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Biological Systems Engineering Bioenergy and Bioproducts

Research to be presented at 2015 AIChE Annual Meeting

Research work by graduate student, Mohammadali Azadfar, under his advisor, Dr. Shulin Chen, has been accepted as one of the top seven topics of lignin-based materials for an oral presentation at prestige AIChE national conference, November 813, 2015 in Salt Lake city.

Research Title: “Investigation of Nanostructural Characteristics of Lignin-ABA Block Copolymer Aggregates Leading to Use of Micelles As Nanoreactors for Lignin Conversion

Doctoral student travels from China to study biofuels pretreatment technology

September 14, 2015 | Tri-Cities Business News, by Maegan Murray

Libing ZhangAs scientists and engineers work to create more efficient biofuels, there is one step of the process that remains expensive and, in some circumstances, inefficient for large-scale production.

One of the most significant challenges of cellulosic bio-refining has been and continues to be the development of effective and low-cost pretreatment technology, which is one of the first steps in the biofuels production process.

WSU Tri-Cities doctoral student Libing Zhang traveled from her homeland of southeast China to attend WSU for her doctoral program because of the research WSU is conducting in this field.

[read full article]

Researchers produce jet fuel compounds from fungus

May 5, 2015 | by Tina Hilding, Voiland College of Engineering & Architecture

Dr. Ahring with studentRICHLAND, Wash. – Washington State University researchers have found a way to make jet fuel from a common black fungus found in decaying leaves, soil and rotting fruit. The researchers hope the process leads to economically viable production of aviation biofuels in the next five years. [read full article]

Global Case Competition

Six students at Washington State University were crowned champions of WSU’s Fifth Annual Global Case Competition, Friday, April 10, 2015.

The victorious group, under the name Team Verde, consists of a pair of graduate students from the WSU Spokane campus, team captain Emma Henselbecker and Sara Dumit, as well as four undergraduates from Pullman, Brandon Hernandez-Cantu, Emelia Stephan, Kimberly Rogers and Ivan Valdovinos. The faculty advisor is Grant Norton of the Honors College.

This year’s case centers on plastic waste in Manaus, Brazil with over 120 participants. Five finalist teams were selected to present their solutions to a panel of judges. Team Verde members will now have the opportunity to travel to Brazil for further study.

The second place team, Cougar Cogeneration, consisted of Sergio Baravalle (BSE), Annalise Miller (CAS, Math), Stephanie Gardiner (NURS, Nursing) and Philip Behrend (CAS, Math), and advised by Chuck Pezeshki (Voiland College of Architecture and Engineering) not pictured.

Slide 1:  Briefly, while thinking about the challenge, we wanted to make sure to involve and align the main stakeholders in the community, including the poor class, middle class and industrial sector in order to solve the serious problem of plastic waste in Manaus Brazil.

Slide 2:  Manaus is a remote area in the middle of the Amazonas that relies on expensive energy from fossil fuels to feed its growing industry sector. This situation creates a suitable environment for the development of sustainable and profitable solutions since relatively cheap raw materials are available to produce energy from non-recyclable plastic waste.

Based on that situation and leveraging on technologies and concepts in the BSE Department, we developed a solution that is technically feasible and profitable. It considers social aspects, taking scavengers out of the landfill and providing them with a sustainable income, managing a sorting facility. We also considered a sanitary program developed by a member of our team who is studying nursing.

The practical solution considers the gasification of the nonrecyclable plastic in a cogeneration plant. This plant has the capacity to produce electric power while distilling polluted water for poor people that are currently drinking contaminated water.

Slide 3:  While we were developing the project we were aware that the scope was too large for a group of students to manage. However, we wanted to consider the situation holistically, perhaps one day working with WSU as ambassadors to Brazil. Numerous resources are available at WSU to support this endeavor.

The electricity would be sold to the grid and according to our calculation and benchmarking studies, the project is profitable.

Click here to find out about past Global Case Competitions

Student Earns Top International Sustainability Prize

WSU News | by Kate Wilhite, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

green-talents-80PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University graduate student Sergio Baravalle is among 25 exceptional young scientists worldwide to receive an annual award for work in sustainable development.

Baravalle is a Fulbright scholar working on his master’s degree in biological and agricultural engineering.

Chosen from 800 applicants

He was selected for the Green Talents International Forum for High-Potentials in Sustainable Development award by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research from more than 800 applicants in over 100 countries.

Sergio Baravalle, WSU, and Johanna Wanka, Germany’s minister of education and research.

The “Green Talents” each win a two-week tour of renowned sustainable research centers in Germany and a three-month stay at the German research institution of their choice. They become lifetime members of a global network of sustainability leaders.

“I have spent two weeks with 24 of the best minds in their disciplines,” said Baravalle, who just returned from the tour. “That was the real prize.”

Learn more about the award at See Sergio’s and other winners’ profiles here.

Waste management, renewable energy

The awards jury looks for research projects with the potential to contend with threats such as global warming, energy shortages, and environmental contamination.

The focus of Baravalle’s research is to gain an understanding of the municipal solid waste business and how it can create sustainable and innovative solutions in conjunction with renewable energy technologies. He is also exploring a more efficient production of ethanol from dry plant matter by combining the processes of pre-treatment and sugar release into a single step.

Judges were enthusiastic about Baravalle’s combination of using multiple disciplines to conduct cutting-edge scientific experiments. They said this experience will help him advance sustainable waste management and energy solutions.

Pursuing certificates at MIT, WSU

“Sergio has displayed remarkable skills in science, business, and engineering,” said Bin Yang, a professor in WSU’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering and Baravalle’s academic advisor. “He will continue to grow and make significant contributions to the field of converting biomass to fuels and chemicals.”

