About the Program

Our dependence on fossil oil is causing many undesirable effects in economic stability, civil security, and climate sustainability; therefore, the world as a whole is actively seeking an alternative to the current non-renewable petroleum-based economy. A renewable carbon biomass-based economy is one important path away from fossil oil and toward sustainability. In addition to the aspects of self-reliance, carbon-neutrality (environmental sustainability), and national security—pursuing a biomass-based economy is expected to revive rural economies and be an economic stimulant to the forestry and agriculture industries around the world.

UGA's Biofuels, Biopower, and Biomaterials Initiative (B3I) unites the University's legacies in agriculture, forestry, environmental science, and engineering with its strengths in carbohydrate science, genetics, and microbiology to provide a scientific and practical foundation to support an economic and sustainable bioenergy future.

The UGA Biorefining and Carbon Cycling Program is a key piece of this Bioenergy initiative; a collection of faculty and staff members from varied disciplines and representing colleges and departments within the UGA campus.The program is dedicated to research, development, and demonstration of biomass conversion technologies through the concept of the Integrated Biorefinery. Analogous to the petroleum refinery that processes a barrel of crude oil into many petroleum based products including gasoline and diesel fuels, the biorefinery converts biomass into biofuels and other bioproducts, while a portion of the carbon is cycled into long term soil carbon sequestration as BioChar. The ability to process raw materials into a varied product stream greatly enhances the versatility of the biorefinery to meet the economic demands of the free market and compete globally.

Biomass conversion technologies are varied and run the gamut from simple mature technology to new high tech and complicated processes yet to be proven in industry. The common concept throughout all biomass processing and conversion technologies is the extraction of energy stored in the biomass feedstock for use in another form.

The University of Georgia is positioned uniquely to play a major role in working to make the biomass-based economy a reality. Among its key strengths are [1] a world recognized, well connected Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, [2] a well integrated cooperative extension service that has over a century of experience working closely with agriculture, [3] a wide range of scientists and educators in the basic sciences and engineering, and [4] an excellent assemblage of graduate students training to be leaders in the biomass-based world economy.

At UGA’s biological sciences, forestry, and agricultural schools, technology is being developed for tree and crop production and harvesting. Research includes cellular level studies to understand fundamental cell wall biochemistry, and design better biomass, (BioEnergy Science Center, BESC). As well as indepth research in anaerobic disgestion. There are also larger scale mechanical system developments being applied to harvesting and preprocessing of biomass for improved overall production of biofuels and products.  Preprocessing technologies include pelletization, torrefaction, solvent extraction, hydrolysis, etc.  The program also has an algae biomass subgroup focusing on growing various species of algae on industrial and agricultural wastewaters. Ongoing research includes developing algae production, harvesting, and conversion technologies at the bench and pilot scales.  Conversion technologies being studied include pyrolysis, liquefaction, gasification, catalytic conversion, fermentation, and transesterficiation.The program also has an algae biomass subgroup, the Microalgae Bioenergy Research Program.

Interdisciplinary Focus Areas include:

  1. Research to understand biomass, processes and products.
  2. Development and testing of technology for a biobased industry.
  3. Technology transfer within Georgia and around the world—working with industries, government agencies and the community at large.
  4. Educational programming that provides unique, pertinent and comprehensive training and educational experiences—thus preparing the workforce of the 21st century biomass economy.
  5. Degree programs in varied disciplines including: Engineering, Forestry, Ecology, Biology, Biochemistry.

 

In partnership with EPRIDA and housed at the Biorefining Research and Education Center, (BREC), UGA hosted a pilot thermochemical biorefinery. The pilot scale refinery system converted peanut hulls to hydrogen (or other fuels) and produced a carbon char co-product, biochar. This byproduct in itself holds tremendous potential for carbon sequesteration and soil ammendments, which are currently being researched. Although this equipment is no longer housed at BREC, the Biorefining and Carbon Cycling Program is contunuously active in research and development of all aspects of the biorefinery concept.