Back in 2016, researchers at Washington State University Tri-Cities landed a National Science Foundation I-Corps grant to explore the market potential of their biojet fuel research. The team had successfully demonstrated a new, water-based process for deconstructing and recovering lignin from biomass and converting it into jet fuel-range hydrocarbons. These could be certified as jet fuel in the future. Lignin, a polymer that makes plants woody and rigid, is a waste product in the biofuels production process.
Bin Yang, WSU Tri-Cities associate professor of biological systems engineering and principal investigator for the grant, holds a patent on the process.
“Our ultimate goal is to demonstrate a flexible catalytic process that selectively converts all the carbon in the lignin into jet fuel-range hydrocarbons at minimal cost,” Yang said at the time. Dr. Yang gave this illuminating update and overview of the technology’s progress and promise at ABLC Next in San Francisco.
November 11, 2017 | U.S. Dept. of Energy, Office of Science
A major bottleneck to producing cost-effective biofuels and many valuable chemicals is breaking down cellulose. Cellulose is an important structural component of plants. Scientists addressed this bottleneck by characterizing those molecular features that make cellulose resistant to degradation. The findings reveal—for the first time—structural differences between surface layers and the crystalline core of the two types of cellulose found in plant cell walls.
Biological Systems Engineering faculty members, Dr. Troy Peters, Dr. Bin Yang, and Dr. Lav Khot, recently traveled to China to collaborate with faculty, students, and scientists at the Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University in Yangling, China. This is part of an international cooperation partnership that the Department of Biological Systems Engineering Department has with this university. The primary objectives of this visit were to strengthen international exchange and cooperation with this university and encourage additional Chinese Scholarship Exchange students to come do research with WSU in the future. They met with the Dean of the College of Mechanical and Electronic Engineering, Dr. Shaojin Wang, toured the college and gave presentations to almost 200 students and faculty there. Dr. Peters gave a presentation titled “Irrigation Issues and Advances in the Pacific Northwestern United States,” Dr. Khot gave a presentation titled “Precision Agriculture of Specialty Crops,” and Dr. Yang gave a presentation titled “Overcoming the Challenges of the Next Generation of Biofuels and Bioproducts Production.” In addition, each faculty member met individually with researchers from their specific areas to discuss plans for future collaboration and exchange of ideas.
On the way home, Dr. Peters and Dr. Khot also visited Hebei University in Baoding (hosted by Dr. Yongsheng Si). They similarly met scientists and engineers there, gave presentations and discussed plans for cooperation and collaboration for future grant proposals and research.
Oct 2017 | IFT Food Engineering Division Newsletter
The department highlighted this month is the Department of Biological Systems Engineering (BSE), in the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at the Washington State University located in Pullman, WA. BSE offers the Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Biological and Agricultural Engineering with four areas of emphasis, including Food Engineering. As of Fall 2017, 25 graduate students are enrolled in the Ph.D. degree and 2 in M. S. degree programs with an emphasis in Food Engineering. Under the supervision of three core faculty members, these students conduct cutting-edge research in advanced thermal and nonthermal food technologies as well as polymeric packaging technologies to help the food industry address challenges of increasing consumer demand for safe, nutritious, and high-quality food products. These students are often involved in multi-institutional programs supported by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture CAPS projects, USDA National Needs Program; their dissertation committee members represent from different disciplines, including Food Science, Electric Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Veterinary Sciences. In addition, students are members of a very active Food Engineering Club which organizes various activities to enhance their professional and social experiences. Students participate in summer internships at food processing and polymer companies and actively support faculty members in technology transfer boot camps, among other professional development activities. Our past graduates are working in major US and international universities, federal government agencies and global food companies.
Seven research teams at Washington State University will enhance the competitiveness of Northwest crops by fighting devastating diseases and advancing sustainable agriculture, thanks to more than $1.5 million in Specialty Crop Block Grant funds from the Washington State and the U.S. Departments of Agriculture.
To support Washington’s $3 billion apple and pear industry, its $734 million potato industry, and other important crops like fresh strawberries, cut peonies and cider apples, WSU crop scientists, engineers, plant pathologists, economists and other specialists will join forces.
Enhanced nutrients for sustainable farming
Specialty crop farmers commonly use manure to fertilize their soils. But manure can be bulky, costly to transport, and may also bring pathogens, weed seeds and a poor balance of nutrients for some crops.
Pius Ndegwa, associate professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, and WSU researchers will investigate the economic, agronomic and food safety benefits of concentrating manure and compost. Pelleting and blending manure with other products, such as canola or fish meals, could concentrate nutrients, kill pathogens and weed seeds, and make transport easier.
New tech to stop potato storage losses
Washington is a major potato producer, yet storage losses after harvest can ruin up to 6 percent of the annual crop.
Researchers Sindhuja Sankaran and Lav Khot, both in the WSU Department of Biological Systems Engineering, partnering with Brenda Schroeder of the University of Idaho Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Nematology, will research new ion mobile spectrometry and nanofiber chemical sensor technologies to detect storage diseases like pythium and soft rot at early stages. Growers will be able to better manage bulk storage and reduce losses through early processing. The technology could also be adapted for other specialty crops, like onions.
Researchers at Washington State University Tri-Cities and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington have discovered that newly combined spectroscopy processes can reveal the differences between the inside and the outside of the molecular structure of cellulosic biomass.
At WSU, Chad Kruger, director of CSANR; Claudio Stöckle, Biological Systems Engineering professor; and Kirti Rajagopalan, assistant research professor with CSANR, received more than $490,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
“The fruit and vegetable industries make very significant investments in infrastructure and logistics to produce, process, pack and distribute products,” said Kruger. “Having better information to understand future risks to these investments is critical to the sustainability of fruit and vegetable production in the U.S.”
“The Pacific Northwest has growing advantages and opportunities that we want to explore,” added Rajagopalan. “We’re excited to help chart new strategies to sustain the fruit and vegetable value chain, while maintaining our nutritious, reliable and environmentally-sound food supply.”
State-of-the-art on Sensing Technologies for Plant Disease Detection
Lav Khot, Assistant Professor,
Department of Biological Systems Engineering
IAREC, Washington State University
Brief description: Site-specific disease detection is one of the key aspects of effective crop (loss) management. Recent advances in detectors (optical, chemical) have improved feasibility of development and use of rapid non-contact/nondestructive sensing techniques in plant diseases detection. Advances in versatile ground-, aerial-platforms, and internet of things (IOT)-enabled data acquisition, in-field onboard processing, and near-real-time delivery techniques have also helped in easing logical concerns, about time and labor, of field level crop scouting. This talk will thus focus on state-of-the art in the field of chemical and optical sensors, platforms (e.g. small and mid-sized unmanned aerial systems), and IOT based technologies that could be an aid in rapid disease detection. Through case studies in specialty crops, the talk will discuss the feasibility of the technology in field level disease detection as well as challenges that need further research before its commercial use.