energy and sustainability

Economists Find Current Biofuel Potential in Oregon May Be Costly and Limited

CORVALLIS, Ore. - The adoption of biofuels in Oregon could reduce the state's fossil fuel use by less than one percent, but at a much higher cost to society than more direct approaches such as a gasoline tax or raising fuel economy standards. That is the conclusion of a study published this week by the Oregon State University Extension Service.

The study, by OSU economists William Jaeger, Robin Cross, and Thorsten Egelkraut, compared three types of biofuels — corn ethanol, canola biodiesel, and wood-based (cellulosic) ethanol. They examined their commercial viability, potential production scale, and cost-effectiveness for achieving energy independence and reducing greenhouse gases.

"The promotion of biofuels is a public issue," said Jaeger. "Would a shift to biofuels achieve energy independence and a reduction of greenhouse gas? To answer this, we need to compare the cost for different approaches. Especially in terms of energy independence, these biofuels represent a costly and inefficient method compared to other approaches the government might take to achieve the same goal."

The researchers estimate that to achieve a given improvement in energy independence, biofuels could be 6 to 15 times more costly than other policy approaches such as raising fuel economy standards for vehicles.

When looking exclusively at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, however, their analysis suggests that both canola biodiesel and wood-based ethanol may be cost-effective ways to achieve that goal.

The results are also mixed in terms of commercial competitiveness. The study finds that corn ethanol and canola biodiesel are currently commercially viable in Oregon, thanks in part to government subsidies and regulations that have increased demand and lowered the cost of production. However, current production costs are still too high to make wood-based ethanol commercially attractive.

How can these biofuels be commercially competitive yet represent very high-cost ways to achieve energy independence? The authors explain that in addition to subsidies that lower the cost of production while adding cost to taxpayers, there are large differences in the amounts of fossil-fuel energy required to produce each fuel, and there are large differences in the amount of energy contained in a gallon of each fuel.

The OSU study looked only at large-scale commercial production of these three biofuels. The authors acknowledge that local or on-farm production may offer other advantages in some cases. They also caution that their estimates are subject to future changes in prices, technologies, or other developments.

The authors find that the potential scale of production for these biofuels in Oregon is limited. They estimate that these biofuels could contribute no more than a fraction of one percent of Oregon's current energy use.

"The main results of our analysis do not depend on our regional focus," Jaeger said. Although the scale of production of Midwest corn ethanol and soybean-based biodiesel is much larger than Oregon biofuels, the cost and cost-effectiveness of their production is not much different.

To view the report, see: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pdf/sr/sr1078.pdf

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William Jaeger,

Weatherford Hall Granted LEED Certification

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s Weatherford Hall, home of the Austin Entrepreneurship Program, has become certified as a “green” building by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, or LEED. The 1928 building is the first residential building on the OSU campus to receive this designation.

A program of the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED is a voluntary national standard for developing environmentally sustainable buildings.

Kelley Engineering Center is the only other completed building at OSU that is LEED certified. It is certified gold, the second highest rating. According to Brandon Trelstad, campus sustainability coordinator, all future capital construction projects at OSU, including new buildings and major remodels, will be LEED certified silver or equivalent.

"Weatherford Hall is a place where our students eat, live, learn, and socialize,” said College of Business Dean Ilene Kleinsorge. “Being LEED certified is consistent with the building’s role as a model for sustainable development in not only physical facilities but also a model for living including a collaborative, interdisciplinary, and innovation program.”

LEED is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings. Five key areas are looked at for obtaining this certification: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.

“In order to get certified by LEED, you really have to engage in this process from the beginning as the building construction or renovation is being designed,” said Tom Scheuermann, director of University Housing & Dining Services at OSU.

Although Weatherford Hall was built in 1928, it underwent a $20 million renovation in 2004, thanks in part to a donation by Ken and Joan Austin. Now the building houses nearly 300 students in what is the largest residential entrepreneurship program in the country.

Scheuermann said the goal during the remodel was to make Weatherford as “green” as possible, from the materials used to remodel the building, to how the site was prepared and what was done with the leftover materials.

Some of the key factors in Weatherford receiving a LEED certification include:

• Using low-impact, environmentally-friendly materials for paint, adhesives and carpet;

• Building the ventilation, electrical systems, heating and plumbing to be as efficient as possible;

• At least 75 percent of the building materials were recycled. In one case, an old dining center that had been attached to Weatherford in 1959 was torn down. The concrete was chopped into small pieces, which were used to fill in the basement floor;

• Native plants and trees were planted. And in the front lawn of Weatherford, “eco-lawn” was planted. Eco-lawn was developed by OSU researcher Tom Cook and is a mixture of grasses, flowers, and herbs that looks like grass, but is weed resistant and needs less water.

