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"Biofuels: Tapping Nature's Abundance" is Free Public Lecture on 16 February 2008

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"Biofuels: Tapping Nature's Abundance" is a free public lecture that will be given by Tom Richard, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering and director of the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment, on 16 February 2008. The event is the fourth of six lectures in the 2008 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, which has the theme this year of "Running on Empty?: Strategies for Our Energy Future." This free minicourse for the general public consists of six lectures concerning current research on various energy options and the environmental consequences of their use. No registration is required. The lectures take place on six consecutive Saturday mornings from 11:00 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m. in 100 Thomas Building on the Penn State University Park campus.

Richard will discuss the potential to access the stored energy of plants as a fuel source. "Plants are nature's solar collectors, capturing as much solar energy in a week as humans use in a year," he said. "It may be possible to unlock the potential of this vast renewable resource by increasing the productivity and sustainability of agricultural and forest systems, and by applying the tools of modern molecular biology to access the energy stored in the cell walls of plants."

Richard's program of bioprocess-engineering research is focused on solving agricultural and environmental problems. Among the goals of projects in his lab are the microbial conversion of biomass; the use of agricultural byproducts and manures as sources of energy, nutrients, and organic matter; and the development of value-added manufacturing processes for the emerging bio-based economy. He also is working to develop more sustainable crop and livestock systems by analyzing composting processes and by studying nutrient, carbon, and energy flows in agricultural ecosystems.

As head of his lab's Bioconversion Research Group, Richard is leading an effort to apply fundamental engineering science to microbial ecosystems in order to develop innovative strategies for a more sustainable agricultural system and for the emerging bio-based economy. The group places particular emphasis on microbial processes that occur in three-phase porous materials, where solid, liquid, and gas phases all play critical roles. The complexity of these systems lies not only in their immediate physical, chemical, and biological dimensions, but also in the human and natural systems within which they are embedded. Understanding and improving the performance of these microbial processes demands a multi-dimensional perspective and invites interdisciplinary collaboration.

Richard earned his master's degree in agricultural engineering in 1987 and his Ph.D. degree in biological engineering in 1997, both at Cornell University. He received his bachelor's degree in the political economy of natural resources from the University of California at Berkeley in 1978. In 1997, he was appointed as an assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University and was promoted to associate professor in 2003. He also served the university as chair of its graduate program in sustainable agriculture.

In 2004, Richard joined the faculty of Penn State as an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, and in 2006 he became director of the Biomass Energy Center, a University-wide center fostering interdisciplinary and stakeholder collaborations on systems for the production, processing, and utilization of sustainable bioenergy. He was named the director of the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment in January 2008. The Institutes of Energy and the Environment aims to expand the University's capacity to pursue the newest frontiers in energy and environmental research by encouraging both cooperation across academic disciplines and the participation of local, state, federal, and international stakeholders.

The Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science are a program of the Penn State Eberly College of Science that the college has provided annually since 1995. The 2008 series is sponsored jointly by the Eberly College of Science and the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Financial support for the 2008 lectures is provided by a gift from the Chevron Corporation and by the Penn State Eberly College of Science.

For more information or access assistance, contact the Eberly College of Science Office of Public Information by telephone at (814) 863-0901, by e-mail at science@psu.edu, or on the Web at http://www.science.psu.edu/alert/frontiers/

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