A UTC alumna and two current UTC student were selected for the Volkswagen Distinguished Scholars Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the three can now be seen in a new video. Jennifer Lewis, Joshua Solomon and Carolyn Hoagland were among 11 students selected by Volkswagen for the program, which began last summer.
Lewis, a May 2010 chemical engineering graduate, will continue her internship until the end of 2010. At the ORNL Fuels Engines and Emissions Research Center, Lewis relies on UTC research conducted with Dr. Frank Jones, U.C. Foundation Professor and Chemical Engineering Coordinator.
“The work I have done with Dr. Jones dealt a lot with biodiesel which has been very helpful in working at ORNL,” Lewis said. “I am working more with exhaust after treatment systems than with renewable fuels but they are closely related. With the foundation I had from my research with Dr. Jones to build on, I was not lost and confused when I arrived at ORNL this past summer.”
Lewis has been working on systems to help control vehicle emissions, for instance, soot and NOx. They include diesel particulate filters, selective catalytic reduction systems, and lean NOx traps.
As Lewis looks ahead to the completion of her internship, she is considering finding a job in her field or pursuing a master’s degree.
Joshua Solomon, a mechanical engineering student, completed his internship in the summer with the option to return to Oak Ridge in summer 2011.
With a focus on Materials Science, Solomon worked in the Material Science and Technology Division, Polymer Composites Research Group at Oak Ridge. He concentrated on carbon fiber polymer composites, specifically trying to create low cost carbon fiber.
“Any structural component of a car could contain carbon fiber and many expensive cars contain it, but it is expensive. There are many advantages of low cost carbon fiber,” Solomon said.
Hoagland, a UTC senior who studies Environmental Science, was mentored by Virginia Dale at the Center for Bioenergy Sustainability and spent her summer looking into the role of farmers’ choices in future bioenergy scenarios. She worked with ORNL agricultural economist Mark Downing and anthropologist Amy Wolfe.
Most ethanol produced in the United States is made from corn grain. According to Hoagland, “the U.S. government would like to limit that process and encourage ethanol to be produced instead from non- food crops like switchgrass or hybrid poplar. While many aspects of U.S. farm policy are complex, farmers’ land use choices are even more so. Yet farmers’ choices about whether to engage in perennial biomass production are often simplified or ignored when engineers, politicians, chemists, and financiers make plans to bring biofuels to market at a commercial scale.”
Biomass crops respond differently than food crops like corn and beans to factors such as nutrient inputs, rainfall and soil depth. Current subsidies for cellulosic energy crops are not competitive with subsidies for food commodities when these crops are gown on deep, quality soils. Poor ground that is unable to support food crops is often placed in conservation reserve programs, or is used as low input pasture.
“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.