Scheuermann said making Weatherford a more sustainable building not only makes financial sense in terms of energy savings, but it serves as an educational model for the students and faculty who live in the building.

“It is an educational opportunity for students and it is in keeping with the College of Business, our department, and the university’s sustainability goals.”

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Tom Scheuermann,

OSU to host United Nations conference

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Oregon State University is preparing to host a week-long United Nations conference this summer that will bring delegates from 15 nations and 17 organizations to Corvallis, Ore., to discuss safer, "passive" nuclear energy technologies.

"We're thrilled that the United States, through its permanent mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency at the United Nations in Vienna, Austria, has agreed to have this important conference here at Oregon State," said José Reyes, professor and head of the OSU Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics.

Reyes returned in January from a year-long appointment in Vienna as a U.S. technical expert with this U.N. agency. He played a key role in OSU's selection as the site for the conference, which runs August 29 through Sept. 2.

Conference delegates will discuss natural circulation-based passive safety systems for use in nuclear power plants. Because these systems rely on natural processes such as gravity-driven circulation and natural convection, they are being considered for new nuclear plants worldwide, Reyes said.

OSU researchers lead the nation in the development and testing of passive reactor technologies that are simpler, more compact, and exceed the highest safety standards of the nuclear industry.

"Given the focus of our research, holding the U.N. conference here at OSU is a perfect fit," said Reyes. "Delegates will be able to see our research up close and tour our test facilities."

Only two passively safe nuclear plants in the world have obtained final design approval by their licensing authorities, and both were tested at OSU, whose graduate program in nuclear engineering is ranked ninth in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.

At the conference, Reyes will demonstrate a new concept for a passively safe modular reactor design. The Multi Application Small Light Water Reactor design, developed jointly with Idaho National Lab and NEXANT-Bechtel, works on a "plug and play" principle that allows utility companies to increase capacity as revenue builds rather than waiting for a return on the huge initial investment required by traditional reactor designs.

The countries to be represented at the conference include Argentina, Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, India, Japan, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, Russia, Spain, Slovakia, Switzerland and the United States.


José Reyes, 541-737-7065

OSU talks focus on sustainable economics

CORVALLIS - An economic framework focused on transition to sustainability and a healthier planet will be the topic of two Oregon State University College of Business talks on Friday, May 20.

The free hour-long forums, titled "Dialogue with Hank Patton," are open to the public, but advance registration is required. Talks start at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in OSU's Memorial Union Joyce Powell Leadership Center. For information or registration, contact the College of Business at 541-737-2219.

Patton is founder and chairman of World Steward - a non-profit organization working on economic and cultural partnerships that align the interests of today with what he contends are the interests of future generations. Patton will outline intergenerational commerce - commerce targeted toward a maintaining a healthier lifestyle and planet.

Patton and his colleagues have been working with the states of Oregon, Georgia and Washington to find ways to fund intergenerational commerce and a sustainable infrastructure.

Up for discussion will be OSU's role in working with the state and local communities in funding new technologies, business models and even communities to create a sustainable future for Oregonians.

Other topics include: economic and cultural partnerships focused on protecting the interests of future generations; managing resources by looking beyond the short-term; and integrated transitional framework for products across industry sectors.

In more than 20 years of work in the Columbia River Gorge, Patton developed interim partnerships and ultimately permanent funds to purchase and protect 11 parcels of ancient forest and agricultural land, creating two land trusts and raising more than $4 million to establish both the Little White Salmon Biodiversity Reserve and World Steward's Highland Farm, a retreat and collaborative research station in the art and science of sustainable culture.



College of Business, 541-737-2219

Report Indicates Bioenergy Activity, Industry Moving Quickly in Oregon

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study of the potential for bioenergy businesses in Oregon reveals an industry that is already taking off with surprising speed, spurred by business tax credits, aggressive advocacy groups and a streamlined regulation system.

The report, funded by a $40,000 grant from the Oregon University System and the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department, shows that there are few hurdles for proposed new businesses to jump, a lot of private and public interest and a new era of bioenergy production already under way.

“We knew there was a lot of interest in this area and opportunities for growth, but it was very surprising to see how much is already going on,” said Kenneth Williamson, head of chemical engineering at Oregon State University, who coordinated the production of this report.

