energy and sustainability

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

Nuclear energy director to explore energy options

CORVALLIS - William D. Magwood, director of the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology in the U.S. Department of Energy, will discuss nuclear technology as a means to address the nation's energy needs in a talk on Tuesday, May 3, at Oregon State University.

The lecture, which is free and open to the public, begins at 4 p.m. at LaSells Stewart Center's Construction and Engineering Hall on the OSU campus. A reception will follow.

The event is sponsored by the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics in OSU's College of Engineering, and the Western Nuclear Science Alliance. The alliance is a collaboration between western universities, national laboratories and private industry that's headed by OSU and supports nuclear science and engineering education, research, and development.

Magwood is the senior nuclear technology official in the U.S. His agency is leading the consideration of nuclear technology as a means to address energy needs without polluting the air, and the U.S. role in the Generation IV International Forum. This forum, an international collective of 10 leading nations and the European Union's Eurotram, is dedicated to developing next generation advanced nuclear technologies.

Magwood has been elected chairman of both the Generation IV International Forum and the Paris-based OECD Steering Committee on Nuclear Energy. In the U.S., he has also helped develop the new Idaho National Laboratory, the nation's premier laboratory for nuclear energy research, development and education.

Bruce Weber to share OSU's plans for rural communities

PENDLETON - Bruce Weber, an Oregon State University economist who is coordinating OSU's Sustainable Rural Communities Initiative, will share that vision during an "OSU Presents" luncheon on Thursday, April 28, from noon to 1 p.m. in the Red Lion Inn in Pendleton.

The luncheon event is part of a series sponsored by the OSU Alumni Association and the Office of the Provost. The deadline for RSVPs is April 22; tickets are priced at $15 for association members, and $20 for non-members.

For more information or to register, call 877-305-3759, or go online at alumni.oregonstate.edu

The Sustainable Rural Communities Initiative is a coordinated group of faculty from five colleges seeking to redefine the relationship between Oregon State University and Oregon's rural communities. It is one of six initiatives singled out by the university as priorities for investment.

Weber said the faculty members involved in the initiative envision OSU working with several communities over the next five years in a collaborative partnership. Many communities face some of the same issues, he said, that can threaten their economic, environmental, social and cultural well-being. They include:

  • Economic development and natural resource management; 
  • The well-being of individuals and families;
  • Cultural identity and change;
  • Local governance and local, state and national policies.

    Communities also have unique assets that can be used to develop new opportunities, Weber said. OSU has, for decades, been closely involved with rural communities but usually on a project-by-project basis, he pointed out. The new initiative will help steer the university toward a more collaborative, holistic partnership with these communities.

    "We'd like to see a full spectrum of our faculty working in targeted communities looking at all manners of issues," Weber said, "from the economy, to the roles of school and church, to problems of methamphetamines and crime."


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    Scott Elmshaeuser, 541-737-8883

    OSU engineering conference features chemistry-powered cars

    CORVALLIS - The Oregon State University Student Chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers will host the institute's 2005 regional conference on April 22-23 on the OSU campus, featuring a unique race car competition with vehicles powered solely by chemical reactions.

    The conference brings students, faculty and industry members from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia to campus. It includes workshops, a career fair, two competitions, and a banquet with a keynote address by renowned OSU chemical engineering professor emeritus Octave Levenspiel.

    "This is the largest conference of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, and we're excited to be hosting it here at Oregon State," said Sean Thomas, a senior in chemical engineering at OSU, and chair of the conference. "This is a great opportunity for the public, and K-12 students and teachers in particular, to get a close look at the exciting field of chemical engineering."

    Some of the region's most promising chemical engineers of the future will present current research at the Student Paper Competition on Saturday, April 23, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Joyce Powell Leadership Center in the OSU Memorial Union.

    The student-designed, chemically-powered vehicles will face off in the Chem-E Car Competition in the McAlexander Field House on the same day from noon to 2 p.m. Most events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit the conference website at http://www.aiche2005.com


    Sean Thomas, 503-332-1592

    Legislative hearing set Tuesday at OSU on renewable energy

    CORVALLIS - The Oregon Legislature's House Environment Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday (April 12) at Oregon State University to hear from experts on future and alternative energy sources.

    This informational meeting, which is open to the public, will begin at 2 p.m. in OSU's CH2M-Hill Alumni Center Room 110A.

    Speaking at the hearing will be Mike McGary, of the Nuclear Energy Institute; Tom Tanton, of the Institute for Energy Research; and a panel of representatives from Oregon alternative energy businesses.

    A panel of OSU faculty engaged in alternative energy research also will speak about their work with wave energy, biofuels, fuel cells and other areas.

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    Gail Achterman, 541-737-9875

    OSU nuclear engineering program ranked in top ten

    CORVALLIS - The graduate program in nuclear engineering at Oregon State University has been ranked ninth in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, in the magazine's annual ranking of U.S. graduate programs.

    "We're extremely gratified to be ranked so highly by our peers," said José Reyes, professor and interim department head in the OSU Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics.

    "This is a tremendous tribute to the dedicated efforts of our faculty, staff and researchers," Reyes said. "It adds fire to our commitment to providing quality education and research that will benefit the nation and the world."

    Reyes said a goal of the OSU Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics is to be the premier provider of research-enriched education in nuclear sciences and engineering.

    Over the past three years, the department has received more than $7 million to upgrade the facilities of the Radiation Center, which houses the department, and to fund scholarships and an endowed chair. As part of a national consortium of universities, the department will collaborate with the new Idaho National Laboratory on cutting-edge research that will respond to the nation's future energy, national security and medical needs.

    "Behind the ranking stand the department's world-class faculty - people committed to creating opportunities for students and advancing knowledge of nuclear engineering and radiation health physics," Reyes said.

    The U.S. News and World Report specialty rankings are based on assessments by department heads who rate other schools in their specialty area on a five-point scale. In nuclear engineering, ranked for the first time in 2005, 25 schools were rated.


    José Reyes, 541-737-7065

    Klein appointed to Idaho National Laboratory

    CORVALLIS - Andrew Klein, professor and head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at Oregon State University, has been appointed the director of education, training, and research partnerships for the new Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

    Klein will be on loan from OSU in this new position. For an interim period, professor José Reyes will become interim department head and Steve Reese, reactor administrator, will assume Klein's role as director of the Radiation Center.

    Klein is an internationally recognized leader in nuclear engineering and has served on various nuclear advisory panels and committees. He has testified before a Congressional committee about funding and direction for the new laboratory in Idaho, which is to be the nation's focal point for nuclear energy research, development, demonstration and education. He also recently chaired the Subcommittee on Nuclear Laboratory Requirements for the Department of Energy's Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee.

    Last November, the Department of Energy announced the establishment of the Idaho National Laboratory and awarded the 10-year, $4.8 billion, management and operations contract to the Battelle Energy Alliance, which includes OSU in a national consortium of eight universities.

    In his new position, Klein will help build relationships among the participating universities and lead the future development of the world's nuclear power industry.