NIFA
Members' Portal

Northeast Woody/Warm-season Biomass Consortium

Education

Bioenergy Scholars Program - Research Project/Mentor Opportunities

Summer 2016

Cornell University: Don Viands

Research Focus:

The Forage Breeding Project at Cornell University focuses on breeding to improve perennial forage species (mostly alfalfa and birdsfoot trefoil) as feed for the livestock industry. Several forage species are evaluated for yield at various locations in NYS. Another major objective of the project is to breed switchgrass and other warm season grass species as feedstocks for biofuels. We are currently conducting research and extension activities to improve biomass, plant stand establishment (e.g., seed germination under cool conditions), disease and insect resistance, etc.

Student Opportunity:

In 2015, four new switchgrass populations were created as the result of collaboration between switchgrass breeding programs at Cornell and Rutgers Universities.  These unique populations will be evaluated for resistance to Bipolaris seed rot.  This fungal pathogen can have dramatic effects on switchgrass establishment, reducing germination by as much as 80%.  Opportunities to work with a team on other research (including feedstocks and other forages) will provide a broader experience with forage breeding.


Other information:
A housing and travel allowance is included. Valid US driver's license and 3 years driving experience preferred. Must be a US citizen and at least 18 years old.

Website:

 http://plbrgen.cals.cornell.edu/cals/pbg/programs/departmental/forage/index.cfm

Contact Information:

Don Viands
Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics
Phone: 607-255-3081
Email: drv3@cornell.edu

Delaware State University: Venu (Kal) Kalavacharla, Kalpalatha( Latha) Melmaiee, Vasudevan Ayyappan

Research Focus:

Our group focuses on plant genetics and genomics research addressing both basic and applied questions.  This includes understanding plant responses to abiotic and biotic stresses in order to develop molecular markers that will assist in breeding as well as understanding the genomes, transcriptomes, and epigenomes of plants. 

Student Opportunity:

One possible area is a better understanding of plant responses to abiotic and biotic stress, specifically with regards to fungal pathogens such as anthracnose and rust, and to drought and salinity.  Students will gain a broad understanding of the commonality between molecular genetic and genomics methods in biology, and may specifically learn techniques in DNA, RNA, and protein analysis that cover areas of classical genetics, molecular genetics, and genomics.  Students will possibly work on a single aspect in this area or may work in multiple interdisciplinary areas.

Website: https://ciber.desu.edu/molecular-genetics-epigenomics-laboratory-mgel
Additional Information: At Delaware State University, students will have plenty of networking opportunities to meet and interact with other summer student researchers.
Contact Information:

Plant Molecular Genetics & Genomics laboratory
Center for Integrated Biological & Environmental Research
Delaware State University
Dover, DE 19901

Phone: 302-857-6405/6492/6461
Emai (Kalavacharla): vkalavacharla@desu.edu
Email (Melmaiee): kmelmaiee@desu.edu
Email (Ayyappan): vayyappan@desu.edu

Penn State University: Dennis Murphy

Research Focus: Occupational safety and health hazards in the biomass production system
Student Opportunity: (1) Conduct literature searches to identify and describe hazards and risk associated with major steps/processes in biomass production; (2) make field visits to document existing and potential hazard and risk exposures; and 2) develop draft report of findings and results.
Website: www.agsafety.psu.edu
Contact Information:

Dennis Murphy
Department of Agricultural & Biological Engineering
Phone: 814-865-7157
Email: djm13@psu.edu

Penn State University: Jude Liu

Research Focus: (1) testing mechanical properties of dedicated energy crops; (2) studying efficiency and capacity of different machine systems for energy crops through simulating mechanical processes; and (3) modeling biomass feedstocks logistics systems focusing on machinery related cost analysis. 
Student Opportunity: Material physical property lab testing, data processing and analyzing, and machine performance evaluating, and logistics modeling.
Website: http://abe.psu.edu/research/agricultural-production/research-liu
Additional Information: Students who work on this project over a summer session will have the opportunity to continue on his/her research activities during regular semesters as a part-time research assistant paid by hours working on the project. 
Contact Information:

Agricultural & Biological Engineering

Phone: 814-863-6844
Email: jliu@engr.psu.edu

Penn State University: Armen R. Kemanian

Research Focus:

Shrub willow, a perennial short rotation woody crop, shows high growth potential in fertile soils, but we do not know with certainty the degree with which growth is limited by soil properties such as the profile water holding capacity and related variables soil depth, rock content, and organic matter content. Other properties including soil pH and Al content also affect shrub willow growth. This project seeks to relate within field soil variability with shrub willow growth. This information is critical to assess productivity in the variable soils of the northeastern United States.

