Penn State to Develop Bioenergy and Bioproducts Opportunities

Penn State to Develop Bioenergy and Bioproducts Opportunities
Nov 04, 2020
By Daniel Clolkosz
(State College, PA) Penn State faculty and extension specialists are the recipients of funding from a new 5-year multi-institutional USDA grant focused on developing new bio-based products in the region.
Titled the "Mid-Atlantic Sustainable Biomass Consortium (MASBio)", the project is led by West Virginia University and combines research, education, and extension efforts aimed at developing new products and markets for biomass produced from biomass crops and forest woody residues.
"This is an exciting opportunity to develop new bio-based businesses that help the ecosystem and grow the economy of our region" says Penn State investigator Dan Ciolkosz. "We have a great team and some really worthwhile tasks before us".
Mike Jacobson, Professor of Forest Resources, will be working to develop and support short-rotation willow and switchgrass feedstock production on reclaimed and marginal lands. This could include some of his current work with Penn State's Living Filter, where biomass crops are being used to help clean and absorb treated wastewater into the soil while simultaneously producing a biomass crop. "There is great potential for this crop in Pennsylvania," says Jacobson.
Jude Liu of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering will be working to demonstrate efficient and effective harvest and logistics strategies for optimized supply chains of biomass crops and forest residues. This requires cost-effective harvesting approaches for these relatively new crops, including switchgrass and miscanthus.
On the product development side, Steven Chmely (faculty member in the Biorenewable Systems program) will be working on ways to utilize the biomass feedstock to produce bio-based resins for 3-D printing. "By creating a bio-based printer resin, we have the potential to create many new opportunities for renewable materials and products".
Dr. Evelyn Thomchick of the Center for the Business of Sustainability and the Center for Supply Chain Research in Penn State’s Smeal College of Business will focus on market feasibility, supply chain, and business development analyses in cooperation with entrepreneurs, stakeholders, and businesses. "We want this work to be practical, and to translate into real business opportunities for Pennsylvania," said Thomchick. Local businesses and producer groups already partnering with the effort include Ernst Biomass of Meadville, Fox Land Restoration of Clearfield, and the Association of Warm Season Grass Producers, headquartered in Wapwallopen.
Also contributing to outreach efforts will be Sarah Wurzbacher and Ed Johnstonbaugh of Penn State Extension. Efforts will include workshops and short courses, business scenario development, and the provision of guidance to individuals and businesses that would like to work in this area. Interest in biochar production and use is growing in the region, and this project will be developing guidance for its deployment.
Education efforts will include custom-designed courses on the topic of bioproducts and the bioeconomy, a regional bioproducts design course, summer research and education opportunities for students, and teacher training workshops that include "toolkits" that make it easy for teachers to incorporate these topics in their classes.
Penn State's Center for Biorenewables will be working with Penn State Extension to help promote outreach, education, and research efforts of this group. "The bioeconomy is growing, and Pennsylvania can be at the forefront of this exciting area," says center co-director, Charlie Anderson.
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