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Scientists from around the Midwest met at the University of Wisconsin-Superior on Sept. 2 to share their latest research into ways to turn plants into clean, renewable fuel that could help end the nation's dependence on foreign oil.
The second Bio-Fuel and Energy Independence Symposium hosted by UW-Superior and American Science and Technology Corp., was aimed at bringing together researchers, engineers, educators and industrial professionals to discuss their latest research, ideas and development activities related to bio-fuels.
Fuels derived from plants - so-called bio-fuels - could hold the key to the United States reducing its reliance on foreign oil. At UW-Superior, scientists from the university and Chicago-based AST are using $6.25 million in federal research funding in a collaborative effort to develop a sustainable production process for bio-based JP-8 vehicle and aircraft fuel that burns cleanly and easily at low temperatures.
Lt. Gov. Lawton discusses policy
Along with hearing scientists present updates to their research, those attending the symposium heard guest speaker Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton point out the need for steady state and federal government energy policies that would encourage investors and entrepreneurs to embrace alternate fuels.
Lawton praised federal economic stimulus spending and state spending that is going into grants and loans for alternative energy research and development projects. She said a strong government energy policy and tax policies that encourage investment in alternative fuels would send a "clear signal" to investors that alternative fuel projects are a good long-term investment.
Also speaking at the symposium was a representative of Sen. Herb Kohl, who relayed the senator's message that, while passage of an energy bill may not occur this year, senators from both political parties agree the country needs to lessen its dependence on foreign oil.
Those attending the symposium also hear luncheon speaker Bob Byrne of Flambeau River Bio-Fuels in Park Falls, Wis., discuss plans to build a large alternative-fuel plant in that town. The plant will generate steam to run an adjacent paper mill and produce useful by-products such as fuel and waxes using forest products that generally are now discarded, such as tree tops, barks, limbs and non-commercial tree species.
Scientists share research findings
Symposium speakers discussed their research, including scientists as well as researchers examining market conditions for bio-mass materials, intellectual property issues regarding new bio-fuel production processes, and the need for developing bio-fuels compatible with existing infrastructure.
Bio-fuel research at UW-Superior
The bio-fuel research project at UW-Superior is aimed at developing manufacturing technologies that can produce bio-JP8, a military vehicle and aircraft fuel, from domestic resources. Scientists from AST, UW-Superior's Department of Natural Sciences, and the university's Lake Superior Research Institute are analyzing plants from northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota to determine whether the properties that enable plants to survive the region's winter temperatures make them suitable for creating bio-fuels that perform well at low temperature.
The scientific team is focusing on three elements of research. First, to develop a chemical catalyst that can convert vegetable oil into a high-energy-density bio-fuel. Second, to create a genetically engineered bacterium that can break down the carbohydrate chain of vegetable oil to produce a liquid form of bio-fuel with better properties than current bio-fuels. And third, to identify the best high-yield oil seed that can be grown in northern Wisconsin.
The Bio-Fuel and Energy Independence Symposium was sponsored by American Science and Technology Corp., the University of Wisconsin-Superior, West Virginia University Institute of Technology, Argonne National Laboratory, South Dakota State University Metlab, CWE Inc., and Eckerd College.
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