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CESTA forms BioEnergy Group to Develop Renewable and Sustainable Sources of Energy

– During the winter, people want to be warm in their homes. When it is dark, they want to be able to turn on the lights.

Americans have become accustomed to living a certain lifestyle and the bio-energy research being conducted at Florida A&M University’s (FAMU) College of Engineering Sciences, Technology and Agriculture (CESTA) will aid in maintaining that and more.

FAMU’s CESTA has formed the BioEnergy Group to uncover renewable and more sustainable forms of energy, educate young bioengineers and aid limited-resource farmers, which is a major thrust for CESTA.

Jennifer Taylor, Ph.D., CESTA research associate, has put biofuel research into action at a farm in Sopchoppy, Fla.

“The 2006 pilot project equipped innovative farmers and the owners of Crescent Moon Organic Farm with a biodiesel processor and the knowledge and skill to make biodiesel fuel, which they use to power on-farm tractors, backhoes, farm equipment and trucks,” Taylor said. 

In 2006, Taylor begun to hosted several capacity-building, hands-on workshops on alternative sustainable energy – biodiesel fuel using vegetable oil as an alternative – as a pilot project. These workshops, called FAMU Whole-Farm Sustainable Biofuel Research and Demonstration Projects, implement an on-farm learning model for sustainable renewable biofuels production and energy. To date, nearly 300 people have participated in the workshops, and now they are putting what they learned into action.

The BioEnergy Group is also working on other forms of biofuel research that, unlike the more common studies done the in the Midwest, will have no effect on the environment and the economy.

“It’s not about how our research can drastically change the lives of people,” said Adrienne T. Cooper, Ph.D., an associate professor of biological and agricultural systems engineering. “But more so, how our efforts can contribute to maintaining our way of living by providing renewable and more sustainable sources of energy.”

As gas prices continue to soar and searches for new oil do not reveal a positive result, some argue that we may have reached our peak in regards to fossil fuel sources. According to Oghenekome Onokpise, Ph.D., professor and associate dean for CESTA, this creates a need for alternative sources of energy. 

Most biofuel research is conducted in the Midwest and involves corn and soybeans because of federal subsidies that keep prices artificially low. The research being conducted at FAMU is different since corn is not the focus and also the BioEnergy Group is taking a more holistic approach to this issue. 

“The overuse of corn as a feedstock for biofuel has caused the price of corn to increase,” said Onokpise. “Dairy farmers use corn to feed their herd and are paying more for feed, which in turn caused an increase in the price of milk and other related products.”

The FAMU BioEnergy Group is conducting research that will not have adverse effects on the environment or the economy.

“About 97 percent of water resources on earth is not suitable for direct human consumption,” said Clifford Louime, Ph.D., a CESTA research associate. “We are evaluating saltwater crops, technically known as halophytes, as a potential feedstock for biofuels.”

This method will not take away from the already small supply of freshwater, which has a very slight effect on the economy and does not harm the environment.

In addition to the various research projects being conducted, the BioEnergy Group is working to make sure young bioengineers at FAMU will be prepared to address the energy needs of America in the 21st century.

“We are training minority scientists in developing technology to grow crops and understand the process of bio-processing,” said Onokpise. “Bio-energy is the future and we need to make sure that our successors can pick up where we have left off.”

The FAMU BioEnergy Group will also focus on aiding limited-resource farmers through their research. The group is currently studying various crops grown in Florida, and through bio-processing will determine if they can or cannot use them as a source of feedstock for renewable energy.

If a crop proves to be useful, they can share this information with limited-resource farmers as a method to increase profit, as some crops used for biofuel tend to sell at higher prices.

Makola Abdullah, dean of CESTA, has high hopes for the BioEnergy Group.

“Biofuels is one of the targeted research and outreach focus areas for the college,” he said. “We believe that FAMU can play a significant role in reducing our nations dependence on fossil fuels by focusing on renewable green energy solutions.”

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