“It appears the most activity so far has been focused in corn-based ethanol and waste-oil biodiesel production, but we expect the field to broaden beyond that,” Williamson said. “Because electricity from hydroelectric production is so inexpensive in the Pacific Northwest, the production of liquid fuels may continue to be the most promising area, especially in areas like cellulosic ethanol where we have some advantages.”

Another major advance, Williamson said, would be legislative approval and funding for the new BEST, or Bio-Economy and Sustainable Technologies Research Center, that has been proposed by the Oregon Innovation Council as another of the state’s signature research centers. Building on the success of ONAMI in helping the nano- and microtechnology industries, researchers believe that BEST will provide the research and development component for bioenergy and bioproducts that is now lacking.

The initiative is envisioned as a collaboration of OSU, Portland State University, the University of Oregon, and the Oregon Institute of Technology, and could help a “clean energy” industry in the Pacific Northwest grow to $2.5 billion over the next 20 years, organizers project. That would also generate thousands of new jobs and create diverse industries all across the region.

"BEST is the next big step in Oregon research institutions and public policy adopting a startup culture,” said David Chen, general partner of OVP Venture Partners and chair of the Oregon Innovation Council. “By working with industry to identify the key research problems that need to be solved, BEST will catalyze our region's strengths to take advantage of emerging growth markets."

The new survey contacted more than 150 individuals, project developers, permitting agencies and others, and identified 80 bioenergy projects already being considered, planned or operational in Oregon. Almost half of the initiatives were in ethanol, biodiesel, and cellulosic ethanol development – such as an OSU research initiative that is moving new miniaturized biodiesel technology towards commercialization. There were also 17 projects working with co-generation of power from forest fuels, and 22 with biogas from dairies and wastewater.

The survey learned that biofuel project developers had some concerns about available feedstock, identified a need to create higher value with byproducts, and were seeking new markets. Forest biomass also had a need for a more consistent fuel supply, and faced difficulties competing with the low price of Pacific Northwest electricity. Several of these needs, Williamson said, are issues that would be appropriate for BEST research programs.

Among the other findings of the report:

  • If all the bioenergy plants under consideration or construction were to be built, they could produce 400 million gallons a year of ethanol, 315 million gallons of biodiesel, 40-60 million gallons cellulosic ethanol, and 150 megawatts of power from biomass burning.
  • Incremental improvements could be made in the permitting system, perhaps including the extension of a “one stop” permitting system to smaller projects.
  • Access to dependable biomass supplies were cited as a frequent concern, especially as an issue that might interfere with obtaining the needed financing for new production plants.
  • Outreach and education to the public is necessary, to help prevent the “not in my backyard” reaction to new power plants.

Some other, smaller projects are being considered in various areas. Plastic disposable products such as bags or plastic eating utensils can be converted to biodiesel, and a Portland manufacturer is exploring this. A Eugene company is demonstrating a system that would hit closer to home, in which domestic waste can be converted to biogas to run a kitchen stove. And Oregon’s only coal-fired power plant might be able to generate algae for biodiesel production.

Survey respondents suggested that an active BEST Center would be able to help provide information on federal and state funding opportunities; develop new technologies to improve feedstock processing; develop business models and technical plans; research policy and technology trends; develop models for small-scale energy applications; bridge the gap between research and working technologies; and assist with many other projects.

Several dozen needs were identified by the study that might be candidates for BEST Center assistance.

Organizers say that Oregon has the potential to become one of the leading states in the nation in the field of bioenergy research, development and production, based in part on the wide diversity and strength of the state’s agricultural and forestry sectors.

The full report can be obtained on the web at http://inr.oregonstate.edu/reports_environment.html

Story By: 

Kenneth Williamson,

OSU and OSU Extension Service win food bank honors

PORTLAND - In observance of Oregon Hunger Awareness Week, the Oregon Food Bank awarded Oregon State University and OSU Extension Service the 2005 Hunger Buster Award at a ceremony recently in Portland.


Beth Ray, wife of OSU president Ed Ray, and John Winder, assistant director of OSU Extension, accepted the award for outstanding hunger-relief efforts by an organization.

The OSU Extension Service was recognized for its many programs that help people throughout Oregon, from life skills classes in McMinnville to nutrition education in Tillamook to the Hunger Summit and community food assessment workshop in southern Oregon.

OSU has supported Linn-Benton Food Share, part of the Oregon Food Share network, for more than a decade. During the last five years, OSU has donated more than $50,000, more than 80,000 pounds of food, and hours of volunteer and intern work to help fight hunger.

In addition, OSU researchers conduct and analyze hunger surveys, publish scholarly research on hunger and raise awareness of hunger through public education and events.

