Research Inquiries

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

Hyperloop - Mines Alumnus on the Cutting-Edge of Transportation

“Flying 700 miles per hour through a tube using magnets and sunlight isn’t a dream.”

The baritone narrator in a video describing the proposed Great Lakes Hyperloop makes the case that a twenty-eight minute commute over the 343 miles that separate Cleveland from Chicago is a near-term reality.

Chuck Michael-2For Chuck Michael (CE 77), hyperloop is the future of transportation. “This is a game-changing technology with a huge public benefit,” he says. “You could work in downtown Chicago and live in Cleveland and get to work faster than sitting on the freeway from the Chicago suburbs.”

The hyperloop concept involves a magnetically levitated capsule that is propelled through a vacuum tunnel at velocities approaching the speed of sound using renewable wind and solar energy. Michael is the head of US feasibility studies and regulatory advisor for the company Hyperloop Transportation Technologies based in Los Angeles. “We use a proprietary passive magnetic levitation system, developed at Lawrence Livermore National Lab,” Michael says. A small forward motion on the permanent magnetic array creates a field that aids both propulsion and levitation.

“We can levitate twenty tons at walking speed,” Michael says. A "re...

Last Edited 2/3/2020 09:18:48 PM [Comments (0)]

SD Mines Researchers Pioneer New Methods to Turn Biorefinery Waste into Valuable Products

Vinod Amar, Ph.D., one of the research scientists working on the project is shown here in his lab.

Shende Research Team 2A research team at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is beginning work on pilot scale testing of new methods that turn biorefinery waste into valuable products. The waste biomass or byproducts generated by ethanol plants and other biorefineries, such as corn stover, are normally thrown away—but finding cost-effective means of using this waste to make new products will generate extra revenue for the facilities, help lower fuel costs, reduce carbon emissions, and ultimately help farmers.

“This is one more way SD Mines is pioneering research that helps the environment while increasing efficiency and profit margins for our industry partners.  This is the kind of work that can have a positive impact on the economy of South Dakota,” says SD Mines Vice President of Research Ralph Davis, Ph.D.

Rajesh Shende, Ph.D., professor in the chemical and biological engineering department at SD Mines, is leading the research. This work began in Shende’s lab with a $2.16 million grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Offi...

Last Edited 11/26/2019 10:30:38 PM [Comments (0)]

2D Materials, Biofilm and Microbial Research at SD Mines Brings in $32 Million in National Science Foundation Grants

Govind Chilkoor, Ph.D., an SD Mines research scientist, examines a biofilm on a steel sample following its exposure to corrosive bacteria. Dr. Chilkoor is working to develop new ultrathin two-dimensional (2D) coatings that resist microbial corrosion. His research is one component of a newly announced $20 million NSF grant titled “Building on the 2020 Vision: Expanding Research, Education and Innovation in South Dakota.”

In the past three years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded  $32 million in funding for research led by faculty at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology that expands human understanding of the microbial world. Much of the research focuses on the environment microbes occupy when they attach to surfaces and create what is commonly known as a biofilm.

The broad range of studies on microbes and biofilms, funded by these grants, has a wide potential for applications across many sectors of industry and society including energy generation, new medicines, wastewater purification, agriculture, corrosion resistance, new materials and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

The research effort of the newly announced $20 million NSF grant titled “Building on the 2020 Vision: Expanding Research, Education and Innovation in South Dakota” will be led by researchers at SD Mines, SDSU and USD. The funding was awarded through the South Dakota Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (SD EPSCoR) and the South Dakota Board of Regents. The state of South Dakota is providing $4 million in matching funds for the grant. The Governor’s office of Economic Development and Board of Regents are providing $3 million and there is a ...

Last Edited 1/8/2020 09:08:07 PM [Comments (0)]

SD Mines Professor Receives Grant to Explore Creation of Solid-State Battery Research Center

Research scientist Abu Md Numan-Al-Mobin, Ph.D., is part of the team at SD Mines working to bring solid-state batteries to reality.

In 2016, half a million hoverboards were recalled after lithium ion batteries in some of the popular scooters burst into flames.

That same year, Samsung recalled its Galaxy Note 7 when the same type of batteries in some of those devices exploded and burned. The recall cost Samsung more than $10 billion.

With the U.S. lithium-ion battery market expected to reach $90 billion by 2025, Alevtina Smirnova, PhD, sees great value in fixing this battery problem.

“The reality is, conventional lithium-ion batteries are not safe or reliable,” says Smirnova, an associate professor of chemistry and applied biological sciences, and electrical and computer engineering at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.

Conventional lithium-ion batteries contain flammable liquid that can become combustible when heated. Heating usually occurs due to a short circuit inside the battery. The end result in these cases is often fire or explosion. To make matters worse, the electrolyte inside lithium-ion batteries is mixed with a compound that burns the skin. In 2017, a young woman on an overseas flight received burns on her face when the batteries inside her headphones exploded.

Smirnova plans to...

Last Edited 8/1/2019 04:38:39 PM [Comments (0)]

SD Mines Researchers Explore Hydraulic Fracturing to Expand Geothermal Energy

Liangping Li, Ph.D., (left) and Bill Roggenthen, Ph.D., (right) shown here in the EGS Collab at the 4850 level of the Sanford Underground Research Facility.

The use of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking as it’s commonly called in the press) has been a topic of contention in the oil and gas industry. However, researchers believe fracking can also be used at depth in hard rocks that contain no oil or gas to improve geothermal energy production. The process could enhance the use of the earth’s own heat as a source of clean energy.