Shrub willow can be planted in mixtures of genotypes and species or “polycultures” that, unlike typical monoculture grain crops. This internal plant diversity, along with the usual if minor presence understory weeds, can provide habitat for a diversity of insects. The extent of that diversity has not been explored and can be a significant ecosystem service that provides habitat to pollinators and other arthropods, as well as natural predators that can control insects that feed on willow. This project seeks to characterize the arthropods diversity within willow fields as well as in the neighboring vegetation for several willow stands, including willow monocultures, willow polycultures, and the surrounding vegetation.
Student Opportunity:

Relating soil properties with aboveground biomass in shrub willow

This is an opportunity for students to combine plant and soil knowledge and to gather practical experience on soil sampling, plant sampling, data analysis and data presentation, working within a dynamic team of scientists and students. This is an ideal opportunity for students with interest in coupled plant and soil processes that determine growth.  

Arthropod diversity in shrub willow stands – a hidden ecosystem service?

This is an opportunity for students with background in entomology that seek to applies principles of ecology to perennial biomass crops. The project will give students the opportunity to work not only with willow but with annual crops, forest, and prairies, all of which surround existing willow fields.

 

Website:

http://plantscience.psu.edu/directory/kxa15
http://plantscience.psu.edu/research/labs/kemanian

Contact Information: Plant Science
Phone: 814-863-9852
Email: akemanian@psu.edu

 

Rutgers University: Stacy Bonos

Research Focus:

Breeding and genetic improvement of switchgrass for biofuel production. The main objectives for our breeding program are selection for grasses with increased biomass, disease resistance, lodging tolerance, improved germination and increased cellulose-to-lignin ratio for improved performance on marginal land in the Northeast U.S. 

Student Opportunity:

Summer student research projects could include 1) Evaluation of the effect of anthracnose disease on biomass quality and yield of switchgrass cultivars; 2) Determination of the genetic basis for disease resistance and identification of QTL associated with disease resistance; 3) Assistance with the breeding and selection of switchgrass germplasm with superior performance on reclaimed mine land and marginal soils throughout the Northeast US; 4) Characterization of the molecular and genetic diversity of switchgrass anthracnose isolates.

Website:

http://aesop.rutgers.edu/~plantbiopath/faculty/bonos/bonos.html

Contact Information:

Department of Plant Biology and Pathology

Phone: 848-932-6367
Email: bonos@aesop.rutgers.edu

State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry: Timothy Volk

Research Focus:

SUNY ESF is involved in the development and implementation of willow biomass crops for the production of bioenergy, biofuels and bioproducts. This includes research and development work on various aspects of the willow biomass cropping system including crop management, harvesting and storage systems, characterization of willow biomass, growing willow on contaminated sites, and life cycle analysis and other sustainability assessments of willow biomass production systems. Further information about various aspects of the ongoing work can be found at www.esf.edu/willow.

Student Opportunity:

One of the demonstration areas being developed as part of the NewBio project is for willow biomass crops in northern NY as part of a USDA Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) project area. About 770 acres of willow were planted in the spring and early summer of 2013 and another 400+ acres of willow in the project area were planted a number of years ago and are in various stages of growth. The drought during the summer of 2016 has had some negative impacts on willow crops across this area. Some of these fields were harvested in the fall of 2016 after the drought. Part of this position will be to reassess the potential impact of last summer’s drought on willow growth in the summer of 2017.

Incorporating cover crops into willow biomass crops is an important management approach to reduce erosion potential during the establishment phase of willow. A trial using a number of different cover crops was established in the fall of 2016 on two sites. One is a former industrial site where willow is being grown as an alternative cover and the second is a more typical mineral soil. This position will include monitoring these trials, collecting, processing and interpreting data from these trials.

Website: www.esf.edu/willow
Contact Information:

Dept of Forest and Natural Resources Management

Phone: 315-470-6774
Email: tavolk@esf.edu

USDA Eastern Regional Research Center: Akwasi (Kwesi) Boateng

Research Focus:

Distributed-Scale Pyrolysis of Agricultural Biomass for Production of Refinable Crude Bio-Oil and Valuable Coproducts

Student Opportunity:

(1) Biomass characterization for pyrolysis efficiency in relation to cultivars, harvest logistics, etc., and (2) production of fuel intermediates via pyrolysis.

