NITROGEN | Corn grows during only
five months of the year, and drainage is
essential to its growth. The other seven
months while cornfields are empty,
water and nutrients continue to drain
away from farms. That’s a long-accepted
farming practice, but it’s also harmful
environmentally. With $5 million from the
United States Department of Agriculture,
Jane Frankenberger is devising resources
and tools to help with water drainage
There are two main problems, says
Frankenberger, a professor of agricultural
and biological engineering. One, drainage
releases nitrate into waterways, which can
harm humans and animals.
Two, water supplies are inconsistent. Even
in humid states, there are often reductions
in crop yields because there isn’t enough
water at critical times. These problems are
expected to worsen with climate change.
To combat both issues, Frankenberger is
investigating ways to retain water from
farm fields through new types of drainage
systems, saturated buffers and reservoirs.
“Our goal is to transform the mindset
around drainage, Frankenberger says:
“Instead of just draining everything
off, you actually hold it, and
just drain during the
parts of the year that
you need to.” | S.A.
A Game Changer in Biofuel Production
CARBON | No carbon left behind. This core mission in Discovery
Park’s Center for Direct Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels
(C3Bio) has not changed since its inception in 2009. With a new,
$12 million, four-year grant, the center is progressing with game-changing ways of making biofuel production more energy-efficient.
Plant bodies trap carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide into
components of cell walls, a type of chemical storage process. The
C3Bio team, led by Maureen McCann, professor of biological sciences
and director of the Purdue Energy Center, is harnessing the power
of chemical catalysis to transform cell wall molecules into liquid
hydrocarbon fuels such as those of gasoline or aviation fuel. Team
members are working on new catalytic conversions that deal with the
complexity of the biomass substrates.
Moving forward, they aim to translate their basic research into
products for the marketplace. McCann hopes to see many more
startups using C3Bio-derived technology, such as Spero Energy, a
West Lafayette, IN, startup is doing.
“It’s important that we think about how to get a portfolio of fuels
and high-value chemicals from biomass,” she says. “We need to think
about the integrated bio-refinery, what are the most energy-efficient
routes to desired products, what is the life-cycle analysis, what are
the most carbon-efficient pathways to the portfolio, because biomass
carbon is abundant, but every single carbon atom in it is very
precious to us.” | S.A.