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OSU Bioenergy Minor Up and Running

Jay Well and Kate Field, Oregon State University and

OSU’s students in the class - Introduction to Regional Bioenergy
OSU’s students in the class “Introduction to Regional Bioenergy” visit a hybrid poplar demonstration bioenergy plantation in Jefferson, OR.

Bioenergy is predicted to grow in importance in the Pacific Northwest and nationally, creating employment opportunities and a need for trained people.  Oregon State University’s new Bioenergy Minor, created as part of the Advanced Hardwood Biofuels Northwest project, aims to meet these needs.  The interdisciplinary, research-based Bioenergy Minor provides an introduction to bioenergy concepts and issues, along with targeted research experience and professional development.  Students are recruited to the Bioenergy Minor from science, agriculture, forestry, engineering, education, social science and business majors.  The diverse disciplinary makeup of both participating students and faculty encourages novel cross-disciplinary approaches to problem solving.  Each student will conduct a mentored bioenergy research project with a participating faculty member, industry or extension partner; write a thesis; and present a public seminar.  This transcript-visible minor complements existing majors to help students attain their career or graduate/professional school goals in the growing field of bioenergy.

The first cohort of students entered into the Bioenergy Minor this fall.  They are taking the newly designed “Introduction to Regional Bioenergy” course, which provides students with a broad overview of bioenergy concepts and technologies through field trips to regional bioenergy industry and research facilities.  Guest lecturers provide technical background and discuss economic, environmental and socio-cultural sustainability of bioenergy.

Students taking the course have visited Sequential Biofuels (the longest-running biodiesel production facility in the Pacific Northwest); GreenWood Resources demonstration hybrid poplar tree planting site; Republic Services Coffin Butte Landfill power generation facility; the Corvallis Wastewater Treatment plant; and a Microbial Fuel Cells research lab.  These tours, along with class lectures, focused on five main themes:

  1. Overview of Bioenergy and Bioenergy-related Technologies
  2. Feedstocks and Conversion
  3. Life Cycle Analysis and Sustainability
  4. Bioenergy Policy
  5. Entrepreneurship Opportunities and Economic Sustainability of Bioenergy Businesses

The class culminates in a project in which the students choose one of the regional bioenergy facilities visited during a class field trip and use the facility to present the five themes of the class.  Using a program called Pachyderm, supported by OSU’s College of Agricultural Science, student teams are building a web-based, learner-driven multimedia presentation that combines text, graphics, audio, and video.  These presentations will be available for use in a variety of other regional venues, such as future bioenergy courses and outreach to K-12 teachers and students.

The next course in the Bioenergy Minor, to be offered winter term, will help prepare students for their research projects by introducing them to bioenergy related research and providing a comprehensive overview of research methods. Students will also take elective courses from technical, environmental, and social/economic/policy areas related to bioenergy.

With the new Bioenergy Minor up and running, along with other bioenergy related opportunities, OSU is in position to help meet the needs of the growing field of bioenergy skilled professionals.