2013 SBPP REU Project Descriptions

The following is a listing of the research project opportunities in 2013:

(Applicants will select their first, second and third choice of research projects in the application)

A.  Development of Bioplastics: This work focuses on using natural polymers, such as plant protein, as a bio-renewable bio-degradable feedstock to replace conventional plastics. Protein based plastics can be easily formulated and processed with conventional polymer processing techniques such as extrusion and injection molding. This project will explore formulations, processing and characterization. Participants will operate polymer processing equipment and analyze and interpret experimental data. (David Grewell lab)

B.  Develop a Downstream Process for Extracting Active Compounds from Algae or Pyrolytic Bio-oil from Lignocellulosic Biomass: Pyrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass generates crude bio-oil containing a variety of anhydrosugars and acetate which are ideal for microorganism growth. The goal of this research project is to develop a unique microalgae culture process using acetic acid rich bio-oil for producing lipid-rich algal biomass. The student will work on fermentation optimization with focusing on using fermenters for microalgal fermentation. (Zhiyou Wen lab)

C.  Measurement of biomass quality: Biomass quality is a key component in an economically sustainable biomass supply chain.  The student will work with analytical processes to measure biomass quality, particularly moisture and ash content, and will conduct research on biomass processing steps to improve biomass quality at a biorefinery. (Matt Darr lab)

D.  Biomass harvest logistics: Logistics of biomass feedstocks offer unique challenges in providing a year round feestock supply due to their low density and relatively large collection radius around the biorefinery.  The student will analyze GIS data on biomass harvesting and transportation systems to quantify the current productivity of logistics systems and will help develop recommendations for improved biomass supply chain systems. (Matt Darr lab)

E.  Analysis and Development of Biomass Densification Systems: The primary challenge related to the development of viable feedstock supply chains is the collection and transportation of low density biomass material.  The present systems utilize conventional forage harvest systems based on large round and square balers.  The student will analyze, develop recommendations and designs for alternative densification systems for  biomass harvest and transportation. (Stuart Birrell lab)

F.  Modeling Soil Loss Association with Corn Stover Removal: Corn stover has potential value as a cellulosic feedstock for biofuel production, but at the same time, it has soil conservation value as surface cover that helps to protect against soil loss.  The extent to which corn stover can be sustainably harvested varies depending on local conditions.  Using soil loss modeling, the student will explore how to offer site-specific recommendations to producers. (Amy Kaleita lab)

G.  Real Time Soil Nitrogen Monitoring: Especially in the upper Midwest, a major hurdle for sustainable energy crop production is minimizing and managing nitrogen export from farmland.  One avenue of research for promoting better management is the development of soil sensors capable of monitoring soil nitrogen in real time.  The student will test a sensing system currently under development, to track its performance under real field conditions. (Amy Kaleita lab)

H.  Establishing the Framework for a Watershed Scale Life-Cycle Assessment: The student will develop a life-cycle assessment of typical Midwestern United States agricultural production with consideration of changes due to external factors such as the presence of a new cellulosic ethanol plant.  In additional to a standard LCA, students will build modeling capabilities to predict the impact of farm level management decisions on downstream water quality.  The economic impacts of the predicted changes in water quality will be assessed, expanding the LCA to the watershed scale. (Michelle Soupir lab and Kurt Rosentrater lab collaboration)

I.  Techno-Economic Analysis of Upgrading Existing Ethanol Plants into Biorefineries: A computer model will be used to simulate the addition of new processing systems to an existing ethanol plant.  These may include anaerobic digestion, protein/fiber fractionation, and algae bioreactors.  The student will program the models and conduct simulations to determine net profitability for the ethanol plant by implementing these new technologies. (Kurt Rosentrater lab)

J.  Optimization of Fractionation Systems for Biomass: The student will use pilot-scale mechanical and air classification systems to fractionate biomass (DDGS, corn stover, and other materials) particles into various components.  The student will determine optimal processing conditions for each biomass, processing costs, and efficiencies of these operations. (Kurt Rosentrater lab)

K.  Extrusion Processing of Cereals and Coproducts into Value-Added Products: The student will conduct pilot-scale extrusion processing of various grains, cereals, and coproducts, and will produce human foods, pet foods, and aquatic feed products.  After processing, the student will conduct extensive physical and chemical characterization of the extruded products, in order to determine optimal processing conditions.  The student will also determine processing costs and efficiencies. (Kurt Rosentrater lab)

L.  Modeling of Biomass Structures: Using mathematical and computer-based models, the student will develop models of various biomass (corn stover, switchgrass, reed canary grass, etc.) stuctures, such as leaf, stem, and stalk components.  These models will then be used to predict properties such as mechanical strength, which is essential for the design and operation of harvesting and processing equipment. (Kurt Rosentrater lab)