MON AM News: UW-Madison student team awarded $250,000 for carbon dioxide removal; Researchers discover ‘unprecedented’ chemical reaction

— A team of UW-Madison students is getting a $250,000 award for carbon dioxide sequestration research through a global competition backed by the Musk Foundation. 

The XPRIZE for Carbon Removal Student Competition recently announced $5 million in awards for student teams. The Madison team is getting the largest possible award for the student competition for its work to pull carbon dioxide out of the air, reducing the environmental impact of this greenhouse gas. 

Their system uses a “direct air capture” unit to trap C02 and a carbonization mechanism for converting the gas into solid particles that can be repurposed for other uses. 

“We are really excited about our technology, and it’s cool to be working on something that has the potential of scaling up in a big way and actually have an impact,” says team leader Keerthana Sreenivasan, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering.

Entrepreneur Elon Musk’s nonprofit research foundation is providing $100 million for the global effort, which funds eligible projects among both students and established scientists. It’s aimed at scaling up engineering systems to maximize their potential environmental impact. 

Bu Wang, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at UW-Madison and co-advisor for the student team, holds a patent for the carbonization component of the system. A release from the university shows the final product — which includes fine limestone and activated silica particles — can be used in construction as a cement alternative. 

“In essence, we’re converting carbon dioxide from the air into carbonate minerals that can be upcycled into construction materials,” Wang said. 

After receiving the award, the student team will proceed in the contest, which runs through Earth Day 2025. Further efforts will focus on refining the system, scaling up its capacity and planning how to implement the technology in a practical manner. 

Team members include six graduate students from the university’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, College of Engineering, College of Letters & Science and Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, as well as two undergraduate students. Rob Anex, a professor of biological systems engineering and another co-advisor for the team, says students learn a lot by taking part in the competition. 

“Some of these students might make a career out of this,” Anex said. “It’s an important problem and I’d love to see a bunch of them work on solving some of the big environmental problems that face the world.”

See more on the competition here: 

— Researchers at UW-Madison have received a provisional patent for their discovery of a new method for producing energy through a chemical reaction involving ammonia. 

By adding ammonia to a metal catalyst containing the element ruthenium, the chemistry researchers found that the reaction spontaneously produced nitrogen while releasing energy. A release from the university shows the process can be used to produce electricity, and the metal components can be “recycled through exposure to oxygen and used repeatedly.” 

Ammonia has been burned for fuel in the past, including for automobiles during World War II. But burning ammonia releases nitrogen oxide gases that are toxic. The release shows the newly discovered reaction “avoids those toxic byproducts.”

John Berry, the Lester McNall Professor of Chemistry at UW-Madison, says getting energy from an ammonia-to-nitrogen reaction under these conditions “is a pretty big deal.” 

“We figured out that, not only are we making nitrogen, we are making it under conditions that are completely unprecedented,” he said in the release. 

Results of the research were published last week in the journal Nature Chemistry, and authors have gotten a provisional patent from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. 

See the journal article here: 

— Mike Dankler, trade advisor for Michael Best Strategies in Washington, D. C., is the featured guest in the latest “Talking Trade” video podcast.

Talking Trade hosts Ian Coxhead and Sandi Siegel discuss future trade and tariff issues with Dankler, including the new trade agreement reached between the United States and the European Union. 

Watch the show here:

— Health officials warn this year’s flu season could be more severe than last year’s relatively mild season, though the outlook is uncertain. 

“To what extent we’re going to have influenza season, we just don’t know,” Tom Haupt, influenza surveillance coordinator for the Department of Health Services, said Friday during a briefing with reporters. “We’re hoping it’s going to be a mild season, but we have to be prepared, get people vaccinated for this potentially very serious disease.”

DHS has identified 27 cases of the flu so far this season, while just seven were seen at this point last year, Haupt said. Two years ago, when the state had a “typical” flu season, that number was 109. 

“So it’s not what we would normally see at this particular point. It’s still very low, but it is definitely an increase and it is on the rise,” he said. 

As of this week, Wisconsin’s flu vaccination rate is 26 percent, which is lower than last year’s comparable rate of 34 percent. At this point in 2019, the rate was 28 percent. 

“So we’re close to what we had two years ago, which was a typical influenza season,” Haupt said. “But again, the numbers aren’t quite there as compared to what we had last year. Hoping we can improve that significantly very quickly.” 

