S. Department of Defense to replace fossil carbon used for recovering lead from used lead batteries with collaborator Gopher Resource headquartered in Eagan, Minnesota.
  • Sub-award funding of $233,000 from national, regional, state and tribal agencies started a demonstration of novel use for thermally modified wood in composite strand-veneer lumber for mass timber panels. This effort aims to catalyze new markets for low-value balsam fir.

Scientist monitoring samples in an automated pipetting machine

FY23 Investment Highlights

Equipment Investment

  • Gold Standard Diagnostics CAAS Cube: Robotic tool to automate repetitive water analyses for quality control, critical for harmful algal bloom research.
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) instrumentation: Detects and analyzes environmental DNA left by animals to efficiently provide a more complete picture of wildlife habitat use, replacing cameras or other sensing technologies. 
  • Triple-quad Mass Spectrometer: Extremely sensitive instrumentation to identify and quantify trace levels of specific molecules, such as PFAS, pesticides and other water pollutants. 
  • Automazione Furnace Test Units: State-of-the-art equipment to support performance of the full suite of ISO testing for direct reduced iron pellets and related products.
  • Rotational viscometer: Allows scientists to determine the dynamic viscosity of liquid samples from room temperature to 180 °C.

Facilities Investment

  • Redesigned and remodeled NRRI Duluth lobby and first floor to reflect NRRI’s strategic plan and research programs to engage partners and visitors.
  • Updated selected research lab spaces to accommodate new instrumentation.
  • Remodeled and modernized conference rooms to accommodate hybrid meetings and host partners.
  • Rearranged first floor of NRRI Duluth to accommodate LP Innovation Center installation.
  • Installed new process assist equipment (material handling, grinding) in NRRI Coleraine for improved capabilities, ergonomics, workflow and efficiency.

Mineralogy and Minerals Processing Expertise

  • Onboarded international expertise in mineral processing, metallurgy and mineral characterization for new iron opportunities, new metallic products and secondary mineral products to enhance Minnesota’s value portfolio and safer operations. 
  • Received Office of the Vice President for Research one-time support for replacement of critical, but outdated analytical instrumentation for the mineral lab at NRRI Coleraine.

Forestry and Bioeconomy Expertise

  • Received UMN “MNtersections” recurring and one-time support to hire a lead research scientist, a plant breeder, and a technician to drive the hybrid tree program in addition to a new research chemist to lead research in bio-derived materials and biodegradation. 
  • Received Office of the Vice President for Research one-time support to develop a biodegradation laboratory.

Photo montage of a group of professionals standing in front of a LP Building Solutions banner, and two foresters having a discussion in the woods

FY23 Engagement Highlights

Industry Engagement

  • Biomass Production: NRRI’s Hybrid Poplar team engaged regional nurseries to grow InnovaTree™ in preparation for the first commercial sale of InnovaTree™ (patent pending). 
  • Next Gen Iron: Collaborating on two significant Minnesota direct reduced iron (DRI) projects with U.S. Steel ($150M investment at Keewatin Taconite) and MagIron LLC ($130M investment at former Magnetation "Plant 4”.)
  • Ag Assistance: Completed biocarbon material development and pilot-scale manufacturing with an industry partner that makes new agricultural plant growth stimulants. 
  • Battery Technologies: Continued partnership with Form Energy to help develop its breakthrough iron-air battery technology. 
  • Regional Wood Products: Assisted Duluth-based ArborWood Co. with process development and testing to help establish a new thermally-modified wood processing plant in Bagley, MN. 
  • Biochar In Action: Demonstrated new uses for balsam fir forest thinnings as biochar for landfill revegetation in collaboration with the Superior National Forest and Minnesota Power. 
  • Forest Products: Grand opening in August celebrated an extended partnership with Louisiana Pacific to open their LP Innovation Center at NRRI Duluth to facilitate collaboration with home builders from across the country.

International Engagement

  • Hybrid Poplar Products: InnovaTree™ being trialed by European and Canadian industries for consideration into their lumber supply chain.
  • Bird Research: NRRI’s Avian Ecology Team initiated and hosted the International Connecticut Warbler Conservation Summit to guide research and management actions with the Northern Forest Bird Network for this declining species.
  • Finnish Connections: Research opportunities with Finland expands:
    • NRRI Economic Geologist visited Finland mining sites and consulted with GTK (the Geological Survey of Finland) personnel to identify collaboration opportunities related to similarities in critical minerals resources. 
    • Initiated a research opportunity between the Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE), NRRI and Twin Cities Engineering faculty on reducing animal-vehicle collisions.
    • NRRI leaders were invited by Business Finland to participate in a week-long tour of Finnish forestry and bioproducts industries. 

