Interdisciplinary Research Teams Study Sustainable Bioenergy

Left to right: Vincent Amanor-Boadu, associate professor of agribusiness economics and management; Peter Pfromm, professor of chemical engineering; IGERT trainees, Bryon Parman, Ph.D. student in agricultural economics, and Ronny Michalsky, Ph.D. student in chemical engineering.

From the AgLink e-newsletter, Spring 2011

by Keith Rutlin, K-State I-STAR Bioenergy

K-State’s Integrating the Socioeconomic, Technical and Agricultural aspects of Renewable Bioenergy (I-STAR) program offers a unique interdisciplinary research team approach for Ph.D. research projects and is supported by funding from the National Science Foundation Integrated Graduate Education Research Traineeship (IGERT) program.

“Training graduate students in the key issues of sustainable biorefining requires they have an understanding of the role of agriculture, technology and social science in the integrated process design,” said Mary Rezac, I-STAR project director, ConocoPhilips professor of sustainable energy and professor of chemical engineering at K-State.

“In this program, we will leverage our prior success at integrating students and faculty from across the supply chain in creation of core research teams to address key questions. Each team will advance the science, technology and policy of a specific technological subject,” she said.

I-STAR trainees and faculty collaborate on interdisciplinary bioenergy issue teams for their research projects. Each trainee on a team shares the same core faculty of his or her thesis committee to guarantee crossdisciplinary impact.

The IGERT core research team is developing a new ammonia synthesis process using water, air, sunlight and biomass. Ammonia is widely used as a fertilizer and the demand will increase with dedicated energy crop production due to the world’s increasing need for food. The team hopes to provide an economical ammonia production process at atmospheric pressure, without the massive use of fossil fuels characterizing the conventional process.

I-STAR trainee dissertation projects are conducted with an integrated, concurrent approach which overlaps faculty supervisory committee memberships, regular joint meetings of the teams, and student and faculty submission of dissertation chapters and publications addressing the collaborative research issues and results.

All I-STAR trainees are working on projects that integrate considerations of at least two of the three system components — agriculture, technology and social science. This integration is not achieved through traditional graduate education and is the cornerstone of preparing I-STAR trainees for success in addressing complex interdisciplinary issues of the future.

For more information on the K-State NSF I-STAR IGERT program, contact Keith Rutlin, educational programs administrator, at (785) 532-2029 or rutlin@ksu.edu, or go to http://igert.ksu.edu/home.

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