Jacob Miller, 2015, Chemical and Biological Engineering

Turning agricultural waste products or energy crops like switchgrass (both which are characterized as biomass, inedible plant matter) into fuel provides humanity a renewable, plentiful source of energy to replace fossil fuel usage in a variety of applications. One critical area in need of innovation is biomass conversion to transportation fuels. Currently, most bio-based fuels in industrial production rely on processing sugars that come from plant parts such as corn and sugarcane that can otherwise be used for human food consumption. This is not sustainable, as it interferes with the world’s food supply. My summer project explored computer modeling the methods for conversion of biomass to transportation fuels using biochemical processes. By looking at different industrial plant configurations, I analyzed several processes to make liquid transportation fuels through technological and economic metrics. This helped the PEI Energy Systems Analysis Group initiate a multi-year project with the goal of evaluating economic prospects of various industrial methods of making liquid transportation fuels from biomass. This internship allowed me to further explore my interests in the field of my major. I plan to attend graduate school, and this internship has made research on biomass to biofuel processes an appealing area for me to pursue.