MSU awarded grant from EPA for biodiesel research|[06/22/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 20, 2008

I learned last week that Mississippi State University has just been awarded nearly a quarter of a $1 million for some very specific biodiesel research. The project sounded interesting to me considering the ever-increasing price of fuel these days. The award granted by the Environmental Protection Agency is for research to transform waste water treatment plant sludge into biodiesel, which will support the research that MSU is conducting in the field of renewable, sustainable fuels for the future.

Hopefully, our research team led by Dr. Rafael Hernandez and Dr. Todd French will make some useful discoveries. While their highest priority will be the development of a new feedstock for biodiesel, their research is also expected to reduce the volume of sludge that has to be disposed of, thereby reducing the amount of pollution from runoff. If the project turns out as expected, it will have environmental benefits for the air, land and water.

Waste water sludge, it appears, contains fatty substances called lipids. Hernandez and French will use microorganisms to extract lipids from the sludge and convert it into biodiesel. That sounds pretty futuristic – converting waste water treatment facilities to fuel producing facilities. An important component of the research project involves evaluating the process’s net energy costs and the environmental effectiveness.

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It’s that kind of cutting-edge research the helps keep MSU among the top 100 research universities nationally and allows us to secure over $150 million per year in externally sponsored research. According to MSU’s office of research and economic development, the ultimate goal is to make our state and nation a better place to live, work and play. Our office of Technology Commercialization brings ideas to life by commercializing discoveries and innovations that emerge from the university’s research programs.

It’s probably not as likely that I’ll get the opportunity to promote the outcome of research like turning waste water sludge into biodiesel as the one I presently have to promote MSU’s Bermuda grass developments. It is the outcome of turf research that homeowners can use and enjoy today. Four new and improved Bermuda grass varieties – Choice, Supreme, Express and Pride – are now available as a result of over a decade of Dr. Wayne Philly’s studies and developments.

While Supreme is recommended for use on golf greens and tee boxes, Choice, Express and Pride can all be successfully used in home lawns. Choice is the Bermuda grass cultivar on Scott Field – home of the MSU Bulldogs. That one was probably selected for the football field because of its soft texture. For homeowners, though, the fact that it produces few seed heads means reduced pollen levels – especially important if one is allergic to Bermuda grass pollen. Choice also has improved tolerance to shade.

Express’ advantages are early spring green up and faster growth and establishment. Pride – the cultivar used on the MSU softball field –has improved resistance to leafspot and dollarspot diseases and has great color retention into fall.

I can supply a list of Mississippi-based producers and authorized sellers of each of the various brands. If you’re interested, let me know.

John C. Coccaro is county Extension director. Write to him at 1100-C Grove St., Vicksburg, MS 39180 or call 601-636-5442. E-mail him at