Campus News

Fuel farms: Students visit State Botanical Garden for Bioenergy Day

Bioenergy Day Botanical Garden 2013-h. Christian Brodbeck
Christian Brodbeck

More than 200 Athens seventh-graders experienced how wood and other organic materials generate energy at the first Bioenergy Day @ UGA Oct. 8 at the State Botanical Garden.

The University of Georgia Bioenergy Systems Research Institute sponsored the event.

UGA faculty and students were on hand to guide students from Hilsman Middle School and other visitors through the hands-on displays about producing renewable energy from biological sources. Interactive exhibits were developed by staff from the BioEnergy Science Center in collaboration with the Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the Southeast Partnership for Integrated Biomass Supply Systems.

BESC staff at UGA and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory developed “Farming for Fuels” exhibits and lesson plans that teach basic concepts such as the carbon cycle; how woody biomass, such as trees and grasses, can produce biofuels; and the technical and economic obstacles to a bio-based fuel economy.

“Students visited nine Farming for Fuels work stations that helped them to understand fundamentals of the complex nature of plant cell walls, the issues affecting the use of food versus nonfood crops to produce biofuels such as ethanol, and the mechanical differences between cars run by hydrogen, solar and wind power,” said Janet Westpheling, a professor of genetics in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and BESC activity lead for education and outreach.

Another activity involved testing the sugar content of liquids and learning how yeast ferments sugar into ethanol for biofuels. Students also got to use a microscope to see the differences between plant cells’ thick cell walls of cellulose and animal cells with thin cell membranes. Lesson plans from the Creative Discovery Museum will help educators teach more about biofuels in the classroom.

The seventh-graders also saw a tractor-trailer scale mobile wood gasifier turn biomass into electricity on a small scale.

The mobile biomass gasifier came to UGA as the final stop on a “whistle-stop tour” across the Southeast coordinated by IBSS, a partnership of UGA, the University of Tennessee Center for Renewable Carbon and Auburn University.

The mobile gasifier has traveled more than 20,000 miles over the past few years to demonstrate gasification and power generation from biofuels.