Illinois college to develop biofuels program

By Erin Voegele | September 20, 2010
Posted Oct. 20, 2010

Ina, Ill.-based Rend Lake College has received a $60,835 grant from the USDA to support a three-part biofuels education program, which will include training on farm-based biodiesel production. The program is currently slated to run 18 months.

According to Linda Denton, RLC professor of physics and physical science, the first component of the three-part program includes the development of an internet-hybrid class for RLC students. The lecture portion of the class will be internet-based, she said. Students will also meet on campus for four eight-hour lab sessions during the semester. "The grant is also going to help us supply the laboratory for the biofuels class," Denton said, noting that laboratory work will be designed to coordinate with lecture activities and will include lab-scale production of biodiesel, ethanol and methane.

The biofuels laboratory will also be employed by the second component of RLC's three-part program; a community education course, which has been designed for local community members, such as farmers, who want to learn more about small-scale biofuel production and use. Local farmers have been expressing interest in this type of class for years, Denton said. "I've been looking for a tool to start something in the community ed area, because people are interested in making their own biofuels," she continued. "We live in a very rural area, and a lot of people farm part-time. They are interested in making their own fuels to use for their cars or their ag equipment."

The third portion of RLC's biofuels program involves an internship program for the college's students. Four students will be able to participate in the program for each of the two semesters currently funded. The interns will produce small batches of biodiesel, ethanol and methane, likely using feedstocks sourced from the campus farm. "We are also going to do some little research projects," Denton said. One of those projects will research the economical viability of small-scale on-farm biofuel production.

While the biofuels program is currently funded for 18 months, Denton said she is hoping to find additional money to allow the program to continue into the future. Although the college has not yet considered the possibility of expanding the program to offer a two-year degree focused on biofuels, Denton said it could be a possibility in the future if RLC identifies sufficient student demand.

RLC is preparing to submit the syllabus for the biofuels education program to the Illinois Community College Board for approval. According to Denton, the board will likely approve the curriculum in the spring of 2011, which would allow the program to begin during either the summer 2011 or fall 2011 semester.
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