What if we could simply switch what we put in our gas tanks and furnaces from fossil fuels to clean, green biofuels created from renewable crops? The technologies already exist, but whether they are yet sustainable solutions is debatable.
Future research into biofuels - such as ethanol made from grains like corn, barley and wheat, or biodiesel made from soybeans and recycled restaurant oil waste - requires interdisciplinary expertise in biology, microbiology, chemistry, and engineering to solve the dilemmas that today hold us back from converting to biofuels.
While it would be relatively uncomplicated to change over our vehicles and heating systems from petroleum to biofuels, using food products for power could cause hunger to be a problem for our world's growing population. Furthermore, undeveloped lands would need to be turned into farms. Finally, analysts argue that the current energy cost of producing biofuels exceeds the net benefits of using them.
Researchers at UMass Dartmouth are exploring how to increase the promise of biofuels to help us implement clean energy solutions, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and wean ourselves off foreign energy supplies.
Optimizing bioenergy by improving the yield, persistence, and quality of crops may allow farmers to produce biofuel ingredients more efficiently. Researchers aim to increase the potency of crops grown, conserve land use, and help plants resist environmental stresses.
Current Research: Molecular Mechanisms of American Cranberries Against Environmental Stress
Environmental factors play important roles in the future of agriculture productivity and sustainability. In cranberry industry, yellow vine syndrome appears when roots are not properly drawing nutrients from the soil. UMass Dartmouth researchers are investigating why and how the syndrome develops in order to come up with a strategy to solve the problem.
Contact: Prof. Harvey Hou, Chemistry & Biochemistry, www.umassd.edu/cas/chemistry/
Diesel engines are capable of burning biodiesel without retrofitting or modifications. All that is needed for petroleum diesel to give way to biodiesel is a supply of the eco-friendly fuel. Producing biodiesel from waste oils such as those left over from restaurant deep fryers is one possible source for the fuel.
Current Research: Campus Biodiesel Prototype
Senior design engineering students at UMass Dartmouth built a biodiesel prototype processor to convert campus waste into 100% pure biodiesel. The campus goal is to have the processing facility supply all university service vehicles.
Contact: Dr. Sankha Bhowmick, Mechanical Engineering, www.umassd.edu/engineering/mne/