Heat pumps, EV charging, and cow flatulence: Centered’s top stories of 2021

In 2021, its second year, the Centered team continued our work to bring you news about a variety of Midwest technologies, entrepreneurs, and industry trends helping to advance clean energy, sustainability, and climate action, especially in traditionally overlooked communities.

We compiled a list of the top 10 stories viewers clicked in 2021. They hail from across the Midwest and run a gamut of topics including energy-efficient heating, electric vehicles, batteries, and even cow flatulence.

Here are Centered’s most-clicked articles for 2021, starting with the most popular:

  1. Michigan startup maps pollution disparities for healthier communities: Rapids Air Quality (now JustAir) develops air quality monitoring technology to inform decisions that improve public health, especially in marginalized communities. Founder Darren Riley shares how his life experiences and his father’s health challenges influenced his work. “A lot of my motivation comes from my upbringing,” he told Centered.
  2. Li-ion battery alternative is smaller, cheaper, more stable: Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are developing an alternative to lithium-ion batteries that uses sodium and eliminates the anode, a standard battery component, but also has a longer life than similar models.
  3. Heat pump startup wins Minnesota innovation competition’s cleantech award: Minnesota startup 2040 Energy won the MN Cup’s energy/cleantech/water category for its heat pump innovations. The devices are designed to reduce climate impact while still working well in the Midwest’s cold weather. “We’re designing this with an energy recovery device that is going to allow us to operate at colder temperatures than anything out there today,” founder Joe Strommen told Centered.
  4. 24/7 clean energy: Minnesota nonprofit helps Google cut carbon: Minneapolis-based nonprofit M-RETS (formerly Midwest Renewable Energy Tracking System) runs a platform that tracks environmental certificates, and it partnered with Google to help the tech giant make good on its climate commitment to cut carbon emissions.
  5. Benefit or burden? Michigan study ranks carbon capture and utilization tech: Carbon capture shows promise for mitigating the effects of climate change, but not all solutions are created equal. University of Michigan scientists analyzed 20 carbon capture and utilization technologies and ranked them by their climate benefits. 
  6. Coming soon to Kansas City streetlights: curbside EV chargers: A public-private partnership, led by Kansas City, Missouri, nonprofit Metropolitan Energy Center, is working on a pilot project to install electric vehicle chargers on streetlights to increase charging accessibility, especially for traditionally underserved populations including renters and multifamily housing residents. “Electric vehicles aren’t just something that people out in California or people with a lot of money drive. Electric vehicles can be a reality for the community here in Kansas City,” Miriam Bouallegue, sustainable transportation project manager with the Metropolitan Energy Center, told Centered.
  7. Worth its salt: Ohio startup aims to lower energy storage costs with molten salt system: Euclid, Ohio-based advanced materials startup Cratus creates large-scale energy storage technologies from a familiar material – salt. The molten salt thermal energy storage system works particularly well with solar power and nuclear power generation and is “almost an order of magnitude higher energy density in terms of the space they take compared to any of the alternatives: compressed air, pumped hydro, flow batteries, or lithium-ion batteries,” founder Andy Sherman told Centered.
  8. Pure power: Midwest researchers create energy while cleaning wastewater: Two projects aim to purify wastewater while generating clean electricity. A Washington University in St. Louis researcher created a battery that uses electrochemically active bacteria, instead of platinum, as a catalyst. The other project involves multiple partners – including Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, the Great Lakes Water Authority, The Water Council, and Current – and is developing an artificial intelligence-assisted system for recovering electricity, nutrients, and filtered water from wastewater.
  9. Chasing waterfalls: Ohio startup’s ‘aesthetically invisible’ design aims to modernize hydropower: Cincinnati, Ohio, startup kW River developed a prototype for cross-flow turbines that capture energy from moving water. CEO Paul Kling told Centered this design is different because it is completely underwater, doesn’t inhibit water flow, and spans an entire waterway to “capture every bit of the water flowing over the dam.”
  10. Gas-measuring ‘agricomb’ could help cattle farms cut emissions: Kansas State University researchers partnered with the National Institute of Standards and Technology on a sensor-laden system, called an agricomb, that more precisely measures the gas that cows release. This could lead to innovations that reduce farms’ greenhouse gas emissions.