Sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) are making news as a way to potentially reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation industry. Now, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory has teamed up with DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory on a new project funded by DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) called BRIDGES: the Bioenergy Research & Education Bridge. BRIDGES creates educational materials for college students to help them understand the potential impacts and uses of SAFs.
As a part of the effort, in July 2022, Argonne partnered with Waubonsee Community College to evaluate a new lab-developed case study based on research done at Argonne using the Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Technologies (GREET) model. Students in an introductory biology class at Waubonsee were able to examine a GREET analysis of SAFs and examine life-cycle impact.
“This was my first time doing a case study,” said Waubonsee biology professor Danielle Fischer. “The background material was very robust, and there were tons of resources for my students to find out more information.”
According to Fischer, even though the students in the class come from a variety of different backgrounds and have different academic interests, all of them found things in the case study that enriched their education. “One of my students was a computer science major, and he latched onto the software that enabled it,” she said. “Others drew a connection to energy and the environment that they might not have otherwise seen.”
Being able to teach material that is connected to economic and environmental impacts in the real world offers a special advantage for reaching students at a two-year institution like Waubonsee, Fischer said. “Previously, I had taught a unit on energy about cellular respiration, but having this case study makes it possible for students to see how energy from biomass is used on a macro level. I even heard a TV commercial about sustainable aviation fuels — that’s how relevant they are.”
“The students say this is the real world, this is in the news, they’re connecting it to their own lives,” said Argonne program coordinator Kelly Sturner, who helped to develop the case studies. “We’re helping to raise consciousness of real science and real issues and giving students the opportunity to learn and make informed decisions.”
According to Sturner, BRIDGES project partners also prepared additional case studies on bioenergy topics. Argonne helped create an additional case study based on work by Argonne chemist Max Delferro on catalytic upcycling of plastics. “We want students to be able to work on topics that prompt thought provoking questions like, ‘Can my plastic bag from the grocery store hold the solution to an environmental issue?’” Sturner said. “The more we can show how science is making a difference in our everyday lives, and connect that to education, the better off we all will be.”
Two additional case studies, one on regional feedstocks for bioenergy and another on converting waste to energy, were created by Idaho National Laboratory. All four cases are now available to download for free on the BETO BRIDGES website.
Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science.