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IU tech startup advances renewable energy, partners with local environmental leaders

Green Fortress Engineering, which recently unveiled several major technology developments, awarded $100,000 grant

For Immediate Release Aug 3, 2023

An Indiana University spinup company focused on renewable energy will receive $100,000 through a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy to build capacity for renewable energy projects in Indiana. It has also announced several major developments in its technology.

Sisters of St. Francis in Oldenburg, Indiana, participate in a Hero Walk as part of the HeroX competition. One of the convent... Sisters of St. Francis in Oldenburg, Indiana, participate in a "Hero Walk" as part of the HeroX competition. One of the convent's seven buildings will potentially be retrofitted as a clean-energy demonstration center. Photo courtesy Peter Schubert, School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI

Green Fortress Engineering, led by Peter Schubert of the School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI, is one of 67 winners of the Energizing Rural Communities prize sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and administered by the crowdsourcing platform HeroX.

The winning team — called Energy Awareness: Rural Towns & Homes, or EARTH — is centered on the Indiana counties of Franklin, Ripley and Decatur. The award will support the evolution of several potential projects in the next 10 months, including retrofitting one of the seven buildings at the Convent of the Sisters of St. Francis in Oldenburg, Indiana, as a clean-energy demonstration center. The EARTH team will build a partnership of local talent to demonstrate the ability to execute projects within the community.

A portion of the prize money will also sponsor student interns working on techno-economic analysis and cost of ownership models. This experience will prepare students to accelerate society’s transition to sustainable, renewable energy.

“Rural communities have been slower to adopt renewables,” said Schubert, team leader and CEO of Green Fortress Engineering. “The Biden administration and Congress have directed the Department of Energy to bring more resources to regions like southeast Indiana, and this project will help show people what can be accomplished.”

The inventor or co-inventor of nine U.S. patents on biomass-to-hydrogen and solid-state hydrogen storage technology, Schubert founded Green Fortress Engineering in 2016 with support from IU Innovation and Commercialization Office. The company advances the use of its technologies through engagement with the scientific community and policy work, such as producing economic analyses that show the potential of its technology’s adoption, in collaboration with the Richard G. Lugar Center for Renewable Energy at IUPUI.

An alpha unit of the biomass gasifier installed at Argonne National Lab based on Green Fortress Engineering patents owned by ... An "alpha" unit of the biomass gasifier installed at Argonne National Lab based on Green Fortress Engineering patents owned by IU. The device converts biomass, including switchgrass or crop waste such as corn stover, into energy. Photo courtesy Peter Schubert, School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI

Two significant developments in the company’s technology were recently announced during 2023 RENMAD H2 USA: Hydrogen Conference in Las Vegas: the production of hydrogen energy at 78 cents per kilogram when derived from biomass, using patented Green Fortress Engineering systems, and hydrogen storage at $7.72 per kilowatt-hour using catalytically modified porous silicon, subject to four U.S. patents.

Each of these complementary hydrogen technologies represents a breakthrough in low-cost, zero-carbon hydrogen generation and storage, Schubert said.

The production of cheap hydrogen power from non-food biomass is significant since the technology can supplement wind and solar to provide “around the clock” power to engines that generate carbon-free electricity. The ability to affordably transport hydrogen power in a solid state that doesn’t require extreme pressures or temperatures will facilitate the use of hydrogen energy in vehicles or homes in a form that is convenient, safe and easy to transport via roadway or rail. The low cost of these technologies is substantially cheaper than existing options.

“We are excited to make these announcements of cost needed to make the leap to full commercialization,” Schubert said. “These advances have been years in the making.”

In Oldenburg, Green Fortress Engineering will collaborate with several local partners, including Sister Claire Whalen, a well-known advocate for solar energy in the area who was recognized as a 2019 Hoosier Resilience Hero by IU’s Environmental Resilience Institute, and Mike Cambron, an Oldenburg resident who has worked with Whalen on resilience and emissions inventory issues for the past 10 years.

In the winning video submitted to the HeroX prize competition, Whalen is featured in a “Hero Walk” flanked by six of her colleagues at the convent.

Two men and a woman stand next to large sheet of notepaper The EARTH leadership team, from left: Peter Schubert, Sister Claire Whalen and Mike Cambron. Photo courtesy of Peter Schubert, School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI

“I’m excited for this opportunity to demonstrate that green energy can make sense, economically, in rural areas,” Cambron said. “Plus, we can give new life to architectural treasures.”

Schubert’s research has received support from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, Indiana Economic Development Corp. and private industry. He said Green Fortress Technologies is seeking additional support to advance the readiness of its two innovative hydrogen technologies; working prototypes are expected within 18 months. Both technologies scale well and can grow rapidly to meet exponential growth in demand for renewable, clean, baseload energy.

“Going green has never been so easy,” Schubert said. “Many of us would like to move away from fossil fuels, but only if it’s cheaper. This technology takes away that objection.”

In addition to rural energy self-sufficiency and hydrogen generation and storage, Green Fortress Engineering is working on technologies for using the resources of outer space, including nuclear fuel from lunar soil and harvesting of platinum group metals from asteroids.

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