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May 21st, 2012
One professor and two graduate students are working to discover ways to make an alternative fuel more efficient.
Ben Dawson-Andoh, a professor in the Division of Forestry and Natural Resources at West Virginia University, and his two doctoral students, Gideon Lawer-Yolar and Emmanuel Atta-Obeng, are traveling this week to Oak Ridge National Laboratories to study the composition of lignin, a substance in wood that limits its use as an alternative fuel and as a source of chemical products.
Oak Ridge National Laboratories is a national lab that provides a technology called Small Angle Neutron Scattering that will allow the three to further understand the structure of lignin.
“It’s a great opportunity for all of us involved to work at a national lab,” Dawson-Andoh said. “This has been a major part of my research for the past five or six years, and hopefully this will allow for more discovery.”
Their research, “Effects of lignin extraction on Biomass Cell Wall Structure Using SANS,” will look to shed light on the structural composition of lignin, which could help further research about how to remove lignin and develop possible biological products.
Oak Ridge is the world’s foremost neutron scattering center. The equipment available at Oak Ridge National Laboratories isn’t available locally, so the group is looking forward to tinkering with the new tools available.
“We’ll be looking at the lignin with the equipment there and that will be a very new experience for us,” Lawer-Yolar said. “We haven’t used it at all before, so we’re hoping to come out with some new information.”
Dawson-Andoh submitted a proposal to Oak Ridge National Laboratories for use of their facilities, and upon its acceptance, he and his two graduate students prepped for the visit.
“(Lawer-Yoler) and I helped in preparing the samples to be used for the work at Oak Ridge and will also help in carrying out the experiments,” Atta-Obeng said. “I stand to benefit a great deal from the work at Oak Ridge. Not only will I be introduced to the use of Small Angle Neutron Scattering in studying the mesoporic structure of substances, but also the results of the work should give me a better understanding in terms of my own research. I’m happy to represent WVU at the lab.”
“It’s a great opportunity for us, too,” he said. “We are having the chance to make ourselves more marketable and more competitive in the job market.”
This area of research is important to the trio because of its development potential.
“It’s a major part in biomass and biofuels,” Dawson-Andoh said. “Hopefully, in the bigger picture, we can better understand the structure of lignin, and maybe we’ll be able to develop more efficient methods to use in biomass. We could use lignin as an added value or make products from lignin.”
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