Renewable Energy

Renewable energy holds great potential; energy sources such as wind, sun, biofuels and biomass promise a significant boost to our economy while promoting an energy alternative that minimizes our impact on the environment. The primary goal of the renewable energy program at the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) is to increase utilization of renewable energy in production agriculture and support further development of agriculture-based renewable energy for the region, state and nation through research and outreach.

Wind turbines at the WCROC

Improving Energy Use in Agricultural Production Systems

The agricultural industry consumes an immense amount of fossil-fuel in the production of food, feed, fiber, and energy.  This can carry significant economic, environmental and ecological risks. Scientists and engineers at the WCROC have been looking at ways to mitigate these risks and exploit opportunities for agricultural producers and other stakeholders.  

We are currently pursuing a Greening of Ag Initiative, with the overall objective of reducing fossil-fuel consumption in agricultural production systems through renewable energy generation, energy conservation, and energy optimization of production systems. Our goal is to conduct research and develop results that guide producers in developing energy optimized systems for their farms.  These outcomes are primarily for Minnesota farmers, but may also apply to farmers in the global community.  Our initiative is focused on three main areas:

Renewable Energy Systems

Research is conducted on several types of large- and small-scale renewable energy systems at the WCROC. Systems located onsite include a 1.65 MW wind turbine, solar thermal systems for domestic hot water and space cooling and heating, a geothermal system and a renewable hydrogen and ammonia pilot plant.  Solar collectors at the WCROC

Our research includes a Life Cycle Assessment of these energy systems, as well as agriculture production systems.

The wind, solar and geothermal energy systems installed at the WCROC are practical production systems that also provide research and demonstration opportunities. WCROC researchers experience first-hand issues with renewable energy, and seek solutions to break down technical and economic barriers.


A new facet of renewable energy research at the WCROC began in 2014 by focusing on the interface between microbiology and chemical engineering to harness naturally evolved microbial processes to convert sunlight into useful products.  Researchers are investigating the growth characteristics of algae in hopes that we can learn unique metabolic functions that can be exploited for commercial biofuel and specialty bioproducts production.  Read more about our research with microbes as renewable energy systems.