To more closely coordinate efforts to serve the needs of Oregon's hungry, OSU Extension nutrition educator Anne Hoisington recently moved to an office at the Oregon Food Bank's Portland headquarters. From here, she serves as a liaison between Extension Nutrition Education Programs and Regional Food Banks throughout Oregon.

"Both Extension and Oregon Food Bank share the goal to empower people to improve their health and life by combining nutrition education with access to nutritious foods," Hoisington said.

"The collaboration between the OSU Extension Service and the Oregon Food Bank shows how two organizations with compatible missions can work together," Winder added. "Their combined efforts are definitely greater than what each could do independently."

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Anne Hoisington, 503-282-0624

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Beth Ray

OSU Students Make “Green” Polymer from Biodiesel, Wine Products

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A team of undergraduate engineering students at Oregon State University has discovered that blending byproducts from biodiesel production and winemaking produces an environmentally friendly polymer that could one day replace polystyrene foam meat trays in supermarkets.

It may also be valuable in the manufacture of furniture, particle board, fire logs, insulation and even hair gel.

The process is so unique and potentially marketable that the students have applied for a patent to protect their intellectual property, said David Hackleman, the Linus Pauling Chair at the OSU College of Engineering.

“I’m delighted, but not totally surprised, that they can now add to their report the words ‘patent application pending,’” Hackleman said.

Christen Glarborg, Patrick O’Connor, Heather Paris and Alana Warner-Tuhy – all seniors studying chemical engineering – delved into combining glycerin, a byproduct of biodiesel production, and tartaric acid, a byproduct of wine production.

“When put together, those ingredients can make a hard, bubbly polymer,” Paris said.

In the 1880s, the same material was used in the making of varnishes and paints.

“It biodegrades in water,” said O’Connor. “Dr. Hackleman suggested we try to mold it into a tray, like to replace the foam trays under meat in the supermarket.”

But their first experiments resulted in a rock-hard mess: Think of cooking taffy too long, so that it sticks so hard, you have to throw the pot away. The young researchers persevered until they produced a more manageable glue, which they decided to try mixing with other byproducts such as sawdust and woodchips.

Voila! A material that was moldable, though somewhat tacky. So they popped it into an oven to see if it would firm up. It seemed they were possibly onto a particleboard for “green” building.

“Then we found that at 600 degrees, our polymer vaporized,” Paris said. “So we thought, how about ash-free logs or pellets for heating?”

While the students continued exploring possibilities, Hackleman knew enough about entrepreneurship to realize they should begin the process of protecting their intellectual property. He steered them to OSU’s Office of Technology Transfer, where their invention disclosure was brought to the stage of “patent pending.”

The students are now focused on testing and refining the polymer for strength and biodegradability. While it is not yet clear whether or not the technology will make it to commercialization, “it’s certainly a boost for the students,” Hackleman said.

The team won “Best Chemical Engineering Project” and was runner-up for “People’s Choice Award” at OSU’s eighth annual Engineering Expo in May. The team members displayed their research among more than 100 student design projects and product prototypes.

“Producing biodiesel produces a lot of glycerin,” Hackleman said. "Now it seems that even the waste from green industries can be put to another good use – one that can help in the solution to a global problem.”


David Hackleman,

OSU to host sustainable engineering and technology expo

CORVALLIS - Researchers and students at Oregon State University will display a wide range of projects that involve sustainable technology and engineering at the second annual Sustainable Engineering Expo on Wednesday, May 4.

Featured projects will include production of "green" clean-burning biodiesel fuel, wind power generation, fuel cells powered by landfill emissions, harnessing energy from ocean waves, and other OSU-based sustainable technology research.

The event is free and open to the public, and will be from 1-5 p.m. at the Memorial Union Leadership Room on the OSU campus.

"The objective is to both recognize existing sustainable engineering projects and expertise on our campus, and to explore opportunities for OSU to contribute in the field," said Jerry Orlando of the OSU Center for Water and Environmental Sustainability, a co-sponsor of the event along with the College of Engineering.

Representatives from the City of Corvallis, Hewlett-Packard, CH2M HILL, and others have been invited to learn about OSU's growing work in sustainable engineering and technology.

The keynote speaker at 1:15 p.m. will be Walt Ratterman of Green Empowerment (www.greenempowerment.org), an international organization that promotes community-based renewable energy, potable water delivery and related watershed restoration projects to generate social and environmental progress.

Ken Williamson, head of the OSU Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering, said OSU is uniquely positioned to become a national leader in sustainable engineering.

