CLAS team lands $4M NSF grant to support renewable energy in Iowa

Brad Cramer and Jessica Meyer of Earth and Environmental Sciences are co-PIs with the state geologist; research will support Iowa businesses
Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Bradley Cramer, University of Iowa
Bradley Cramer

Researchers led by the University of Iowa have been awarded $4 million in funding to support renewable energy industries in Iowa and Kansas.

The four-year project, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation through its Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), seeks to bolster the United States’ competitiveness in renewable energy.

Specifically, the researchers aim to identify potential new sources of rare Earth elements, the backbone of a host of renewable energy technologies, including as batteries and the magnets inside wind turbines. The funding also will support researchers’ effort to more precisely evaluate regional groundwater resources, a critical component in ethanol production. Iowa and Kansas are national leaders in renewable energy; both states rank in the top five in total wind power generation. Iowa leads the nation in ethanol production, and Kansas ranks in the top ten.

Jessica Meyer, University of Iowa
Jessica Meyer

The project will support private sector growth by providing the technical capacity and information required for sustainable growth and development of the renewable energy sector in both jurisdictions. Specifically, this grant includes support for new chemical analysis equipment (Magnetic Sector LA-ICP-MS) at the UI that will be housed in the Materials Analysis, Testing, and Fabrication (MATFab) Facility. In addition, new field equipment to explore groundwater flow and bedrock aquifers (geophysical tools, groundwater monitoring systems) will be utilized by the Iowa Geological Survey and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

“What’s exciting about this project is that the new analytical capacity will be used to generate data that are directly integrated into state agency systems in the Iowa Geological Survey,” says Brad Cramer, a principal investigator and associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. “Those systems are then utilized by other state agencies and the private sector to determine the best approaches to sustainable development within their industries.”

NSF director Sethuraman Panchanathan praised the proposal: “These projects advance curiosity-driven research and focus on important issues such as STEM education and career opportunities in their communities by establishing regional partnerships with higher education and industry.”

Jessica Meyer, assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Keith Schilling, state geologist and director of the Iowa Geological Survey at Iowa, also are principal investigators. The Iowa team will partner with the Kansas Geological Survey and the University of Kansas.

—adapted from Iowa Now


The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Iowa is a comprehensive college offering 73 majors in the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. More than 17,000 undergraduate and 1,900 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by professors at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all UI undergraduates through the General Education Program, and confers about 70 percent of the UI's bachelor's degrees each academic year.