In addition to working on his master’s degree, Baravalle is pursuing graduate certificates in logistics and supply chain management from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in project management from WSU.

Sergio Baravalle, WSU Biological Systems Engineering,
Kate Wilhite, WSU College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences communications,

Early Career Award

Lei-200Dr. Hanwu Lei, Assistant Professor of Biological Systems Engineering received the Early Career Award from the Association of Overseas Chinese Agricultural, Biological, and Food Engineers (AOCABFE) in 2014. The purpose of this award is to recognize outstanding career achievement by a young AOC member in the profession of Agricultural, Biological and Food Engineering. The award is to honor achievement through education, research, innovation, development, extension, consulting, administration, international collaboration, and other professional activities. AOC is a professional organization of hundreds members from all over the world. The regular members are composed of university faculty members, post graduated research associates, and professionals working in government agencies, research institutes and industry. AOC has become a well-recognized professional society in worldwide biological, agricultural, and food engineering.

Biofuel technology goes mobile

WSU On Solid Ground | June 2014

If you’ve ever enjoyed the summertime taste of fish, chicken or steak grilled over charcoal, you have benefited from pyrolysis. The very same technology that produces charcoal is also a cornerstone for making the vision of a commercial, wood-based biofuels industry in the Pacific Northwest a reality.

Scientists like Manuel Garcia-Perez and his graduate students, who study biosystems engineering at WSU, are helping to nurture the emerging biofuels industry by developing pyrolysis technologies.

Bio-Oil-ProcessThrough pyrolysis, biomass like wood, grass, and other organic material is exposed to high temperatures in the absence of oxygen. The result is bio-oil, a precursor to biofuel, as well as other useful products like charcoal, or biochar.

“The low-hanging fruit for commercializing the technology to convert biomass to energy comes from sources like construction debris, for example, that are concentrated in one location,” Garcia-Perez said. “But in cases where the biomass is spread out over a large region, as with forestry waste, transportation to a processing facility can be expensive.”

Pyrolysis road show

One solution the wood fuels industry is exploring is the development of mobile pyrolysis units, or reactors, which can process the raw material right where it’s collected in the forest before transporting the resulting bio-oil to a refinery.

Nine WSU graduate students in Garcia-Perez’s lab were invited to share their knowledge of pyrolysis and evaluate the products of two different mobile pyrolysis units developed by Amaron Energy and Western Renewable Technologies during a recent demonstration in Bingen, Washington. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources sponsored the event in order to offer the public and industry a chance to learn about the technology.

In addition to providing background and sharing information about their research projects with more than 120 visitors, the students also collected samples of the bio-oil and biochar for testing back at the lab in Pullman, Washington. How much oil versus biochar did the two units produce? What was the quality of the products, how did the two units compare in terms of pollution? They will share these answers with the Department of Natural Resources and the two companies later this year.

Students, society benefit

In one day, the students collected bio-oil and biochar samples that would otherwise take days or weeks to produce in a lab. Perhaps more valuable, however, was the opportunity for students to meet people in the industry who build pyrolysis systems as well as policymakers who are interested in how the technology might serve society.

“Because we’re usually working on our projects in the lab, it’s hard to get perspective of what the industry wants,” said Brennan Pecha, a doctoral student in Garcia-Perez’s lab. “It was really nice to get a feel for who is actually producing reactors and using research like ours.”

The mobile technology shows promise but Garcia-Perez cautions that it’s not a solution for all types of biomass and situations. Although the mobile units are much larger than those Garcia-Perez has in his lab, their size is a limiting factor for achieving an economy of scale. Another limitation is that the technology to refine bio-oil is not yet at a stage where it is ready for commercialization.

But Garcia-Perez remains hopeful. Ultimately, a wood-based biofuels industry is intended to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. And when used as a soil amendment in agriculture, biochar can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by sequestering carbon in the soil.

“Mobile pyrolysis units are not yet commercially viable and the technology to refine bio-oil is still developing, but it has the potential to be a great benefit to society,” he said.

—Sylvia Kantor

Studying Termites to Achieve Better Biofuel

March 2014 | WSU News, Rock Doc

A different way of producing biofuels is to use crop residues and woody materials as the source for the fuel. Those materials are full of cellulose and a molecule called lignin. The lignin is bonded to the cellulose within each plant cell.

Professor Shulin Chen of Washington State University is one scientist studying what termites do with an eye toward adopting similar processes to make biofuels from crop residues and woody materials. read full article

CougsCARE design team places second in Hydrogen Education Foundation Competition

Brennan Pecha (ChemE), Jacob Bair (ME), Eli Chambers (ChemE), Cale Levengood (ME), and Shi-Shen Liaw(BioSysE); members of the WSU CougsCARE team avised by Jacob Leachman, Su Ha, and Manuel Garcia-Perez took 2nd place in the annual Hydrogen Education Foundation Competition with a “Combined Heat, Hydrogen and Power (CHHP) system design for WSU using local resources.

WSU Tri-Cities prof receives grant to study high-energy biofuels

August 28, 2015 | WSU News

RICHLAND, Wash. — Hanwu Lei, Washington State University Tri-Cities associate professor in biological systems engineering, was awarded a $494,000 grant this fall to research catalysts, which will be used to increase the energy output and performance of biofuels.

Lei said he will use the biomass-derived catalysts to produce aromatic hydrocarbons, which are high-energy organic compounds that are largely responsible for the octane number, or performance rating, of a fuel.

[full article]

Washington State University