WED AM News: Engineering dean speaks to opportunities, challenges of hydrogen; Biohealth industry has $32B state economic impact, report shows

— The dean of UW-Madison’s College of Engineering says hydrogen represents a significant opportunity for Wisconsin’s economy as the country moves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

But Ian Robertson also said society isn’t ready yet for widespread adoption of clean hydrogen as a source of energy. He spoke yesterday during a Wisconsin Technology Council luncheon held in Madison. 

“That’s one of the challenges we have …there has to be a huge educational component to train the workforce,” he said. “There’ll also going to have to be an effort that says, let’s train the general public on why we’re moving toward a hydrogen-based technology. And that’s going to take time.” 

Gov. Tony Evers has recently signed onto two multi-state coalitions aimed at securing Department of Energy funding for regional clean hydrogen hubs. As part of an effort by the federal government to reach emissions reduction targets in the coming decades, DOE will be investing up to $8 billion in fewer than 10 hubs around the country, Robertson explained. 

Robertson said concept papers for the hub applications are due Nov. 7, raising the concern that “we don’t yet have a draft of either one” for the coalitions Wisconsin has joined. 

“Let’s just say there’s an awful lot of us working really hard to figure out how we can get a concept paper between seven states written and agreed upon,” he said. 

Robertson stressed that clean hydrogen will eventually be used to fuel aircrafts and heavy vehicles such as long-haul trucks, as well as in other emission-heavy applications such as steel production. 

But he pointed to a number of challenges standing in the way. 

For one, hydrogen easily permeates and degrades the properties of most metals. Because it results in lower mechanical strength for the metals it touches, “you will get metals crumbling at loads that are way below” standard capacity, he said. 

“We can never tell when that failure is going to occur,” he said. “It’s sudden, it’s catastrophic, and it’s almost all related to hydrogen. You can ask the oil and gas industry about the problems they’ve encountered with hydrogen and their deep sea wells. It’s amazing the problems it’s caused.” 

That poses an issue for using existing natural gas pipelines to transport pure hydrogen gas, according to Robertson. He said a combination of vehicle transportation and local site production will likely be necessary to compensate. 

And because hydrogen gas needs to be highly pressurized to be used as a fuel, the possibility of explosions is also a concern, he added. 

Also, while hydrogen is extremely abundant, Robertson said the process of breaking down water to extract hydrogen is currently expensive. 

“We’ve got to figure out how to get better at catalysis, so we can reduce the cost of production,” he said, referring to that process. 

Still, he emphasized the opportunities presented by the federal dollars coming through the clean hydrogen hubs. He noted the DOE is providing 50 percent of the funding for certain hydrogen-related projects that help achieve the goals of the program. 

“Remember, these hubs are going to be funded at the level of about $1.2 billion, so that’s really the incentive to get engaged,” he said. “If you’re not in the hub, you’re not a part of it, you don’t get access to the money.” 

Watch a video of Roberson’s remarks here: 

— Wisconsin’s biohealth industry had a $32 billion economic impact on the state’s economy in 2021, according to a new report from BioForward Wisconsin. 

That includes around $19 billion in direct economic output, the report shows. It was produced by analytics firm TEConomy Partners on behalf of the organization, which represents more than 220 member organizations in this sector. 

BioForward Wisconsin CEO Lisa Johnson says the report “highlights the immense growth opportunity” for the biohealth industry and its role in driving overall state economic growth. 

“This strong growth, high wages, expanding career opportunities and impressive innovation in the biohealth sector are just what the state needs amidst current economic challenges and headwinds,” she said in a statement. 

About 52,000 workers are directly employed by the industry, which includes biomedical research and testing; digital health applications; drugs and pharmaceuticals; medical devices and equipment; and biohealth-related distribution. That’s in addition to about 77,000 additional jobs supported indirectly by the industry, per the report. 