The aim of the research is to cost-effectively produce pyrolysis liquids from lignocellulosic biomass at, or near the farm with at least the specifications of a boiler fuel and which can be shipped for refining to diesel and/or gasoline products in existing oil refineries. The research focuses on smaller pyrolysis footprints in a distributed on-farm system capable of producing a liquid fuel intermediate which is deoxygenated enough to be stable so it can be stored and/or shipped. Such partial deoxygenation, enabled by inexpensive commercial catalysts and by simple process modifications, can reduce the concentration of reactive-oxygen containing functional groups and can simplify downstream hydroprocessing at the refinery, and improve catalyst life and save money. The project is organized under 3 sub-objectives. The first one focuses on analytical screening of biofeedstocks, catalysts and their combinations. The most promising combinations are selected for further processing in existing ARS pilot-scale pyrolysis reactors. Under sub-objective 2, the pilot reactors are modified to carry out catalytic reactions to produce sufficiently large quantities of pyrolysis oil for stability testing and analysis. Such testing is used to determine the oil’s quality relative to boiler and refinery feedstock specifications. Promising pilot-scale process conditions are optimized. The goal is to integrate individual unit operations into a pyrolysis system that meets the demands of on-farm operation. The third sub-objective focuses on the conditioning of pyrolysis residue, biochar, for structure that meets specifications required for soil-amending, carbon-sequestering properties that could potentially be applied in the field so food, fiber and energy can be sustainably produced.
Website: www.ars.usda.gov/naa/errc
Contact Information:

Eastern Regional Research Center, Wyndmoor, PA; (Outside Philadelphia)

Phone: 215-233-6493
Email: akwasi.boateng@ars.usda.gov

West Virginia University: Jingxin Wang

Research Focus:

The biomass and bioenergy research at West Virginia University (WVU) has been advanced through the involvement of the Wood Science and Technology Program, the Biomaterials and Wood Utilization Research Center, and the Appalachian Hardwood Center in the Division of Forestry and Natural Resources. The Program offers degrees at the bachelor’s, masters, and doctoral levels focusing on renewable materials and bioenergy. The Center has focused on making use of Appalachian hardwoods and woody biomass materials through the development of new products and conversion techniques. WVU has established strong programs on feedstock development that will be utilized as a source of raw material for both biofuels and value-added bioproducts. We have 23,530 square feet facility dedicated to bioenergy and bioproduct research. Available facilities include: lab equipment to pretreat, convert, and analyze feedstocks. Our current bioenergy research team includes key personnel from WVU’s three colleges: the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design; Eberly College of Arts and Sciences; and College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. We have also established strong collaborative programs with the USDA Forest Service Lab and DOE National Energy Technology Lab near our campus.

Student Opportunity:

Biomass supply chain, harvesting and logistics;
Computer simulation and system modeling;
Spatial analysis;
Bio-fuel pretreatment and raw material characterization;
Biomaterials, biomass preprocessing, materials surface engineering.
Thermo-chemical conversion (gasification, pyrolysis) of biomass or biomass and coal;
Material manufacturing and process control methods; and
Marketing of renewable materials, biofuels and bioproducts.

Website:

http://woodscience.wvu.edu/
http://www.wdscapps.caf.wvu.edu/BioMatWURCtr/
http://bioenergy.wvu.edu/

Contact Information:

Division of Forestry and Natural Resources

Phone: 304-293-7601
Email: jxwang@wvu.edu

West Virginia University: Stephen DiFazio

Research Focus:

My laboratory uses genetics and genomics approaches to study adaptive traits in forest trees. We focus primarily on trees from the Salicaceae family, which includes the cottonwoods, aspen, and willow. Our applied research focuses on developing trees that can be used as efficent biofuel feedstocks.

Student Opportunity:

We are using a field trial of the purple willow (Salix purpurea) to identify genes that underlie adaptive traits. Because we have dense markers spread across the entire genome, we can genetically analyze virtually any trait that varies in this population. For this project the student will measure physiological parameters like photosynthetic rate and water potential, which are important characteristics determining adaptation in natural populations and plantations. The student will gain experience with laboratory techniques that will include molecular methods like PCR and DNA sequencing, and will become familiar with advanced physiological instrumentation. There will also be a computational component to the project, so the student will also gain some experience with analyzing genomic data using bioinformatics tools.

Additional Information:

We usually host summer students from West Virginia University’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program (funded by NSF), as well as a state-funded fellowship program (SURE) and honors students performing directed research. The lab is therefore a lively research environment with plenty of opportunities for interactions and social events with peer student researchers as well as postdocs, graduate students, and the lab director.

Website:

http://www.as.wvu.edu/~sdifazio

Contact Information:

Department of Biology
Director, Genomics Core Facility
5200 Life Sciences Building
West Virginia University
53 Campus Drive
Morgantown, WV 26506-6057
Email: spdifazio@mail.wvu.edu

NEWBio (consortium members below) is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2012-68005-19703 
from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
NEWBio | Land and Water Research Bldg., University Park, PA 16802 | Members Portal
Telephone: 814.863.0291; FAX: 814.865.3378
The Pennsylvania State University ©2012
NEWBio is committed to making its websites accessible to all users, and welcomes comments or suggestions on access improvements. Please send comments or suggestions on accessibility to the webmaster.