Photo by Lea Kimley.

Engineering a greener future

By Ajay Shah and Mary Wicks

Many people associate bridges or electrical circuits with engineering; however, the field is much broader. According to, “engineering is the application of science and math to solve problems” and engineers are “instrument in making those innovations available to the world.” In today’s world, in which companies and consumers want greener, more sustainable processes and products, engineers are developing new ways to process organic wastes and agricultural feedstocks in order to create bio-based products.

As our understanding of the molecular structure of organic materials grows, engineers are developing technologies that use the knowledge generated. For example, a biological engineer may work to optimize biological processes to produce ethanol via fermentation or biogas via anaerobic digestion for bioenergy. Chemical engineers may focus on creating more sustainable products, such as bio-plastics from waste materials, rather than petroleum, or bio-materials that decompose after use. Other engineers may use genetic engineering methods to make crops that are more resistant to disease or environmental challenges, such as drought.


Learn more

The “Advanced BioSystems Workshop: Bioprocessing to Commercialization” features a pre-workshop tour, followed the next day by speakers from industry, research, and others to share ideas and experiences in bioprocessing technologies and bio-based products. On Sept. 9, 2019, attendees will tour Cargill’s bioprocessing plant in Sidney and then enjoy a barbeque and chance to network. On Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019 the workshop will be held at the Shelby Oaks Golf Course in Sidney and will provide attendees an opportunity to learn more.

The workshop will kick off with keynote speaker, Zia Abdullah, who leads the biomass program at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). He will provide an overview on current and future opportunities and challenges in bioprocessing. Kenneth Heater with METSS Corporation will share an industry perspective on the challenges faced in developing commercially viable bio-based products and processes.

Three speakers from industry will provide insights to product development and commercialization. Kevin Jarrel with Modular Genetics will discuss their process for using fermentation to convert crude glycerin, a byproduct of biodiesel production, to a surfactant. Then, Daniel Derr with NATSURFACT will discuss his company’s process for converting soybean oil to a biosurfactant. To wrap up the day, Patrick Heist, co-owner of Ferm Solutions and the Wilderness Trail Distillery, will share how he grew tiny microbes into two large, successful bioprocessing companies.

There will also be time for networking and to hear from Ajay Shah, a researcher at Ohio State University. He will discuss the importance of working with industry to ensure that research addresses real-world needs. Barry McGraw with the Ohio Soybean Council will provide growers’ perspectives on bio-based products.

The workshop is open to everyone. Registration, which includes the networking event, is $50 on or before Aug. 27 and $60 after that date. A special student rate of $25 is available, but registrations must be received on or before Aug. 27. For program and registration details, including online registration, see the links at or contact Mary Wicks at or 330-202-3533.

The workshop and networking event are made possible through support of the Ohio Soybean Council, which seeks to expand the development of soy-based products and technologies, improving the profitability of Ohio’s soybean farmers.


Dr. Ajay Shah is an Associate Professor and Mary H. Wicks is a Program Coordinator in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering of The Ohio State University. E-mail:; Phone: (330)202-3533. This column is provided by the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, OSU Extension, Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center, and the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.