Liangping Li, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, has received an award from National Science Foundation (NSF) for his research entitled “Inverse Methods of Hydraulic Fracturing for Enhanced Geothermal Systems in a Deep Mine.” Li is working alongside projects already underway at the Sanford Research Facility (SURF) including kISMET (permeability (k) and Induced Seismicity Management for Energy Technologies) and the Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) project. Hydraulic fracturing research at SURF uses no chemicals, so unlike some fossil fuel fracking operations, the fracking fluid used in these ...

Last Edited 11/5/2018 04:28:37 PM [Comments (0)]

When oil and water mix Understanding the environmental impacts of shale development

Dan Soeder, director of the Energy Resources Initiative at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, has co-authored the cover article in the September issue of GSA Today magazine. This photo published on the cover was taken by Soeder.

Dan Soeder, director of the Energy Resources Initiative (ERI) at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, has co-authored the cover article titled “When oil and water mix: Understanding the environmental impacts of shale development,” in the September 2018 issue of GSA Today, a magazine published by the Geological Society of America.

The article explores what is known and not known about the environmental risks of fracking with the intent of fostering informed discussions within the geoscience community on the topic of hydraulic fracturing. Soeder’s co-author is Douglas B. Kent of the United States Geological Survey.

In this paper, Soeder and Kent bridge the gap in consensus regarding fracking, providing current information about the environmental impacts of shale development. The article is open access and adheres to science and policy, presenting a complicated and controversial topic in a manner more easily understood by the lay person.

"Geoscientists from dinosaur experts to the people studying the surface of Mars are often asked by the public to weigh-in with their opinions on fracking. We wanted the broader geoscience community to be aware of what is kn...

Last Edited 10/12/2018 06:33:28 PM [Comments (0)]

Powerful Bugs: Harnessing the Electric Eels of the Microbial World

“We’re studying the electric eels of the microbial world,” says Navanietha Krishnaraj, Ph.D., a research scientist in the Chemical and Biological Engineering department at SD Mines. - Photo Credit NOAA

Researchers at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology are studying ways to harness electricity generated by a unique set of microbes. 

“We’re studying the electric eels of the microbial world,” says Navanietha Krishnaraj, Ph.D., a research scientist in the Chemical and Biological Engineering department at SD Mines.

Researchers, such as Venkata Gadhamshetty, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at SD Mines, and his team including Namita Shrestha, Ph.D., are working on maximizing the efficiency of what’s known as bioelectrochemical systems. By understanding the right combination of microbes and materials it’s possible to harness clean energy for widespread use in various applications.

Possible outcomes of this research include new ways to generate electricity and treat solid waste during NASA space missions, the ability for a wastewater treatment plants to help generate electricity while turning effluent into clean water, a new way to clean saline wastewater generated in oil drilling operations, and better ways to turn food waste, like tomatoes and corn stover into elec...

Last Edited 8/30/2018 07:53:43 PM [Comments (0)]

As Good As Gold

Rajesh Sani, associate professor of chemical and applied biological sciences at SD Mines, is pictured third from left.

In 2009 the former Homestake Mine was a dark, wet, and difficult place to conduct research. The deepest mine in North America began filling with water following its closure in 2002. As momentum built to turn the mine into an underground lab, pumps were installed to dewater the flooded shafts and tunnels. As the water receded, Rajesh Sani, PhD, was among the first researchers to enter the deeper sections of the mine.

“We went 5,000 feet deep, for sampling which took a great deal of effort,” says Sani, an associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at SD Mines.

Sani and his team were not deep underground hunting for precious minerals, they were looking for bugs. “The microbes we found were as good as gold,” he says with a smile.

Extremophiles are microorganisms that live in harsh environments. They have learned to thrive in places like the geothermal vents of the mid-Atlantic rift, the frigid waters of Antarctic lakes, or the veins of hot water found in tiny cracks deep underground. Extremophiles have evolved unique characteristics that make them very useful to scientists like Sani. Twelve years after that first trip, the former Homestake Mine is now the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF). Today, the microbes discovered inside SURF are at the center of exciting new research at SD Mines.

The BuG ReMeDEE

In 201...

Last Edited 4/26/2018 07:34:38 PM [Comments (0)]

The Gas Cube – Turning Remote Base Waste Into Energy

The Gas Cube is a compact reactor that can turn waste into methane gas.

Cows, as many people know, have four stomachs. Cows also generate lots of methane.  So, if your goal is to describe a machine that turns food waste and cardboard into methane gas, the bovine digestive system is an analogy that makes some sense.  

“Our reactor is some ways a two-stomach cow,” says Jorge Gonzalez-Estrella, a post-doctoral research associate in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department at Mines.

Gonzalez-Estrella is one of the researchers working on the Gas Cube project.  The semi-trailer-sized reactor is much larger than a cow, but it’s still portable. It’s one of the projects in development at Mines aimed at turning a range of remote base waste into energy. This is all thanks to a $4.8 million grant from the United States Air Force, $1.2 million of which funds the Gas Cube.  A remote Air Force Base can produce lots of waste. The Air Force seeks to save waste handling and fuel costs at mission-based remote bases. This is a challenge that the Gas Cube is designed to overcome. 

How does it work?  Back to the cow analogy. At the Gas Cube’s input, or mouth, a shredder grinds up the solid cardboard or food waste and deposits it in chamber number one. This is sort of like a cow chewing and swallowing its food. Then in that first chamber, or stomach number one, hydrolytic microorganisms break down the mix of food waste and cardboard into sugars, and fermenting microbes then break up those su...

Last Edited 4/26/2018 07:36:39 PM [Comments (0)]

SD Mines Researchers Hope to Use 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 6/28/2019 01:53:45 PM [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 04:23:18 PM [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 08:59:11 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 08:50:26 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 08:40:14 PM [Comments (0)]