Research collaboration explores biofuels and biorefining

A grant awarded to the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels, or C2B2, will allow students to conduct research related to the conversion of biomass to fuels and chemicals. C2B2 is a joint renewable energy center of CU-Boulder, Colorado State University, Colorado School of Mines, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and industry.

The grant—more than $336,500—from the National Science Foundation will allow students to pursue research over the next three years on feedstock science and engineering, biochemical conversions, thermochemical conversions, engineering reactions or separations, and solids-handling processes needed for biorefining applications. The grant, part of NSF’s research Experience for Undergraduates (REU program) has provided funding for 12 undergraduates from around North America in 2010, including Colorado. This year, alternative C2B2 summer program funding sources allowed another eight undergraduates to participate, including several international students.

“Biofuels will be a key component of a new energy economy and ‘biorefining’ research is crucial to tomorrow’s biofuels,” said C2B2 executive director Alan Weimer, a professor in CU-Boulder’s chemical and biological engineering department.

The C2B2 REU program is a 10-week summer program of research, educational seminars, and cultural programming. All of the program’s features were piloted during the 2008 and 2009 summer programs, which served a combined 28 undergraduate researchers.

REU undergraduates conduct hands-on laboratory research with professional researchers at CU, CSU, Mines, and NREL. Additionally, participants are advised by professional scientists, faculty, and graduate mentors; engage in weekly research group meetings; and participate in site visits to each C2B2 institution for seminars and other peer presentation forums.

“The success of our state-funded, trial C2B2 REU programs enabled us to demonstrate the need for the NSF to invest in additional renewable energy research and education in Colorado,” said Ryan Gill, managing director of C2B2 and a professor in CU-Boulder’s chemical and biological engineering department.