"We have world-class programs in agriculture, oceanography, engineering, forestry, and other fields," Williamson said. "We're located in the heart of the environmentally-aware Pacific Northwest, and our reputation for highly collaborative research is gaining national attention. OSU has the opportunity to become the go-to place for people interested in studying sustainability and sustainable engineering."


Jerry Orlando, 541-737-5736


CORVALLIS - Oregon State University will play a significant role in a 10-year, $4.8 billion initiative that was announced Tuesday - the development of the nation's premier laboratory for nuclear energy research, development and education.

Increases in the university's research, educational programs, student scholarships and faculty base are all planned, officials say, mostly in the OSU Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics. OSU could receive $10 million or more over 10 years under the new initiative.

Officials of the U.S. Department of Energy said Tuesday they have selected the Battelle Energy Alliance to establish the Idaho National Laboratory.

This alliance is made up of a consortium of universities and institutions, including Battelle Memorial Institute, OSU, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, North Carolina State University, Ohio State University, the University of New Mexico, the Idaho universities and a number of industry partners.

The alliance was selected over three other finalists in the bid to run the new lab.

"OSU has been working to promote university collaboration within the state," said OSU President Ed Ray. "But clearly, partnerships across states with other major universities also represent an important way that we can bring Oregon to the forefront of important national research and economic development opportunities."

Todd Palmer, an associate professor in the OSU Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics, said that "we are extremely excited to have been awarded this contract."

"This is a testament to our collaboration with other universities, and our work as the lead institution in the Western Nuclear Science Alliance," Palmer said. "We're committed to working with other schools to improve designs for the future of nuclear power."

Universities involved in this alliance will conduct regional outreach and take the mission of the Idaho National Laboratory to other universities.

"The contract will also bring a major influx of money through Oregon State for nuclear energy research, and many departments can benefit from that," Palmer said. "In addition, each school in the consortium is involved in different areas of research and faculty members from across campus will be able to bid for the money going through the partners."

MIT will house the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, North Carolina State will operate the Center for Simulation, and OSU will expand its nationally recognized Advanced Thermal Hydraulic Research Laboratory. The OSU lab has become a national leader for studies of thermal hydraulics and reactor safety, officials say.

The contract will also provide OSU half the funding it needs for six new faculty positions. Faculty will be added in research areas that relate to national goals of energy independence and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and the initiative should also generate a greater number of scholarships and fellowships for students.

"Large, multi-institutional collaborations, such are the one represented by this contract are increasingly important in the federal research environment," said Rich Holdren, vice provost for research at OSU. "We have been working strategically over the last several years with Battelle to make opportunities such as this one accessible to us."

Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, in making the Tuesday announcement, said that "the Battelle team brings an outstanding reputation, an excellent plan and a superior management team that will make the INL a world-class, multi-program laboratory." "This new laboratory was the missing element in our strategy to provide long-term energy security for the nation," Abraham said. "We needed a laboratory that can work with the other labs in our complex, academia and industry to advance nuclear power technology and create an entirely new type of nuclear energy plant for the longer term future."

The Idaho National Laboratory will conduct science and technology research across a wide range of disciplines, including materials, chemistry, the environment, and computation and simulation. It will also play a key role in ensuring the nation's security by helping to protect the country's critical infrastructure and preventing the spread of nuclear material.

One of the laboratory's first major tasks will be to lead an international research and development effort to create an advanced nuclear energy technology called the Next Generation Nuclear Plant, which could produce both inexpensive electric power and large quantities of hydrogen - a way to reduce the nation's dependence on imported fossil fuels.


Todd Palmer, 541-737-2341


CORVALLIS - Stephen Binney, a professor emeritus of nuclear engineering at Oregon State University, has been named a fellow of the American Nuclear Society. The ANS Fellow designation acknowledges the extraordinary leadership of individuals in diverse nuclear disciplines relating to research, invention, engineering, safety, technical leadership and teaching.

Binney was recognized for his "distinguished service to nuclear engineering education and the engineering profession, for skillful mentoring and guidance serving multiple generations of undergraduate and graduate students, and for his vision of cooperation between university research reactors, creating the Western Nuclear Science Alliance, which serves as a model for other regional consortia to follow."

The American Nuclear Society is a professional organization of scientists and engineers devoted to the applications of nuclear science and technology, with 10,500 members from diverse technical disciplines, government, academia, research laboratories and private industry.

Binney is an expert in applications of nuclear instrumentation and nuclear techniques, radiation shielding and dosimetry, and environmental radiation monitoring. He has been on the OSU faculty in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics since 1973 and serves as administrator of the Western Nuclear Science Alliance.


Laura Hermann, 708-579-8224