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Bucknell Students Create Class Project Researching Renewable Energy
By Steve Kusheloff
January 10, 2011
Students at Bucknell University played a significant role in the energy future of the region by dedicating their senior class project to a pilot project focused in the small community of New Berlin, Union County.
Students taking Bucknell’s Chemical Engineering Senior Design class, under the direction of Professors Jim Maneval, Kat Wakabayashi and Ryan Snyder, were charged with exploring the technical and financial opportunities to assist New Berlin to gain greater energy independence through the use of renewable energy from local sources, as part of the Community-wide (New Berlin) Energy Independence Initiative (CEII).
The CEII is a pilot project that provides a comprehensive energy consumption assessment and energy reduction technical assistance to the Borough of New Berlin’s Energy Independence Initiative, and develops and delivers a model replicable for other Appalachian communities for their use in achieving community-wide energy independence.
The SEDA-COG Energy Resource Center (ERC) is managing the project with funding from PPL Electric Utilities, the federal Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and SEDA-COG. A major objective of the CEII is to showcase the benefits associated with a community-wide approach to energy conservation, efficiency and, ultimately, independence.
The 28 students’ research focused on a variety of end products and end uses. Ten comprehensive group proposals converting raw material into energy were developed. As an example, one team of students proposed the use of corn stover (stalks, leaves, corn cobs) to create methane to heat the New Berlin Elementary School and SUN Area Technical Institute. Electricity production utilizing biogas created from waste materials was also proposed, with a target of providing 25 percent of New Berlin’s electricity needs.
The value and uniqueness of the student projects was that the research focused on fuels derived from local sources, making these research projects technically feasible to be replicated in later phases of the CEII. Some further examples of student projects include: electricity and transportation fuel derived from plant material and animal waste; ethanol created through a combination of corn and switchgrass; methane, for use as a heating fuel, produced from agricultural waste; and biogas utilizing manure provided by local farmers and converted to electricity. This proposal recommends the byproduct ─ dry anaerobic waste ─ be sold as fertilizer.
The numerous processes referenced by the students may not be familiar to the general public, e.g., fast pyrolysis, anaerobic digestion, continuous column fermentation. What does appear clear, however, is the Bucknell students’ knowledge and understanding of numerous techniques that may be employed in the production of renewable energy using waste materials from local, sustainable sources.
Right now the research developed through Bucknell’s Department of Chemical Engineering is just that ─ pure research. However, as market conditions and demand patterns change over the coming years, proposals such as these may be the foundation for renewable energy production and utilization in Central Pennsylvania and beyond.