WSU experts work to develop renewable, environmentally friendly energy systems that span the supply chain in the emerging biofuels industry. Working in teams, they conceive and build the next generation of feedstocks, fuel conversion methods, bioproducts, biorefineries, distribution infrastructures, and environmental safeguards. In addition, the University’s experts in genomics and algae production systems continue to make strides toward development of next-generation fuels.
Center of Excellence for Alternative Jet Fuels and the Environment
The Federal Aviation Administration recently selected WSU and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to co-lead the new Center of Excellence for Alternative Jet Fuels and the Environment. The Center aims to foster a new industry focused on developing alternative jet fuels. At the same time, it will help address emerging environmental needs of the nation’s aerospace industry.
Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA)
The NARA project, just completed in late 2016, fostered broad collaboration among private industry, educational institutions, and government laboratories to build a sustainable industry for producing aviation biofuel. This unique program, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, aimed to produce biofuels and co-products from feedstocks as diverse as forest residues and construction waste. On November 14, 2016, Alaska Airlines made history by flying the world’s first commercial flight using the NARA project-derived sustainable alternative jet fuel made from forest residuals sourced from forests in the Pacific Northwest. The flight departed from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and landed successfully at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.. The plane was powered by a 20 percent blend of the new, sustainable biofuel and the passengers included many members of the NARA project team. The flight emitted approximately 70 percent less CO2 than conventional petroleum jet, successfully demonstrating the environmental benefits and success of the first phase of the NARA project.
Catalysis: Converting biomass to fuel
WSU faculty are designing and testing cost effective ways to uniquely convert feedstocks to aviation biofuels. Pyrolysis research is focused on the development of systems to convert biomass to more easily processed bio-oils. Novel catalysts, which enable non-edible plant materials, pyrolysis-based biooils, and other plentiful and renewable materials to be economically converted to aviation fuels, are under development. Other research is focused on the conversion of biomass to jet fuel using either enzymatic/microbiological biological catalysts or more traditional thermochemical processes and advanced chemical catalysts.
Fuel cell development
WSU faculty partner with industry to devise new fuel cell systems that directly convert bio-based jet fuels to electricity, for on-board power systems employed in new, more electric aircraft. Such conversion research is funded by industry and the federal government and is often conducted in collaboration with scientists from PNNL, industry, or other research universities.
Bioproducts, Sciences, and Engineering Laboratory (BSEL)
Located at the WSU Tri-Cities campus, BSEL cooperates with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, conducts targeted research to develop, demonstrate and commercialize bioproducts, bioprocesses and bioenergy. Under the direction of Dr. Birgitte Ahring, an internationally recognized expert in the field of bioproducts and biofuels, the Laboratory creates new opportunities for agriculture and economic development in the Pacific Northwest, while working to protect the environment.
Composite Materials and Engineering Center (CMEC)
The Composite Materials & Engineering Center (CMEC) has a long history and conducts focused research in sustainable infrastructure materials, manufacturing innovations, and enhanced design methodologies with the goal of meeting economic, performance and public safety needs. Core research areas include:
- Composite materials development using bio-based resins, natural fibers, polymers, cements and bituminous materials;
- Enhanced manufacturing processes including extrusion, injection molding, pressing and thermoforming;
- Materials characterization, including structural/mechanical and nondestructive evaluation, accelerated weathering and natural exposure testing, and analytical assessment (thermal, spectroscopy, rheology);
- Sustainable design methodologies and standards development for the built environment.
CMEC conducts government-sponsored research (e.g., NSF, USDA, DOD, DOT, DOE) and also has a strong industry focus. Over the past 60 years, CMEC has assisted in the development of some of today’s commonly used building products,including wood-plastic composites, oriented strand board and wood I-joists. The center’s researchers also pioneered the development of nondestructive testing methods for wood materials. CMEC is one of only a few International Code Council-accredited university laboratories in the country, and its test data and reports are accepted by building code authorities throughout the U.S.