A new $20 million Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) grant from the National Science Foundation will support key research into ways to make New Mexico an energy sufficient state. The research will focus on ways to improve efficiency of sustainable energy resource utilization and to minimize environmental impacts of uranium mining and oil and gas production.

William Michener, a professor with University Libraries at UNM, is the principal investigator along with UNM co-PI Mary Jo Daniel. Michener will coordinate research, education and administration of the award. Participating institutions and partners include New Mexico State University, New Mexico Tech, Eastern New Mexico University, New Mexico Highlands University, Santa Fe Community College, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, Explora Museum, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, Santa Fe Institute and the Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship.

"The main idea of this award is to build our state research capacity to develop the state's potential for sustainable energy development through collaborations among academia, business and industry and the National Labs," Michener said. 

"This new award builds on prior NM EPSCoR successes and will foster greater educational achievement in STEM fields and expand opportunities for employment in well-paid jobs for New Mexicans," Daniel said.

The research will attempt to answer three main questions:

  1.  How can New Mexico realize its energy development potential in a sustainable manner?

  2.  How can the efficiency of resource utilization or extractive technologies be increased?

  3.  How can we sustain extractive energy development with no minimal risk to water and environmental resources?

Research teams will explore questions in several specific areas including

  • Bioalgal energy development to support the next generation of biofuel production.

  • The potential of solar energy to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to methanol, an alternative transportable fuel.

  • A solar-driven water oxidation process that uses inexpensive catalysts to generate H₂, a high-energy fuel that does not emit carbon and design more efficient organic solar photovoltaic cells.

  • Issues related to membrane properties and fouling that prevent osmotic pressure systems from becoming commercially viable sources of power.

  • Improve understanding of the way uranium moves in the environment and developing tools for predicting an controlling the movement.

A geothermal energy team will develop a better understanding of factors that affect the viability and sustainability of New Mexico's underlying natural hydrothermal systems. Another team will explore the trade-offs that occur between different energy and economic development choices while considering the potential for sustainable communities and use of water.

Additionally the award supports education and outreach activities that will build the human capacity needed to realize New Mexico's potential in research, education and economic development. 

These include:

  • An afterschool program for middle school students on computer modeling and simulation

  • Summer research experiences for community college and tribal college students

  • Professional development for community college faculty and for K-12 STEM teachers

  • Museum exhibitions and a network of informal science education institutions

  • An entrepreneurship institute to provide training in key enterprise functions to faculty

The research teams have already been designated and work on the grant will begin on June 1, 2013.  For more information, visit NM EPSCoR

The teams are listed below.

Bioalgal Energy Development Team
Solar Energy Development Team
Osmotic Power Development Team
Uranium Transport and Site Remediation Team
Geothermal Energy Resources and Sustainability Team
Social and Natural Science Nexus Team

Media Contact: Karen Wentworth (505) 277-5627; email: kwent2@unm.edu