Project Overview

Biofuels and biobased products can substantially improve environmental quality, rural economies, and national security.  Realizing this opportunity will require the efforts of scientists and engineers who have an appreciation for the complexity and degree of interrelation of sustainable production of fuels from biomass.  Kansas State University is well positioned in this regard for preparing students to become research and educational leaders who can meet the evolving needs of the bio-based energy industry through a deep appreciation of the interrelated impact of economic, technological, agricultural, and societal issues. This IGERT proposal presents an integrated interdisciplinary graduate program for achieving transformative advances in the development of next-generation biorefineries.

Eligible Ph.D. applicants (U.S. citizen or permanent resident) are encouraged to apply to Kansas State University’s National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program. An IGERT trainee will receive two years (and possibly a third year) of an annual stipend of $30,000 and an additional $10,500 annual allowance for tuition, insurance, as well as resources for specialized training, internships, research and travel funds.

Research Objectives:  Developing technology and policies to take us from crops to commuting requires an understanding of and appreciation for integration of feedstock production, collection and transportation, biomass conversion, and product utilization.  IGERT trainees will be organized within interdisciplinary core teams working toward solutions of integrated problems within three major categories: technology, agriculture, and socioeconomic issues.  Each team will work together to advance the science, technology, and policy of a specific technological subject.  For example: how can a biomass conversion system be designed which achieves high yield of fuels and chemicals while retaining economic viability of modestly scaled facilities?  Answering this question requires expertise and input from scientists and engineers with understanding of the biomass conversion technology, economics of biomass production and facility operation, and the social impact on the affected communities.  This mode of multidisciplinary interaction is central to each IGERT project.

Broader Impacts:   Training and research components of this project will lead to development of new technologies and practices which result in a substantial enhancement in the sustainability of the conversion of biomass to fuels.  As a result of this program, decisions regarding biofuels production will be guided by not only by technological and agricultural feasibility but also by the impact of the proposed technology on society. 

Education Objectives:  This IGERT program will train students using discovery, learning, and engagement techniques.  Trainee dissertation projects will be conducted in an integrated, concurrent fashion with overlapping faculty supervisory committee membership, regular joint meetings, and with dissertation chapter(s) and publications addressing the collaborative, integrated research issues and results. New learning opportunities are provided to trainees in planned classroom, seminar, workshop, certificate program, and field experience activities.  This learning will be deepened for trainees and expanded to undergraduate researchers through research mentorship opportunities.  Engagement is assured through collaboration with agricultural biomass producers and bioenergy industrial partners.  These program features also ensure trainees embody scholarship elements of discovery, integration, application, and teaching in their graduate program.

With support from NSF and partners, this IGERT project will directly fund the Ph.D. studies of trainees for two years and possibly a third year. These IGERT trainees will be paired with undergraduate researchers and faculty members to form core research teams addressing the scientific barriers facing sustainable biorefineries.  Teams will interact with industrial practitioners and researchers from Europe and Brazil.  Through this highly integrated network of researchers, significant advances to the establishment of sustainable biorefineries are expected.  Sustainable biorefineries can lead to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and improvements in the economic viability of our agrarian communities.