BioForward also spotlights a 19.1 percent increase in National Institutes of Health funding going to state-based organizations in the sector between 2018 and 2021. That total federal funding hit $554 million last year. By comparison, the United States overall saw a 23.2 percent increase in NIH funding, putting Wisconsin slightly behind the national growth rate for this figure.

Over the same three-year period, biohealth companies in the state got about $46.8 million in Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer awards. 

Meanwhile, venture capital and angel investors put a record-high $191 million into the industry in 2021, marking a 49 percent increase over the average from the prior three years, according to the report. 

The report also details recent expansions and investments in facilities in the state, regional industry clusters in Wisconsin, rising research and development spending, trends in patents awards and more. 

See the release: 

See the full report: 

— A Milwaukee-based biotech firm called GenoPalate announced it has raised $5.6 million as part of an ongoing $10.6 million equity financing round. 

The company provides personalized nutrition information based on genetic analysis, a field known as “nutrigenomics.” 

GenoPalate can provide customers with a list of the most healthy foods for their genetic profile, as well as information on sensitivities to gluten and lactose, ability to process caffeine and alcohol and the influence of their genetics on stress and mood. And it offers personalized supplements and online nutrition programs with professional dietitians. 

Yi Sherry Zhang, a geneticist and former professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, founded the business in 2016. 

“We know that eating the types of food your body is most agreeable to and getting the right kind and amount of nutrients you require can help prevent chronic metabolic diseases,” Zhang said in a release. “And to do this, one must personalize their nutrition. Genomics is our key to helping people understand how their DNA affects their health and how personalized nutrition can lead to healthier lives.” 

Funding will go toward improving the company’s mobile and web app and health data platform, as well as continued development of research databases focused in part on metabolic diseases such as obesity. 

Listen to an earlier podcast with Zhang: 

See the release:—investments-in-personalized-nutrition-and-healthy-eating-continue-to-rise-301658472.html 

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— While farmers in Wisconsin are making progress in harvesting corn for grain, this year’s harvest continues to lag behind both last year and the five-year average. 

That’s according to the latest USDA crop progress report, which shows the grain corn harvest was 22 percent complete as of Sunday. That’s two weeks behind last year and four days behind the five-year average, the report shows. 

Meanwhile, this year’s soybean harvest is proceeding more quickly. It was 76 percent complete as of Sunday, which is two days ahead of last year’s rate and eight days ahead of the average. 

And 95 percent of potatoes were harvested — four days behind last year but one day ahead of the average. 

See the full report:


# Hospital merger could affect 2M patients in Wisconsin, 3 other Midwest states

# FPC Live wins major victory for proposed $50M Milwaukee music venue

# WPS’s revised electric rate proposal shifts more costs to residential customers



– DATCP offering more Dairy Processor Grants

– Dairy Innovation Hub releases annual report


– FPC Live gets zoning committee approval, construction leaders voice support

– Top bidders: The biggest recent winning bids around the state 


– Without more people moving to Wisconsin, its workforce may shrink by 130K by 2030


– Milton school tax rate lower than last year, but financial challenges loom


– Nitrate pours into Mississippi River and other U.S. waterways, report says


– Advocate Aurora patients seeking more than $5 million following data breach


– GenoPalate raises $5.6 million to expand product offerings


– Saint Kate general manager named GM of The Pfister Hotel, familiar name takes over Saint Kate


– Local alderman talks with Harley-Davidson execs, positive about future of Milwaukee HQ


– 6 Wisconsin nonprofits receive $235,000 in grants from Gannett Foundation


– Developers propose 460 apartments for Grafton

– City picks Rule Enterprises to develop Freshwater Plaza site, apartment building planned


– Deer District concert venue complex gets backing from city zoning committee


– Madison, Dane County proposals can close $5.2 million funding gap for Public Market


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

BioForward Wisconsin: New report puts statewide biohealth industry economic impact at $32B

UW-Stout: Stoutward Bound honored with state Educational Diversity Award