Pumped up research

An environmental science major at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) who was selected as a Volkswagen Distinguished Scholar worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, looking into the role of farmers’ choices in bioenergy scenarios.

“Most ethanol produced in the U.S. is currently made from corn grain, and the government would like to limit that process and encourage ethanol to be produced instead from non-food crops like switchgrass or hybrid poplar,” Carolyn Hoagland said.

While many aspects of farmers’ choices and U.S. farm policy are complex, Hoagland was able to determine that high quality farm ground is unlikely to be converted to cellulosic energy crops if farmers are concerned about making a profit.

“These poor quality acres can sometimes be profitably converted to switchgrass or other energy crops, but only if a biorefinery is nearby to buy the biomass energy crop,” Hoagland said.

Hoagland presented her research at Annual Meeting and International Research Conference of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society in Raleigh, North Carolina.

“Getting the internship changed my life,” she said. “In class, it helped me see the big picture. When you’re taking a 300 or 400-level class, it’s hard to put the information into context, but if you’ve completed an internship, when the information is presented, you can understand it.”

Hoagland, an adult student, has been studying energy for a decade.

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