By Michelle Hall
At Kansas State University's Bio-Processing and Industrial Value Added Program, one of the goals is to create products from renewable resources.
That is, program scientists work to create commercial items, such as adhesives, resins, composites, film, foam, fibers, ethanol, protein, chemicals and plastics, from either raw or agricultural processing co-products.
"We support development of technology that utilizes agricultural resources from Kansas, encourage commercialization of these technologies, and enhance rural development through application of these technologies," said Ron Madl, director of K-State's Bio-Processing and Industrial Value Added Program, pictured at left. "The purpose is to generate technology that is useful, commercially realistic and based on agricultural materials."
Scientists, including Xiuzhi Susan Sun, professor of grain science and industry; Donghai Wang, assistant professor; Buddhi Lamsal, senior scientist; and Madl study the feasibility of converting various agricultural materials and byproducts, including grain residues, grasses and woody plants, into commercial products. They test products for properties including strength, elasticity, flexibility, thinning and thickening. They also work to add value to basic components from agricultural crops, such as proteins, lipids, starches, fibers and other carbohydrates. Sun, for example, looks at soy-based adhesives in her research.
Other projects include those of Praveen Vadlani, assistant professor of grain science and industry, who is looking at the conversion of renewable sugars to value-added chemicals, fuels and food ingredients. He also is looking at improving the value of co-products created in the ethanol production process. Currently, all Kansas ethanol plants consume starch from cereal grain. In the future, more abundant cellulosic resources will become the primary feedstock. Madl said crop residue and agricultural industry co-products may be the initial source of cellulose for new cellulosic ethanol plants before distributed sources and dedicated energy crops become the dominant feedstock.
"Co-products from agricultural/food processing plants; agricultural residues, corn stover, sorghum stover, wheat straw; forestry residues, sawdust; and dedicated energy crops, switch grass; woody crops, poplar trees; are among the most promising sources of biomass," Madl said. "Our research is currently aimed at optimizing processing conditions for soybean hulls, wheat bran and wheat straw for highest sugar recovery. The optimum process conditions will then be tested with other potential sources of biomass."
Program scientists are also looking at using wheat bran as a probiotic carrier. Probiotics are live microorganisms -- "good" bacteria and yeast, for example.
"Probiotic bacteria will be grown in wheat bran and its viability at various processing stages will be tested," Madl said. "Along with health benefits from probiotics use, wheat bran also will supply dietary fibers and healthful compounds like antioxidants."
Madl said research in the program also continues to look at the link between grain-based antioxidants and cancer suppression.
"The mission is to promote widespread use of bioproducts from renewable resources to meet future national and environmental needs," Madl said of the program. "Our goal is to research and develop value-added bioproducts and technologies utilizing renewable resources, and to provide education and technical service in the field of bio-material science and technology."
The Bio-processing and Industrial Value Added Program, which is part of the Grain Science Complex at K-State, also works closely with K-State's Advanced Manufacturing Institute, which has manufacturing hardware and software and can help a product idea become a reality through its technical expertise and resources.