Student engineers, scientists to explore sustainable energy solutions with $3 million NSF grant

AUBURN – The National Science Foundation has awarded Auburn University a $3 million, five-year grant to instruct doctoral students in the sustainable production of biofuels and chemicals. The grant, an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship, or IGERT,┬áis the first awarded at Auburn.

The collaborative project, “IGERT: Integrated Biorefining for Sustainable Production of Fuels and Chemicals,” is led by Mario Eden, an associate professor of chemical engineering at Auburn.

“Exploring bioenergy is integral to Auburn’s strategic plan and the university is uniquely suited to lead this effort because of its established track record and expertise in biorefining research and education,” said Eden, the Joe T. and Billie Carole McMillan associate professor in Auburn’s Department of Chemical Engineering. “Auburn researchers are advancing the technologies that enable production of fuels and chemicals from a wide range of bioresource feedstocks.”

Auburn’s IGERT program will provide student scientists and engineers the opportunity to gain interdisciplinary knowledge and technical expertise while interacting with industry and working on global emerging technologies for technically viable, efficient, economical and environmentally sustainable energy solutions.

An interdisciplinary team of co-principal investigators includes Chris Roberts, the Uthlaut professor and department chair in chemical engineering, and Steve Taylor, director of Auburn’s Center for Bioenergy and Bioproducts and department head in biosystems engineering. P.K. Raju, the Thomas Walter professor in mechanical engineering, and Tom Gallagher, associate professor in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, round out the team.

The project will provide enormous benefits to our doctoral students,” said Roberts. “The program itself is highly competitive and will allow us to attract a world-class cohort of students to Auburn’s campus.”

Biomass-derived products are considered nearly carbon dioxide-neutral and may reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lessening the effects of global warming. By reinvigorating major manufacturing sectors such as the pulp and paper industry, Eden and his research team believe that these new technologies could strengthen local, regional and national economies, as well as decrease the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

“During the past few years, Auburn has made strategic investments in building an excellent research program in bioenergy and bio-based products,” said Taylor. “These IGERT-funded students will be able to learn from a strong collaborative team of research faculty and will be able to take advantage of several specialized bioenergy research laboratories. This grant is a tremendous boost to Auburn’s bioenergy and bioproduct research program.”

IGERT is the NSF’s flagship interdisciplinary training program, educating U.S. doctoral scientists and engineers through interdisciplinary training and collaborative research. Since 1998, the IGERT program has provided funding for more than 5,800 graduate students.

(Contributed by Brennen Reece.)

Sally Credille, (334) 844-3447 (src0007@auburn.edu), or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)