USU's Mike Morgan sets more biodiesel-powered speed records

By Utah State University | September 12, 2014

Yet again, Utah State University ingenuity and perseverance were on display at Utah’s famed Bonneville Salt Flats as Aggie undergrad Mike Morgan set new speed records with USU-made biofuels.

“This is where the world pays attention,” said Morgan, a biochemistry major who raced a modified light truck in multiple trials during the Utah Salt Flats Association’s 2014 World of Speed event Sept. 6-9. “We’re demonstrating biofuels rival petroleum-based fuels in performance.”

Using a biodiesel blend made at USU from algae, Morgan drove a privately owned Dodge Rampage in a heavy headwind to 132.620 mph. In the same vehicle, powered with USU-made, 100 percent safflower biodiesel, he cruised to 133.815 mph. (Catch a glimpse of Morgan’s record-setting drive with safflower fuel in this USU Extension video captured by Dennis Hinkamp.)

“The weather conditions were less than ideal and the salt was a bit soggy, but we accomplished what we set out to do,” he said. “It was a fitting tribute to our late friend and colleague Dallas Hanks.”

The USU team dedicated the effort to Aggie alum Hanks ’91 MS, ’10 PhD, who succumbed to cancer June 25. Hanks, who founded USU’s Center for Agronomic and Woody Biofuels and Utah’s ‘Freeways to Fuel’ project, pioneered the university’s safflower biodiesel research.

“This week’s achievements mark the anniversary of USU’s first speed record in 2012 using biofuels,” Morgan said. “For the third year in a row, we introduced a new biodiesel and set a speed record with each one.”

In 2012, the Aggies raced to a record with yeast-derived biodiesel in a USU-built car. In 2013, the USU team built on its success with USU-made algae biodiesel. Both achievements garnered worldwide media attention.

Morgan conducts research with USU biochemistry professor Lance Seefeldt and Ralph Whitesides, USU Extension weeds specialist and professor in the Department of Plants, Soils and Climate. The young researcher also serves as co-chair of the National Biodiesel Board’s Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel partnership program.

The Aggies’ earlier attempts this year to race with USU biofuels at the Southern California Timing Association’s August “Speed Week” event at Bonneville were thwarted by rain and poor track conditions. The team plans to race again later this month at the association’s “Speed Week at World Finals” event.

While catching his breath from Bonneville racing, Morgan is hitting the books, catching up on classwork and starting a new part-time job. The Hyrum, Utah, native heads to his hometown school, Lincoln Elementary, this week to talk with students about setting and working toward goals and how to prepare for college.

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