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Source: Mary Rezac, 785-532-4320,
Pronouncer: Rezac is Ree-zack.
News release prepared by: Beth Bohn, 785-532-6415,

Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009


MANHATTAN -- A multimillion-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation will help Kansas State University train new Ph.D. students in developing the technology and policies needed for sustainable biorefining.

K-State has received a five-year grant of nearly $3.2 million from the foundation's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program, known as IGERT, for the project "From Crops to Commuting: Integrating the Social, Technological and Agricultural Aspects of Renewable and Sustainable Biorefining," or ISTAR.

Principal investigator is K-State's Mary Rezac, professor of chemical engineering. Co-principal investigators are Peter Pfromm, professor of chemical engineering; Jeffrey Peterson, associate professor of agricultural economics; and Kyle Douglas-Mankin, professor of biological and agricultural engineering.

The need for biofuels and bio-based products is important as they can substantially improve environmental quality, rural economies and national security, Rezac said.

"Making biorefining more viable will require the efforts of scientists and engineers who have been trained to understand the complexity and the degree of sustainable production of fuels from biomass that is needed," she said.

"The K-State ISTAR project will prepare a diverse group of new doctoral students to have a comprehensive perspective on the biorefining industry through an integrated, interdisciplinary graduate program for achieving transformative advances in the development of next-generation biorefineries," Rezac said. "As a result of this program, decisions regarding biofuels production will be guided not only by technological and agricultural feasibility, but also by the impact of the proposed technology on society."

Over its five-year run, the program will serve about 33 Ph.D. students -- to be called IGERT Fellows -- in engineering, the agricultural sciences and the social sciences. K-State faculty from the colleges of Engineering, Agriculture, and Arts and Sciences will be involved. International education opportunities also will be available for students and faculty with partner universities in Austria, Belgium, France and Brazil.

"We are very excited to receive this grant because it reflects the growing national recognition of the expertise K-State has developed in the area of renewable and sustainable biofuels," said Ruth Dyer, K-State interim provost. "The grant also highlights the demonstrated record of this K-State research team in working in an interdisciplinary fashion and shows how this interdisciplinary approach and setting will benefit the education of the IGERT Fellows."

Along with classroom instruction, the students will participate in seminars, workshops, field experiences and an annual conference, as well as serve as research mentors to undergraduate students to gain experience as research directors, said Douglas-Mankin who is leading educational innovations in the project.

Additional support for the program includes $781,000 from the Kansas Bioscience Authority and $500,000 and substantial in-kind support from K-State.

University resources involved with the project include the Center for Sustainable Energy, which organizes and supports bioenergy-related research and educational activities at K-State. Broadly defined, bioenergy-related research funding received by the university exceeded $12 million in fiscal year 2008, Rezac said.

"Kansas' biomass resource base represents a significant source of potential alternative energy and consumer products," she said. "Researchers at K-State have already developed new varieties of crops adapted to our climate, novel technologies for processing Kansas crops into fuels and consumer products, and models to predict the eco-economic impact of biofuels production."

Other university resources to be involved include the Wheat Genetics Resource Center, K-State Center for Sorghum Improvement, Soil Carbon Center and the National Science Foundation Industry/University Collaborative Research Center in Biofuels Research and Development. The center was established in 2008 and supports research and education in bioenergy production; promotes partnerships between K-State researchers and industrial producers; and provides leverage for other research-related activities.

The Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program is a National Science Foundation-wide program intended to meet the challenges of educating U.S. Ph.D. scientists and engineers with the interdisciplinary background, deep knowledge in a chosen discipline and the technical, professional and personal skills needed for the career demands of the future.