Scholarships bring 30 next-gen scientists to biodiesel show

By The National Biodiesel Board | February 17, 2015

In January, up-and-coming scientists joined the 900 biodiesel supporters attending the National Biodiesel Conference & Expo in Fort Worth, Texas. About 30 student members of the Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel traveled to the event, many on scholarships through the National Biodiesel Board.

The NBB program is intended to foster professional relationships between budding and established scientists, share accurate information and increase collaboration with the biodiesel industry.

Courtney Swink, an undergraduate marine science major at the University of South Carolina, attended the event thanks to a scholarship from the South Carolina Soybean Board.

“By communicating with people directly involved in the biodiesel industry, I learned more about biodiesel than I ever would from reading an article or watching a video,” she said. “I had no idea that the biodiesel industry was so huge and rapidly expanding, from the farmers producing feedstock to the engineers selling pumps to the owners of production plants and the transportation of fuel.”

Schools represented included the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Colorado-Boulder, the University of California-Davis, Newcastle University (U.K.), California Polytechnic State University and Appalachian State University, among others. Student activities included a poster session and breakout session to present their research, and a mentoring lunch. The lunch included prominent biodiesel scientists like Tom Butcher of Brookhaven National Laboratory and Gina Clapper of AOCS.

In all, 16 students received scholarships. The United Soybean Board funded travel expenses for the four NGSB co-chairs while the South Carolina soybean checkoff supported students from the state. The NBB’s USDA biodiesel education grant funded others. The National Biodiesel Foundation also supported one scholarship through the Dallas Hanks Memorial Fund.

Many of the students, who came from a wide range of disciplines in the sciences, noted the intellectual impact the event made on them.

“The biggest change on my views of biodiesel after attending the conference was the sustainability of biodiesel,” said Jesse Mayer, a biochemistry Ph.D. student at the University of Nevada-Reno. “Going forward, I will be sure to stress the minimal impact biodiesel has on food production. In fact at a recent lab meeting I shared this information with my colleagues.”

“These scientists are taking a cue from nature, looking for ways to harness solar energy while producing food and benefits to the environment,” said Don Scott, NBB director of sustainability. “Investment in research, and this program, will pay dividends for years to come. The talent of these scientists promises to increase the efficiency and diversity of the biodiesel industry.”

Swink said she learned from fellow students attending the event, too. “They taught me that in order for our generation to be the one to come close to solving the energy crisis and global climate change our world faces, we need to collaborate with one another using our academic strengths and passions for biodiesel.”

Made from an increasingly diverse mix of resources such as recycled cooking oil, soybean oil and animal fats, biodiesel is a renewable, clean-burning diesel replacement that can be used in existing diesel engines without modification. It is the nation’s first domestically produced, commercially available advanced biofuel. NBB is the U.S. biodiesel trade association.


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