What do giant grasses, micro grids, deep wells, and hydrogen-powered buses all have in common? They are all part of a clean energy future that is being imagined, created, and tested here at UIUC. The breadth of our energy research portfolio, across all of the campus and the broader C-U community, is truly impressive. Here are just a few examples:
Solar Farm 2.0 will soon be home to a newly awarded, $10M project led by Madhu Khanna to optimize the design of "Agrivoltaics," or fields with both crops and solar panels to maintain crop production, produce renewable energy, and increase farm profitability. A few miles to the east, the Energy Farm boasts extensive test plots to study how to grow and use plants as biofuel. The farm is using a biomass boiler to replace propane as the fuel source for its main research greenhouse. The Energy Farm is also home to one of dozens of geothermal wells on campus that are helping scientists like Yu-Feng Lin develop better geothermal systems, while on the north side of campus, the new Campus Instructional Facility is heated and cooled with a state-of-the art geothermal system. Nuclear power is expected to play an important role in meeting our campus ICAP goals, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission hosted a hearing last week to seek input on our plans to site a next-generation, micronuclear reactor near the Abbott Power Plant. Integrating renewable energy sources into the power grid presents unique challenges, and Illinois power system researchers, including Alejandro Domínguez-García, are working to develop microgrid technology to address issues of reliability and resilience. Meanwhile, researchers such as Petros Sofronis are working on a bold new vision for national leadership in the emerging hydrogen economy. (It might sound like the stuff of science fiction, but the CUMTD just launched two hydrogen-powered, zero-emission buses—the first in the state!)
There is only one way I can wrap up a message about our campus energy research: The future looks bright, indeed!