Meg Blanchard, a professor at NC State College of Education, continues her efforts to grow America’s bioeconomy through her work on a new $2.25 million project funded by the US Department of Energy.
Blanchard is co-principal investigator of the “Sargassum and Hurricane Waste Biomass for Aviation Fuel and Graphite (SWAG)” project, which aims to develop sustainable biotechnologies, including aviation fuel and graphite for lithium-ion batteries, from solid waste streams in the United States. Professor Sunkyu Park, from the NC State College of Natural Resources, is the project’s principal investigator.
“It has been wonderful to partner on projects with the College of Natural Resources. Through a
number of projects, we have been able to bring some of the developments in science and industry
and career explorations to teachers and in the classroom, to help students consider a new career
lanes,” Blanchard said.
The technologies developed by SWAG, Blanchard said, will reduce landfill waste and the number of graphite mines and synthetic graphite plants needed, while increasing the number of sustainable jobs in the bioeconomy.
“There are also several social equity impacts of this project. Removing sargassum, algae, from beaches will help coastal communities that depend on access to open water, such as for fishing, shipping, and tourism. Community resources that are currently being used for beach cleanups could be channeled into community development,” she said. “Furthermore, the commercialization of the technology developed within the framework of this project will create new jobs in the communities concerned.
Blanchard’s work on Project SWAG will build on his ongoing work on the Sustainable Bioproducts and USDA-funded Bioenergy Program with Richard Venditti, Elis Signe Olsson Professor at the College of Natural Resources.
Through this project, the team recruited 18 rural high school science teachers and 20 undergraduate students to take four new bioeconomy courses. Undergraduate students were placed in paid summer industry internships and teachers received summer professional development, which included lab activities and ongoing support to engage their high school students in experiments. bioeconomy and career explorations in class.
As part of Project SWAG, Blanchard’s role will focus on three main outreach goals.
First, she will work with graduate students to prepare them to visit the classrooms of teachers in North Carolina who participated in the Sustainable Bioproducts project, as well as virtually visit classrooms in Colorado via Zoom. During these tours, graduate students will talk about their research, show them their labs, and answer questions high school students may have about the bioeconomy field and their career path.
Then she will work to coordinate field trips for rural high school students to visit NC State or the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, with an emphasis on working with students from underserved schools and first-generation students. . During these visits, students will visit on-campus research labs and experience campus life, with the goal of helping them project themselves as future college students.
Finally, Blanchard will work with teachers and students to engage in classroom career exploration related to potential bioeconomy or STEM careers and learn details about how to move forward on academic and professional pathways.
Developing bioeconomy jobs and future workers to fill those positions is important to the state of North Carolina, which is a major agricultural and forestry region, Blanchard said.
“Since many of these jobs are emerging, students probably wouldn’t know about them. Given that rural North Carolina has fallen behind in several socioeconomic indicators, there is great potential to engage our students in the growing needs of an emerging bioproducts and bioenergy industry,” she said. declared. “This way, students can consider career paths close to home with plenty of well-paying jobs that advance some of our country’s sustainability goals.”