By Betsy Fradd, Washington State University
Shawn Freitas is on a mission. As the driving force behind Oregon State University’s Ecampus bioenergy class, he’s determined to take the mystery out of bioenergy and make it relevant for anyone interested in the environment.
“The point is to make bioenergy easier for everybody to talk about,” said Freitas who will be offering the 10-week online class again this fall. Students have access to 25 microlectures on topics including feedstocks, chemistry, conversions, economics, and sustainability. Custom graphics provide easy-to-understand visuals making the content appealing to students with little or no bioenergy background.
“To accommodate different knowledge levels we have piloted some new approaches to describing biomass,” said Freitas. “Instead of trying to address dozens of different lignocellulosics we group everything into two major categories of ‘rural-distributed’ sources of biomass representing forest/agricultural and ‘urban-consolidated’ sources of biomass representing aquatic biomass/urban wastes. This makes it easier to explain why every biomass-based project must be assessed individually based on the locally available resources.”
Freitas brings nearly ten years of industry experience to OSU having worked in both the petrochem and biofuels industries. This two-credit class can be included in the OSU bioenergy minor but is not a required course. To reach an even greater audience Freitas is preparing to have the class content hosted on an open source education server so anyone with internet can access a basic bioenergy course.
“Science is becoming so advanced that it’s almost impossible for people to understand what’s happening,” said Freitas. “It’s hard for people to support what they don’t understand. Education is the only way around that and providing more access to better, less subjective information.”
The course is now being viewed by industry veterans and energy professionals who are being asked for input on the current content with the intent of it being available to the public this summer.
“Part of the idea in making this open source is that ag and forestry folks all over the country are teaching K-12 kids about rural jobs and rural lifestyles and I want them to have a resource to teach some aspects of bioenergy,” said Freitas. “They can show or send the students the lectures, discuss the content, and then, hopefully, students can make more informed decisions and choices.”
For more information on Ecampus: http://ecampus.oregonstate.edu/