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U of M piling up stimulus funds with $211M so far

A team of University of Minnesota researchers have been awarded $2.2 million grant from the federal stimulus bill to study whether certain bacteria can be used to produce biofuels, bringing the U a total of $211 million so far in federal stimulus funds.

This is the latest in a series of 226 grants the University has been awarded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The U of M has been awarded a total of $122 million in direct grants and an additional $89.3 million in federal stimulus funds from the state's share for economic stabilization.

The University is “a $3 billion enterprise, with $600 million to $700 million in federal research funds annually,” according to Richard Pfutzenreuter, U of M Chief financial officer. He described the importance of the stimulus funds supporting new research activity that otherwise would not have been undertaken. “These funds are not replacing other funding, they are incremental,” he said. “Every week we see more” stimulus funds awarded to the University.

The grants are spread among 17 different departments. The Institute of Technology leads so far, with 43 grants totaling $51.9 million. The Medical School has received 84 grants totaling $24.4 million and the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Department is the next largest recipient with 10 grants totaling $21.8 million.

The University is using more than half of the $89.3 million in State Fiscal Stabilization Funds (money received by the state and subsequently appropriated to the University) to moderate tuition for resident undergraduates system-wide for two academic years. As a result, this year’s tuition and fees for resident undergraduates will not increase more than 3.1 percent or $300.

Another portion of the stabilization funds were allocated for job retention, and the University estimates that over the next two academic years, about 65 temporary jobs will be created and about 245 jobs retained.

The announcement last week that Larry Wackett, distinguished McKnight Professor in the university’s College of Biological Sciences, and BioCee Inc., a start-up company based on the university’s St. Paul campus, were picked among 37 Deparment of Energy grant recipients nationwide.

They will be studying the feasibility of producing fuel using Shewanella bacteria. The hydrocarbon-producing bacteria, capable of surviving in frigid Antarctica, could become an oil producer within 10 years if the federally funded research project proves successful, according to a statement announcing the award.

The grant will be combined with $550,000 contributed by the U of M’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment, BioCee Inc. and the university’s College of Biological Sciences.

The projects announced last week represent the first round of an expected $400 million in renewable energy projects. A total of $151 million in grants, including the U’s biofuels grant, will be administered by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy across the United States.

Two weeks earlier, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu named a University-led consortium and two others to share up to $24 million for wind energy research and education.

Through the end of September, more than 3,200 grants totaling $2.4 billion and an additional 192 contracts and loans, totaling $191.5 million in stimulus funds, have been awarded across Minnesota.

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