Mitigation measures aimed at COVID-19 helped keep the flu from spreading last year, with only a fraction of the typical number of cases and hospitalizations seen in Wisconsin. Although the pandemic is still ongoing, Haupt doesn’t expect another year with “extremely low numbers.” 

While flu activity has increased, he also noted health officials are seeing a “more severe” strain of the virus this year. 

He’s urging everyone who’s eligible in the state to get the flu vaccine, noting that people can get it and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time. He also encourages testing for both COVID-19 and the flu, as symptoms of the two viruses can be difficult to distinguish from one another. 

The flu season typically peaks in late January or early February in Wisconsin. 

See more from DHS on the flu: 

A recent Midday podcast talks about COVID-19 and flu. Listen here: 

— Imbed Biosciences has been awarded a nearly $2 million contract by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command’s Military Infectious Diseases Research Program. 

The Fitchburg-based company will use the funding to support further development of its bacteria-killing wound dressing product, a release shows. 

“This award will fund a prospective human clinical trial of the novel antibiofilm matrix on donor site wounds in patients in need of autologous skin grafts,” Imbed Biosciences CEO Ankit Agarwal said in a statement. “We are honored to develop this advanced wound matrix for maximizing the readiness and performance of our warfighters in the field.”

See more at Madison Startups:  

See an earlier story on the company: 

— Total assets of Wisconsin credit unions have increased by over $5 billion so far this year, according to a report from the state Department of Financial Institutions. 

The report shows total credit union assets were $54.7 billion at the end of September, compared to $49.5 billion at the end of 2020. 

DFI Secretary Kathy Blumenfeld says net income for credit unions in the state has increased to $509 million as economic uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic has decreased. Over the same period, loan growth was nearly $2.3 billion, and DFI says real estate lending “has especially been strong” this year. 

“Overall, Wisconsin’s state-chartered credit unions are financially stable with a positive outlook,” she said in a release. 

See the report: 

— Five nonprofit organizations in Madison are getting a total of $50,000 in grant funding to support installation of rooftop solar arrays. 

The MadiSUN Backyard Solar grant funding was announced recently by the city and renewable energy advocacy group RENEW Wisconsin. These grants cover up to 20 percent of the cost of the solar array, aimed at offsetting upfront expenses associated with installing these projects. 

A release from the city shows the program is supporting over $450,000 in new energy investments, and the five solar arrays are expected to collectively save the facilities about $30,000 per year on their electricity bills. 

Recipients include the Access Community Health Center, a fitness and arts nonprofit called Madison Circus Space, Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program, Chapel Valley Church and Mt. Zion Baptist Church. 

“As the second oldest predominantly African American church in Madison, Mt. Zion strives to be a leader in the South Madison community,” said Birl Lowry, chair of the Trustee Board at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. “As such, we want to become more environmentally responsible and as energy-efficient as possible.”

The grant program has awarded more than $100,000 in grants since 2019, supporting installations that collectively add enough renewable electricity to offset the usage of approximately 150 households, according to a release. 

See more: 

— Savant Wealth Management has announced plans to acquire Madison-based Filbrandt Wealth Management by the end of the month.

Illinois-based Savant Wealth Management, which also has a location in Madison, is a registered investment advisor with nearly $12 billion in assets under management. 

Filbrandt Wealth Management has about $1.8 billion in assets under management, representing the largest acquisition to date for Savant. The firm provides financial planning services to “university leaders and professionals,” a release shows. 

Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. 

See the release: 


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– Wisconsin dairies honored for reproduction success

– $20 million available to organic livestock, crop producers


– Bottom’s up: Couture crews complete hole dig, gearing up for next steps


– Report: Wisconsin tax burden fell faster since 1999 than almost any other state


– Beef producers asked to help shape future of Extension events

– Northern Wisconsin school remains closed after odor prompts dozens to seek medical treatment

– Masks likely to remain in MMSD beyond public health mandate


– Wisconsin health officials brace for flu season and urge people to be get the vaccine


– Haribo starts hiring for 400 jobs in Pleasant Prairie plant that opens in a year


– Tech disputes at Rittenhouse trial not new issue for courts


– Milwaukee Tool, Milwaukee Academy Science partner to offer students woodworking, computer science experience


– Ohio company buys Wisconsin bakery with a name well-known to Milwaukeeans


– World Dairy Expo to move 2022 schedule up a day


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