Thursday, July 3, 2008
Professor heads research for NextGen Energy
By Laura Angus, media relations assistant
Michigan’s leading developer of alternative, sustainable and renewable energy sources, NextGen Energy, is partnering with Chris Kobus, associate professor of engineering, to create an ethanol plant in Michigan.
The company has made Kobus the head of research, as it finds ways to improve ethanol production, and develop a way to make ethanol out of cellulose materials, non-food biomass like switchgrass, woodchips and parts of corn plants.
Kobus said the company intends to open a research center and pilot plant in Brooklyn, Mich. where they will create ethanol. In the fall, he expects minimal operations from the plant.
Eventually, the plant in Brooklyn will be able to produce 3 million gallons of ethanol per year. Compared to the 120 billion gallons of fuel used per year by Americans, it’s not much, said Kobus.
“It’s a pebble on a beach,” he said.
However, once they develop better ways to make ethanol, he said the company will build a new plant which will be able to produce much more. There is enough cellular material to sustain the U.S. indefinitely with ethanol.
“I would like to see that,” he said.
Another benefit of ethanol made from cellular materials is that it doesn’t compete with the food chain, like corn does. The hitch is it isn’t economically feasible, something Kobus wants to change. Other alternative energy developers are looking at long-term projects, which will take years and years to be useful.
“I am looking at getting this cheap now,” Kobus said.
Kobus has been at OU for almost 10 years and has been studying alternative energy from day one, he said. When the facility in Brooklyn is open, he will head a team of researchers. He intends to take his first sabbatical in the fall to focus on this work.
For more information about alternative energy at OU, visit OU’s Energy Web site.