Federal Engagement

  • Environmental Protection: Three simultaneous EPA-funded Great Lakes programs resulted in NRRI researchers’ busiest water monitoring season ever, gathering data from the nearshore to wetlands to open water and lake sediment. 
  • Better DRI: Successfully transitioned from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of the $3.7M award (FY22) from the U.S. Department of Energy ($2.1M federal, $1.6M match) funded project aimed to produce an “enhanced” direct reduced iron product (DRI) to feed electric arc furnaces.
  • Research Collaborations: Numerous and ongoing discussions about new research collaborations with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the National Energy Technology Laboratory to explore research partnerships and Integrated Industrial Decarbonization (I2D) in Minnesota. 
  • Expanding Engagements: Developing relationships with the following national labs: Oak Ridge, Argonne, Pacific Northwest, Idaho, Sandia and Ames.
  • Reducing Carbon Impacts: Collaborated with Pacific Northwest National Lab, U.S. Geological Survey, Cornell University, and industry partners to receive Dept. of Energy funding in the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) Mining Innovations for Negative Emissions Resources program for "Supercritical CO2-based Mining for Carbon-Negative Critical Mineral Recovery" ($2.71M total/$225K NRRI). 
  • Geological History: Collaborated with the Minnesota Geological Survey to preserve historical geological data/materials in the state with funding from the USGS National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program Grant.
  • Resilient Landscapes: Completed the first climate resilience study of a Department of Defense Sentinel Landscape at the Camp Ripley Sentinel Landscape, positioning NRRI for additional work with this or other Sentinel Landscapes across the country.

State Government & Agency Engagement

  • Sulfate Remediation: Received state legislative funding through the Governor’s budget via the MN Pollution Control Agency to demonstrate sulfate and PFAS remediation technologies.
  • Climate Ready Forests: Expanded introduction of NRRI’s ForCAST (Forest Climate Adaptation Simulation Tool) via webinar and online training to forestry professionals. 
  • Bird Habitat: Worked with Minnesota Land Trust to create and restore high-quality habitat for breeding and migrating birds at three areas of the St. Louis River Estuary.
  • Moose Research: Continued leadership role in regional moose research efforts to support management of this iconic species of northern Minnesota. 
  • Carnivore Protection: Engaged in meetings with MN Dept. of Natural Resources and other regional and tribal colleagues at regional meetings on carnivore wildlife projects to identify future research collaborations.
  • Mineral Resources: Improved the accuracy and utility of the state’s premier litho-geochemical database, developed by NRRI, to characterize resources, risks, and geological processes associated with the State's mineral resources.
  • Better Beach Advisories: Overhauled the Minnesota Department of Health's Beach Monitoring Program data reporting web tool, improving public access to beach advisories.
  • MN Metallurgy: Successfully completed two Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) 2019 appropriation projects:
    • Western Mesabi Iron Resources of the Future
    • Developing Emerging Hydrometallurgy Technologies
  • MN Minerals: Developed new GIS models to evaluate the presence of a variety of critical mineral-related systems in Minnesota as part of U.S. Geological Survey-funded research to understand critical mineral potential in the U.S.
  • Advancing Solar: Received LCCMR Green Solar Cells Award of $650,000 in partnership with the UM Twin Cities campus using NRRI iron oxide powders from MN titanium resources as basis for iron disulfide semiconductors.
  • Mapping Minerals: Received a portion ($300,000) of a USGS Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (MRI) Cuyuna District Critical Minerals Grant awarded to Minnesota Geological Survey, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and NRRI.

Photo montage of a map with overlay showing flying squirrel densities, and a woman in a lab coat standing in front of an array of pipes and switches.

FY23 Organizational Development Highlights

  • Created the Organizational Development position within the Office of the Executive Director to lead cross-Institute efforts in employee engagement, diversity/equity/inclusion, personal development opportunities and team support. 
  • Organized the Institute around “the triad” of Research, Operations (technical, safety/quality/training, and financial/administrative), and Partnership Development to support strategic decisions.
  • Refreshed the NRRI Strategic Plan to carry the Institute through 2025.

Photo montage of the LP Innovation center doorway and sign, and a woman assisting several kids with an art project

FY23 Staff Achievement Highlights