Eastern’s biological sciences department is collaborating with the efforts of the Renewable Energy Center to promote a greener future for the university.
Karen Gaines, the head of the department, said the department got involved with sustainability after the Renewable Energy Center was built.
Gaines said Eastern had been burning coal, which was not at all sustainable and was bad for the environment.
“We knew we had an opportunity to not only be green, but to leverage the project to teach our students as well,” she said. “As the energy center was being built, we were building curriculum and new programs.”
In the technology department, a concentration in renewable energy was developed and works hand-in-hand with the College of Sciences.
“Our students really wanted to get involved in sustainable energy so we made a minor in the College of Sciences in sustainability,” she said. “We also developed a graduate program, which focuses on training students to be involved in all aspects of renewable energy.”
Gaines said Blair Lord, the provost and vice president for academic affairs, gave the project a faculty line specifically for biomass, which is organic material that can be used as fuel.
Tom Canam, an assistant biology professor, has been working closely with Eastern’s biomass efforts and is working to keep his students involved in the process.
Canam works with the Center for Clean Energy Research and Education, which encompasses many departments working for sustainability.
“I have four students in my graduate class from the CENCERE program and another seven from biology,” he said. “It’s called Bio Energy and Bio Resources, and we cover different kinds of biomass and biodiesel.”
Canam is also working on his own research, which deals with biomass crops.
Gaines said Eastern currently burns woodchips as fuel, and since they must be imported from other areas, this project is trying to reduce and change the type of fuel burned.
Canam’s project aims to provide new materials that are more local and easier to obtain for use in the Renewable Energy Center.
“I picked a few of the more promising bio energy crops like poplar and miscanthus, which is a popular Japanese grass growing around (Charleston) and a native grass called switchgrass,” he said. “I planted them on campus next to the center, which includes 1,400 poplar trees and an acre of each type of grass.”
Canam said he will let the grasses and trees grow for a few years, then assess their growth patterns and harvest them to see what produces the most biomass per unit area.
Gaines said she believes theses efforts will lead to energy solutions on campus and in Charleston.
“We’re developing a curriculum and research program and hoping we’ll solve our own problems,” she said. “Not a lot of universities have that, and we can show that we need to change our energy problems locally as well as nationally.”
Gaines said she has a lot of faith in the program and is excited for where the program is going.
Dan Johnson, a biological sciences instructor and research leader for CENCERE, said he has a group of students working to improve Eastern’s energy resources through biodiesel.
“We have a small processing unit here in the Biological Sciences Building, and we’re working with Thomas Hall to collect all of their waste vegetable oil from the food service,” he said. “We’re collecting that oil (about 15 gallons a week) and converting it to biodiesel.”
Johnson said he usually has about two students per semester helping with the biodiesel production.
“We actually power our wildlife research vehicle with the biodiesel we produce,” he said.
Johnson said he and his students have collected oil in other locations throughout the community, including the Moose Lounge and Chinese restaurants.
Johnson said the biodiesel production saves Eastern about $15,000 to $20,000 on fuel prices.
“We get charged to take the oil away from campus so we can reduce our disposal fees,” he said. “We’re also preparing students for everything to come in the future by involving them in these processes.”
Source: The Daily Eastern News