Research & Initiatives
Biofuels & Bioproducts Development
Energy production and use are strong indicators of economic prosperity and high living standards. Global energy demand is projected to grow dramatically within the next 50 years, but at the same time the public is concerned about energy security, climate change, and environmental pollution. Clearly, our country needs policies and technologies that enhance energy conservation and promote renewable energy production from sustainable natural resources.
Given the critical nature of energy, we have made renewable energy R&D and education top priorities at the College with a focus on technology development in biofuels (ethanol, biodiesel, and green hydrocarbons) and biopower from cellulosic biomass and algae.
Algae represents a promising source of alternative fuels and bioproducts, but with the added benefit of serving as a sink for carbon dioxide and wastewater. Using our experience in algae engineering for the production of chemicals and fuels, we use native Floridian algae strains at our lab and outdoor facilities to generate and commercialize algal products under real-world conditions. Algal lipids can be transesterified to produce biodiesel or can be thermally treated to produce aviation- and military-specification fuels. Algal sugars can be used to produce a myriad of chemicals via fermentation, whereas algal protein can serve as animal feed and fish food. Our applied research closes the gap between innovative ideas and the marketplace.
Our efforts are focused on:
- Design of cost-effective cultivation platforms
- Scale-up and operation of algae production systems
- Optimization of productivity
- Water, nutrient, and energy management
- Co-product development
- Intellectual property management
- These technical capabilities are supplemented with business experience in assessing the economic feasibility of algal technologies and projecting financial return to investors.
Biofuels & Bioproducts From Biomass
integrated inside a commercial
sugarcane mill in Florida.
Biomass is an abundant and inexpensive domestic feedstock for biorefineries designed to produce value-added products and clean power. Florida can generate significant amounts of biomass annually: sugarcane and sweet sorghum bagasse, yard waste, agricultural residues, citrus peel, and forestry wood.
We test and optimize the conversion of various biomass species to sugars in scalable and cost-effective ways through biochemical conversion. First, biomass is pretreated using mild conditions and green chemistry principles. Then, cellulase enzymes are employed to convert cellulose to simple sugars. The generated 6- and 5-carbon sugars can form the basis of a sustainable green economy, as they are readily convertible via fermentation (or thermochemical processing) to a variety of platform chemicals for the manufacture of biofuels, plastics, resins, and other renewable products. In essence, biomass can replace oil as the source of chemical compounds essential for consumer products.
A biorefinery pilot plant has been designed and operated in partnership with a sugarcane company inside one of its mills in Florida. It provides USF and its collaborators with unique process development and scale-up capabilities in a real-world environment.
Renewable Jet Fuel, Diesel, and Bioproducts
The aviation sector uses large amounts of jet fuel and as a result is a major source of carbon emissions and pollutants, which contribute to climate change and air quality deterioration. Just in the United States aviation consumes 24 billion gallons of jet fuel annually.
In an effort to make aviation more sustainable, USF has joined forces with other institutions and companies to form SPARC, the Southeastern Partnership for Advanced Renewables from Carinata. With the support of a major multi-year grant from the US Department of Agriculture, the Consortium aims at developing and commercializing the large-scale cultivation of the non-edible oilseed plant Brassica carinata and its conversion to renewable jet fuel, diesel, and a slate of bioproducts in the Southeastern United States.
In our region carinata can be produced as a cool season crop covering millions of acres of winter fallow land without affecting the production of existing warm season crops, such as soybeans, peanuts, and cotton. The carinata seeds are crushed to extract oil, which is chemically converted to jet fuel and diesel, while a number of bioproducts (such as glycerin and erucic acid) are recovered and converted to high value products. The solid residue (meal) from carinata seeds provides a high-protein feed source for livestock.
These characteristics make carinata a promising cool season crop that can provide agronomic, environmental, and economic benefits to farmers, hence helping develop a bioeconomy in the US. The Patel College of Global Sustainability leads USF's participation in the Consortium by focusing its research efforts on biofuel and bioproduct development, supply chain logistics and resiliency, techno-economic assessment, undergraduate and graduate education, and workforce development. Research is conducted at PCGS' state-of-the-art Biofuels & Bioproducts Lab with the participation of several undergraduate, master, and doctoral students.
More information about SPARC can be found at https://sparc-cap.org
sources can replace diesel from
Fuel diversification is needed for diesel and jet engines. The United States consumes 57 billion gallons of diesel and 5 billion gallons of military fuels annually, hence depending significantly on foreign oil. Such dependence renders the United States vulnerable to political instability around the world.
We have technical and business expertise in biodiesel production with a focus on sustainable technologies and resources:
- Biodiesel production using supercritical fluid technology
- Biodiesel from used vegetable oils
- Biodiesel from algal lipids
Production of biodiesel is conducted in batch and continuous modes.
We are available to assist entrepreneurs, companies, and communities
in the production, distribution, and marketing aspects of their biodiesel