The energy matrix of the future will include trees, grasses, oils, grains, algae and wastes as sources of fuel. Clemson University scientists are at the forefront of developing the agricultural and natural resources of the Southeast to produce cost-effective cellulosic ethanol as an alternative to fossil fuels. Drs. Terry Walker and J. Michael Henson have been awarded over $2 million in grants from the US Department of Energy to develop the technology to produce biofuel from switchgrass as a cost-effective energy source. The College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences, the College of Engineering and Science, the Clemson University Restoration Institute, South Carolina State University and several private partners are collaborating on a project to build a pilot demonstration for the commercialization of bioethanol from switchgrass.
Dr. James Frederick, a professor in the Department of Entomology, Soils and Plant Sciences and a research scientist at Clemson’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center will be leading a program to educate farmers on how to plant switchgrass and maximize yields.
Clemson University is known worldwide for its leadership in fruit tree genomics. Drs. Albert Abbott and Douglas Bielenberg’s research with peach trees led them to the discovery of a gene that can accelerate deciduous tree growth during dormancy. They are developing the technology to produce “evergrowing” trees as a source of biomass for energy conversion.
Dr. David Brune, professor and Charles Carter Newman Endowed Chair in Natural Resources Engineering has pioneered medium- to large-scale aquaculture systems that can produce fish yields four times greater than conventional systems with one-eighth the amount of water. He is now using the system to produce shrimp while treating waste and restoring water quality in the process. Most recently he has developed a patented biorefining process that produces energy and protein from using algae and brine shrimp. Food and fuel from these systems can be produced in ponds 18 inches deep on non-productive land.
What’s brewing in Dr. Caye Drapcho’s bioreactor may well become another part of the renewable energy future. T. neapolitana, a microbe that thrives in conditions that would kill most life forms, can produce gas by-products that contain as much as 80 percent hydrogen. Dr. Drapcho uses culled peaches that have a high percentage of sugars to feed the microbes’ appetite. This research can be applied to other biological resources.