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Washington State University

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, 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.

2014 ASABE and CSBE | SCGAB Annual International Meeting

June 2014

ASABE Meeting 2014

ASABE meeting is an international meeting, attended by students and professors from South America, Asia, Europe and North America. The 2014 meeting included 170 technical sessions, including oral and poster sessions,  in different disciplines pertinent to agricultural and biological engineering. Other than technical sessions, there is also a Career Fair, which provides a networking opportunity for the students, industries, universities and research companies.

Faculty members attending: Dr. Manoj Karkee, Dr. Pius Ndegwa, Dr. Sindhuja Sankaran, Dr. Juming Tang, and Dr. Qin Zhang


  • Suraj Amatya presented an oral session entitled ‘Identification of Cherry Branches for Automated Sweet Cherry Harvesting Using Mechanical Shakers’, in the session Machine Vision and Sensors for Autonomous Vehicles and Robotics.
  • Mohammadali Azadfar works as PhD student in the field of Bioenergy and Bioproducts engineering under direction of Professor Chen in the Bioprocessing and Bioproducts Engineering Laboratory (BBEL). Mohammadali made an oral presentation entitled ‘Correlation of Lignin Structure to its Antioxidant Activity’, in the session, Design and Characterization of Bio-based Materials.
  • Aleana Gongal
  • George Mathew Neerackal made an oral presentation entitled ‘Manure-pH Management for Mitigating Ammonia Emissions from Manure-Flush Dairy Barns’ in the session, Measurement and Mitigation of Pollutants from Livestock and Poultry Housing. George is a Ph.D. candidate with a research emphasis in Land, Air , Water Resources & Environmental Engineering (LAWREE). His advisor is Dr. Pius Ndegwa
  • Yi Wei works as PhD student in the field of  Bioenergy and Bioproducts Engineering under direction of Professor Hanwu Lei in the  Bioproducts, Sciences, and Engineering Laboratory (BSEL) in the Tri-Cities. Yi made an oral presentation entitled ‘Upgrading of pyrolysis bio-oil via esterification by zeolite catalysis’, in the session of Advanced and Drop-In Biofuels Production – Biochemical & Thermochemical Approach.
  • Libing Zhang, Dr. Yang‘s PhD student
  • Xuesong Zhang
  • Lei Zhu

BSYSE 512 Poster Competition Winners

First Place:       Prashant Pokhrel (avg score 81.3)

Second Place:  Muhammad Khan (avg score 80.8)

Third Place:     Jose Martinez Fernandez (avg score 79.8)


Congratulations to Prashant, Muhammad, and Jose for your exceptional poster presentations, and to the whole class for your good effort!

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

ASABE Conference Research Award

Congratulations to Jingjin Zhang!

“I am very happy to announce that your paper entry to the Boyd-Scott Graduation Research Award competition was selected as one of the top three papers judged in the written portion of the PH.D. category competition.” An oral competition will follow this July in Montreal, Canada.

Carol L. Flautt, Awards Administrator, ASABE

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

Congratulations, Regents Professor!

Dear CAHNRS Faculty and Staff Colleagues:

Dr. Juming Tang
Department Chair: 
Dr. Juming Tang

On behalf of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences I take great pride in congratulating our own Professor Juming Tang for his promotion to the rank of Regents Professor and Scientist in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering effective July 1, 2014.

The promotion to Regents Professor recognizes faculty members who reach the highest level of distinction in their disciplines and raise university standards in scholarship, teaching, and public service.  Dr. Tang’s record of professional accomplishments is extremely impressive and this promotion acknowledges his outstanding career achievements!

Congratulations to Regents Professor Juming Tang!

Ron Mittelhammer, Interim Dean, CAHNRS, Regents Professor

New Technology Improves Food Safety and Flavor

On Solid Ground | Feb 12, 2014

Juming_TangA new technology that is now available to food companies can increase the consumer appeal of chilled or frozen meals sold in retail markets while reducing the chance of contamination.

A group of engineers led by Dr. Juming Tang, distinguished chair of Food Engineering and associate chair of Biological Systems Engineering at Washington State University, has developed a novel microwave-assisted pasteurization system that can semi-continuously process 8- to 20-ounce pre-packaged chilled meals. This marks an important milestone in a research program funded by a $5 million USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant awarded in 2011 to WSU and partners across the country.

see full article

Peas in disguise may increase nutrition

The Daily Evergreen |  Feb 5, 2014

The princess who felt a pea through 20 mattresses would have a hard time even tasting the peas used in Shyam S. Sablani’s food engineering research project.

That’s because Sablani’s peas have been reduced to a fine powder of microscopic pea proteins that could help people get more nutrition in their diet.

Sablani, an associate professor and scientist in the Biological Systems Engineering Department, and two food engineering students are researching the use of yellow peas to create microscopic containers. In a process Sablani called microencapsulation, the pea protein can preserve micronutritional compounds beneficial to human health.

see full article