NC A&T Earns National Science Foundation Funding to Open Bioenergy Center
(National Science Foundation) The Bioenergy Center at North Carolina A&T State University (NCA&T) will be an educational and research resource for the United States in the field of thermochemical conversion of biomass to bioenergy. The efficient and economic production of energy from biomass and other renewable natural resources is necessary to transform the U.S. energy industry to energy independence and sustainability. Thermochemical catalytic conversion of biomass to liquid fuels and hydrogen is widely recognized as a technology critical to achieving these goals.
The major focuses of the Bioenergy Center will be on developing advanced thermochemical biomass conversion technologies for the production of liquid transportation fuels and hydrogen and educating the engineers and scientists who will be needed to propel the biofuels industry forward into the 21st century. The overarching goals are to:
1) through research, education and outreach, spur development and commercialization of advanced thermochemical biomass conversion technologies for the efficient and economic production of liquid transportation fuels, hydrogen and chemicals;
2) provide education and training in the field of bioenergy for underrepresented undergraduate and graduate students, and career development for underrepresented scientists in the field of bioenergy;
3) serve as a pipeline for students from kindergarten up through graduate level into bioenergy related STEM disciplines and careers; and
4) create an interdisciplinary community of learning, discovery, and engagement at NCA&T that will promote excellence and internal and external collaboration in the bioenergy area.
To provide a national resource for improving the efficiencies and economics of thermochemical biomass conversion technology, the Bioenergy Center’s research is focused in three thrust areas:
(I) Production of high-quality synthesis gas (a mixture containing varying amounts of carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) by biomass gasification,
(II) Conversion of synthesis gas to liquid fuels and hydrogen, and
(III) Reforming and processing of biofuels for fuel cells.
Innovative aspects of the research projects include development of:
(1) thermochemical processes that have minimal carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions with high energy efficiency;
(2) microreactors for catalyst screening and higher yields of liquid fuels from synthesis gas;
(3) novel multi-metallic catalysts that produce H2 with minimal CO formation;
(4) membrane-reactor systems that produce high-purity H2 from reforming reactions;
(5) Proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) electrodes that have CO-tolerant, high-surface area, low platinum (Pt)-loading electrocatalysts; and
(6) economic analysis of technology choices that will be explicitly concentrated on biomass and energy prices as well as bioenergy policy provisions.
Additionally, there will be a focus on using evaluation data to contribute to the scholarly literature on best practices for the recruitment, retention, and professional development of underrepresented students and faculty members.
The Bioenergy Center will involve 10 faculty members from 6 academic departments (Biological Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Mathematics, Economics and Energy & Environmental Systems) and 1 faculty member at Louisiana Tech (Chemical Engineering). A seed grant program will bring in additional faculty from among minority groups who have been heretofore underrepresented in the STEM disciplines. Funding will be used to equip 4 bioenergy research labs, further develop two existing interdisciplinary Ph.D. programs, and support underrepresented minority students and faculty members. The research, education and industry partnerships emerging from the Bioenergy Center are expected to move North Carolina and the Southeast closer to leadership in the bioenergy industry.
Research, education and outreach will be achieved through a wide and diverse family of partners, including Louisiana Tech, the new Guilford County Schools system’s STEM Early College on the NCA&T campus, the N.C. Community College biofuels initiative, the Biofuels Center of North Carolina, the Kenan Fellows Program for Curriculum and Leadership Development, the Natural Science Center of Greensboro, federal labs and several bioenergy companies. Educational materials about the center’s research will be disseminated to partners. Effort will be expended to include other HBCU and minority serving institutions in online seminars and courses, as well as an international bioenergy conference, to insure broad, equitable access to the myriad economic and educational opportunities that bioenergy promises. READ MORE and MORE (North Carolina A&T State University) and MORE (Utility Products)