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For inquiries related to SD Mines Research, contact:

Research Affairs

S.D. School of Mines & Technology
501 E. St. Joseph Street
Suite 102, O'Harra Building
Rapid City, SD  57701

(605) 394-2493

Research@Mines - by Subject
Renewable Energy

SD Mines Researchers Hope to Sanford Lab Extremophiles to Create Low-Cost Renewable and Biodegradable Polymers

Courtney Carlson, a senior majoring in Chemical Engineering at SD Mines (right) and researcher Navanietha Krishnaraj Rathinam, Ph.D., (left) work in the Chemical and Biological Engineering and Chemistry (CBEC) building at SD Mines. Carlson and Krishnaraj Rathinam are using benchtop reactors in the lab to perform CNAM-Bio research that seeks to optimize and scale-up the manufacturing of biopolymers from lignocellulosic biomass using extremophiles. The center is a scanning electron microscope image of the bacteria the research team are studying.

A team of researchers with the Composite and Nanocomposite Advanced Manufacturing – Biomaterials Center (CNAM), led by David Salem, Ph.D., at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology are using microbes that were discovered deep underground in the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in an attempt to make low-cost plastics that are renewable and biodegradable.

“Most commercial polymers, or plastics are petroleum based which is a non-renewable resource,” says Salem. The team is working to find ways to mass manufacture low-cost plant based plastics and composites. “A problem with bio-based polymers is they are expensive, and one goal of this center is to use genetically engineered microbes to help reduce the cost of manufacturing these kinds of plastics,” says Salem. “Another goal is to engineer the properties of the biopolymers and biocomposites to serve a wide range of commercial applications.”

There is a huge potential for new green-based manufacturing jobs in the area if the center succeeds in developing mass manufacturing techniques for turning plants into low-cost bio-based polymers.

“The top ten petroleum based polymers make up about a $500-billion global market,” says Salem. “These biopolymers potentially can cover the whole range of properties of those.”

A group, led by Rajesh Sani, Ph.D., from SD Mines’ Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering, have isolated th...

Last Edited 6/20/2017 10:39:43 AM [Comments (0)]

New Grant Funds Researched-Based Economic Development

Dr. Juergen Reichenbacher outside his clean room laboratory on campus.

A new state grant and matching commitments totaling $342,424 are bolstering research-based economic development at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.

The funds, including a $200,000 grant from the Board of Regents, are being used to buy scientific instruments for existing projects. Among them are two research endeavors at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in nearby Lead. A third project expands on the university’s current success to commercialize a biomass liquefaction process.

Over the past decade, SD Mines has been supporting efforts at SURF to build a strong expertise and infrastructure toward synthesis of high-value organic products from biomass. 

Details on the three projects impacted by this new funding:

  • Development of a novel system reducing the radon concentration underground at the Sanford Lab, enabling future experiments in this facility. This project is being led by Dr. Richard Schnee, associate professor in the Department of Physics.
  • Development of two low-background detectors that will provide new capabilities important not only for planned underground physics experiments but also for industrial applications, especially in semiconductor and nuclear security sectors. This project is being led by Dr. Juergen Reichenbacher, assistant professor in the Department of Physics.
  • Selective liquefaction of lignin and biomass wa...
Last Edited 2/3/2017 09:23:18 AM [Comments (0)]

Ahrenkiel Research Focuses on Nanoengineered Next-Generation Solar Cells

Dr. Phil Ahrenkiel in one of his campus laboratories.

Dr. Phil Ahrenkiel of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology’s Nanoscience and Nanoengineering Program is researching next-generation solar cells thanks to a $179,000 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant. 

Ahrenkiel is developing a novel approach for using earth-abundant and widely available metal aluminum to improve commercializable photovoltaic solar cells. The new cells could help lower the cost of renewable energy. 

These emerging nanoengineering approaches could produce enhanced efficiencies and reduced manufacturing costs and lead to increased production of next-generation solar cells in the United States.  

Ahrenkiel’s goal is to convert sunlight into electricity by depositing thin layers of solar cells onto inexpensive aluminum substrates. 

If the research is successful, it will lead to the fabrication of solar cells on thin, flexible, and lightweight aluminum ribbons or sheets, which could be transferred to glass and integrated with residential or commercial buildings. This technology would be adaptable to a roll-to-roll semiconductor deposition process for mass production of inexpensive solar cells. 

The research will be performed using existing device-processing, electron-microscopy, and optoelectronic-characterization capabilities available at South Dakota Mines, which is partnering with Rochester Institute of Technology and Lakewood Semiconductors on this project ...

Last Edited 11/3/2016 02:59:11 PM [Comments (0)]

Sani’s Study of Extremophiles Welcomes International Collaborators, Gains Recognition

Dr. Rajesh Sani and his students have been collecting samples from the deep biosphere of the Sanford Underground Research Facility nearly a mile below ground.

Dr. Rajesh Sani’s research on how microorganisms can survive in extreme environments could lead to the conversion of solid wastes into bioenergy and the development of efficient, cost-effective green technologies.

In recent months his ongoing efforts have welcomed international collaborators from India and have been highlighted in SCI’s international Chemistry & Industry (C&I) Magazine.

The School of Mines and Sani, of the Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering, are currently hosting researchers from India for a year-long collaborative study on extremophiles such as those found a mile below the earth’s surface at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF). The Sanford Lab in nearby Lead is located in the former Homestake Gold Mine and has 370 miles of tunnels. Of those tunnels, just 12 miles are maintained to house world-class laboratories where international dark matter and neutrino experiments are being conducted.

Over the past decade Sani’s group has been looking for thermophiles that can naturally degrade and ferment cellulose and xylan, a polysaccharide found in plant cell walls.

The extremophiles isolated from SURF by Sani’s group will also be used as test subjects in a new NASA study.

Last Edited 11/3/2016 02:50:26 PM [Comments (0)]

Turning Tomatoes Into Electricity

Dr. Venkata Gadhamshetty discusses research to turn tomato waste into energy resource.

When a South Dakota Mines research team announced in March that it had successfully generated power with tomato waste, the world and international media elite immediately took notice. After all, it’s not every day that you hear about fruit being converted into electricity.

The research group led by Dr. Venkata Gadhamshetty, Mines graduate students and a researcher each from Princeton University and Florida Gulf Coast University announced findings at the 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in San Diego

Within hours, Dr. Gadhamshetty was interviewing with the BBC, and the news was written about by CNN, Newsweek, MSN, Yahoo news and the Times of India (to name a few), highlighting just one example of the important, world-changing research being conducted at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City.

The pilot project involves a biological-based fuel cell that uses tomato waste from harvests, grocery store shelves and production plants such as ketchup factories. The inherent characteristics of the decomposing leftovers make it a perfect fuel source for enhancing electrochemical reactions, Dr. Gadhamshetty says.

Researchers designed and built a new electrochemical device to test and extract electrons from the defective tomatoes. The power output from their mini reactor is small: 10 milligrams of tomato waste resulted in 0.3 watts of electr...

Last Edited 11/3/2016 02:40:14 PM [Comments (0)]