By Becky Malkovich, Southern Illinoisan
INA - Research taking place in a small lab on the campus of Rend Lake College could have a big impact on the future of biofuels, especially in the agriculture industry.
The college is the recipient of a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that supports research into biofuels as well as the development of classes to teach students to make their own biofuels, RLC physics and physical science professor and grant director Linda Denton said.
Eight student interns will participate in the two-year research study that will determine whether using marginal crops or byproducts such as wheat straw, switchgrass or corn cobs to produce ethanol and other biofuels is cost-effective, RLC biology instructor Abel Kinser said.
For instance, interns are using naturally occurring fungi like oyster mushrooms, aspergillus and yeast to break down plant materials and make ethanol or other biofuels, he said.
"The preliminary testing looks good," he said.
The research could have implications for farmers and others who want to make their own biofuels, Denton said.
"With the high price of gas and diesel, the use of biofuels is becoming more and more cost-effective.
If a farmer or someone living in a rural area can produce their own feedstocks (for homemade biofuels), it becomes even more economical," she said. "It also helps us in terms of national security. We don't have to worry about using oil and gas from overseas. Biofuels can be manufactured here in the U.S."
Shannon Paisley, a horticulture major from Sesser, has been interning with the project since the summer.
"The research we're doing is on the ground floor of this industry - it's a cutting-edge approach," he said. "The way we're approaching it is for more of a feasible way for a farmer to initiate the process. Right now, you might take feedstock away to a plant, but we're trying to start it on the farm."
The grant will also result in classes to teach students how to make biofuels that be used for any internal combustion engine, she said.
RLC agriculture students can take the Internet-based class, with Saturday labs, as an elective. Members of the community can take a Saturdays-only lab and learn how to make different biofuels like ethanol, biodiesel and methane, she said.
Classes will begin in the spring semester.
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