THINK TANK - RLC Physics Professor Linda Denton talks to Applied Science Division Chair Terry Wilkerson about a possible site for a new biofuels laboratory in the Applied Science Center on the campus in Ina. A new internet hybrid biofuels course is being developed through a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant. College officials are anticipating the course to begin in summer or fall of next year. CLICK HERE for a larger image.
INA, Ill. - Rend Lake College has been awarded a federal grant to start up a biofuels course and research the cost of implementing such fuels in the field. Physics Professor Linda Denton spearheaded the grant proposal for RLC as project director, along with Resource Development Specialist Ed Ruffino.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture grant will provide $60,835 toward the development of an internet hybrid course on biofuels to serve as an elective in the agriculture curriculum, according to Denton. The class will be worth three credit hours and will be transferable. It will be an internet-based study of the production and use of methane, ethanol and biodiesel, with an on-campus laboratory.
Denton said she came across the grant opportunity while researching courses RLC could take to the community.
"I had been looking for an opportunity to start some ethanol, biodiesel, methane programs for our community education department for a couple of years," she said. "I happened to read about this grant. We submitted it and it was approved."
The grant includes funding to equip the biofuels laboratory. Denton met with Applied Science Division Chair Terry Wilkerson on campus last week to look in the Applied Science Center for a lab location.
"The lab won't take up as much space as one might think," she said while referencing a possible site that takes up about 300 square feet of space in the more than 12,000 square-feet open shop area where students train on equipment in the ASC.
Students enrolled in the biofuels internet course will meet on four Saturdays to actually produce methane, ethanol and biodiesel from campus farm feedstock. The college will also use the Saturday laboratories as a non-credit community education class, available to anyone interested in learning about biofuels, but not interested in taking the three credit hour class.
"Students who take the community education course can still learn how to make biodiesel, methane and ethanol, and learn how to use it," Denton explained.
Students are responding to news of the class being on the horizon. One of them is Kody Schwarze of Valmeyer, a freshman in the agriculture program. Schwarze said he is interested in the course.
"Biodiesel is a big thing in farming these days," he said. "If you use more biodiesel you save more oil. Almost all fuel these days is biodiesel. Being able to make your own fuel can save you a lot of money."
Another component of the grant will look at just that. Four student interns will be paid each semester to study the cost-effectiveness of local use, Denton said.
"These students will study the use of biofuels on a Southern Illinois farm using RLC campus farm equipment and supplies."
Denton predicts it will be more expensive to use biofuels instead of regular diesel fuel, but there are other benefits she pointed out, such as cutting down on pollution and building a back-up plan for the possibility of sky-rocketing fuel prices. Of course, she will have to wait for the study to come out before she knows for sure.
She estimated that the new biofuels course will start in the summer or fall of 2011, depending on when the college receives course approval from the Illinois Community College Board.
"We are in the process of developing the laboratory now," Denton said. "I've had a lot of people ask about it ... former students who come in, mechanics interested in making it for their car, farmers who are interested in pressing their own soybeans and making biodiesel for their equipment, and just people in the community who are interested in saving money on gasoline."
The USDA website provides a wealth of resources and information about biofuels, from education and extension to research projects being funded both publicly and privately. Visit online at www.usda.gov and search "bioenergy and biofuels."