University of Minnesota Extension

Extension > Environment > Renewable energy and conservation

Renewable energy and conservation

Alternative and sustainable energy sources are critically needed for the United States. Currently, fossil fuels provide more than 85% of all the energy consumed in the United States, about two-thirds of our electricity, and nearly all of our transportation fuels. Plant biomass is being promoted to produce electricity, liquid fuels (ethanol and butanol), and heat, but bioenergy currently accounts for only three percent of the primary energy production in the United States.

The corn-based ethanol industry has experienced unprecedented growth demonstrating the potential of biofuel markets. Unfortunately, the extensive use of corn as a feedstock creates a myriad of economic, social, and environmental issues that are challenging the long-term sustainability of its use.

Alternative sources of feedstock for energy production, such as cellulosic biomass, are being proposed to meet energy demands while addressing key environmental and social issues. Successful cellulosic Bioenergy industries will be dependent on the development of efficient conversion technologies, a robust supply of feedstock in known quantity and quality, and equitable financial incentives for farmers.

Cellulosic feedstocks that have been identified include agriculture crop residues from small grain and corn; dedicated energy crops such as switchgrass, willow, hybrid, poplar, and native prairies; and forest residue. Perennial biomass crops are especially exciting as feedstock for production of biofuels and valuable co-products while increasing biological diversity on the landscape, conserving soil and water resources, maintaining ecosystem productivity and health, and balancing the global carbon cycle.

University of Minnesota initiatives

The College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) and the Initiative on Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE) have established the University of Minnesota as a National Center for Biofuels Research, Renewable Energy, and Bio-based products. The overall goals are to: 1) conduct fundamental research on plants and microbes to develop genomics-based solution for renewable energy sources and 2) develop economically feasible and ecologically sustainable solutions for producing biofuels from cellulosic biomass and other biological sources, especially as it pertains to the development of new feedstock genotypes.

University of Minnesota Extension will be the outreach arm of the University in disseminating renewable energy technology, research, education, and energy feedstock information to the public in the years to come.

Extension resources

Other University of Minnesota resources

Other sources of renewable energy information

  • Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs)
    These community lead energy teams, disseminate information from the community strategic energy plans; conducting education and outreach around conservation, energy efficiency, renewable energy and how people can make a difference in their own communities; stimulating project development; serving as a community resource to connect projects with technical resources.
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory
    Learn about NREL's research and development of renewable fuels and electricity that advance national energy goals to change the way we power our homes, businesses, and cars.
  • National Agricultural Library Bioenergy and Biofuel sites
    United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), Natural Resources and Environment collection.
  • Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI)
    Created and supported by the Minnesota state legislature, AURI is a unique and innovative nonprofit corporation working to enhance Minnesota's economy through the development of new uses and new markets for the state's agricultural products.
  • Iowa Energy Center
    This Iowa legislature supported center provides accurate, usable information on wind, solar and biomass energy.
  • Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
    Explore your options for saving energy and using renewable energy at home, at work, in your community, and while driving through this federally funded web site from the Department of Energy.
  • Energy Efficiency, MN Department of Commerce
    This Minnesota state funded web site has many energy conservation tips and information for homeowners and consumers.

Recommended publications

  • National Sustainable Agriculture Project:
    Switchgrass as a Bioenergy Crop
    This federally funded, National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is working for energy solutions that meet low-income energy needs.
    Renewable Energy Opportunities on the Farm
    This fact sheet reviews many renewable energy opportunities for landowners in the United States.
  • Biomass Magazine
    This trade journal serves biomass industries that are positioned to replace nearly every product made from fossil fuels with those derived from plant or waste material.
  • National Agroforestry Center:
    Fuel for the future
    This federally funded, USDA National Agroforestry Center (NAC) accelerates the application of agroforestry practices through a national network of partners. Together, they conduct research, develop technologies and tools, coordinate demonstrations and training, and provide useful information to natural resource professionals and landowners.
  • Madelia Model
    The Madelia Model is intended to apply an eco-industrial development approach by providing a concept for how a community can capitalize on agricultural production in the region to create renewable energy and biobased processing that enhances rural wealth economically, socially and environmentally.
  • Save Energy with Trees
    This publication reviews the energy saving options with trees in your landscape. Estimates indicate that in Minnesota, strategically placed shade trees could reduce an air conditioning bill by up to 25% and a windbreak could reduce annual fuel bills by up to 10 to 20%.
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