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K-State researcher's award for project to make ocean algae oil production more economical

Yuan wins National Science Foundation Career Award

Kansas State University

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IMAGE: Weinqiao "Wayne " Yuan is an assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering at Kansas State University. view more

Credit: K-State photo services

A Kansas State University researcher's work on making the costs of algae oil production more economical is being recognized by the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development Program.

K-State's Weinqiao "Wayne" Yuan, assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering, has received a five-year, $400,000 grant through the foundation's CAREER program for his project, Multi-scale Structured Solid Careers Enabling Algae Biofuels Manufacturing in the Ocean. The CAREER program supports the early career-development activities of junior teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their institution. Yuan's grant was awarded through the foundation's Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation.

"This a tremendous opportunity for Dr. Yuan to expand existing knowledge on utilization of algae as a renewable energy source," said Joseph Harner, interim head of K-State's department of biological and agricultural engineering. "The K-State legacy of integrating the latest research with students' scholastic experience will be strengthened as those under Dr. Yuan's guidance will be seeking solutions for global issues."

The long-term goal of Yuan's project is to make energy manufacturing from algae economically viable. His vision is to identify the best large solid carriers -- thin sheets of metals or polymers -- that oil-rich algae can be grown on for biofuels manufacturing in the ocean. The project also includes determining what surface textures -- such as smooth or dimpled -- are best for algae growth through both experimental and theoretical investigations.

"Knowledge obtained from this research will foster design and manufacturing of solid carriers -- the major equipment proposed for manufacturing algae biofuels in the ocean," Yuan said.

Yuan has been conducting a relevant study with Zhijian "Z.J." Pei, professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering at K-State. The National Science Foundation previously awarded them a nearly $120,000 Small Grant for Exploratory Research in 2008 for their work.

Yuan joined K-State in 2006 and has research interests in biofuels and bioproducts. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from China Agricultural University, and a doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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