Grants and Projects

ODU Biomass research lab works on various projects and research annually. Most of these research and projects are funded from different organizations. We currently have three different types of grants-

National Science Foundation (NSF) is a United States government agency that supports research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering. National Science Foundation (NSF) funds research and education in most fields of science and engineering. ODU Biomass Research Lab works with NSF hand on hand through various programs,

I) Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER)
II) Partnerships for Innovation (PFI) program
III) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)

I) Faculty Early CAREER Development Program Grant (CAREER) 

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Activities pursued by early-career faculty should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research. NSF encourages submission of CAREER proposals from early-career faculty at all CAREER-eligible organizations and especially encourages women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities to apply.

CAREER Project-
Nutrients and Energy-rich Macromolecules Recovery from Microalgae using Subcritical Water

This Research/Educational project grant focuses on the extraction of proteins and lipids from algal biomass using Flash Hydrolysis in subcritical water, and the use of Hydrothermal Mineralization to recover inorganic nutrients for reuse as algal fertilizer. The project includes research, university-level education, and outreach at the K-12 level.

In the CAREER research/educational project, the PI will utilize subcritical water for both extracting the energy-rich macromolecules and for recovering the minerals. The project is expected to address both of the challenges currently faced by algae biofuels. In the first step, PI will utilize flash hydrolysis (FH) to recover proteins, carbohydrates, lipids. In the second step, the PI will utilize hydrothermal mineralization (HTM) to recover inorganic nutrients for recycling. The proposed process has the potential of recovering more than two-thirds of macronutrients using the geo-mimetic precipitation method while producing biofuel intermediate species. These nutrients include P, N, and inorganic solids. The FH process has the advantage of being able to disrupt algal cell walls without changing the functionality of the cell components such as lipids. The recovered nutrients will be utilized as a slow-release fertilizer for algae cultivation. An array of characterization methods will be utilized for understanding the effects of algae productivity, and the efficacy of the recycled nutrients.

Selective FH of algae proteins within a few seconds without the use of any added chemicals is a new concept. The project will examine the FH of model proteins to derive a fundamental understanding of reaction pathways, intermediate compounds, and interactions of macromolecules under fast reaction conditions. This will extend our knowledge of the conversion of organic matters in the hydrothermal medium. The proposed nutrients recovery using HTM mimics the natural geological process of minerals precipitation in an aqueous medium. The integration of HTM with FH is a novel concept considering that no additional heating or pressurization will be required. New knowledge will be developed by studying the mineralization and precipitation of dissolved ionic species (extracted from algae during FH) in a hydrothermal medium to recover nutrients. The additional benefits include the production of biofuel intermediates while reducing NOx emissions.

Research associated with the grant has been reported in peer-reviewed articles as well as at 2 national conferences.

II) Partnerships for Innovation program Grant (PFI)

The Partnerships for Innovation (PFI) Program within the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships (IIP) offers researchers from all NSF-funded disciplines of science and engineering the opportunity to perform translational research and technology development, catalyze partnerships, and accelerate the transition of discoveries from the laboratory to the marketplace for societal benefit.

PFI Project-
Design, Development, and Demonstration of a Pilot-Scale Mobile Flash Hydrolyzer

This project focuses on developing a pilot-scale mobile Flash Hydrolyzer (FH) unit to rapidly and economically harvest products made from microalgae. The project will result in a novel mobile algae slurry processing Flash Hydrolysis unit which will be used for the following demonstration purposes:

On­site algae processing at commercial algae cultivation facilities
Recovery of bioproducts and nutrients at algae bloom sites
Processing algae from the tertiary treatment of wastewater effluents and
Integration into a municipal solid waste processing facility.

The project team consists of graduate students and interdisciplinary undergraduate students who will gain experience in project­based learning and process design, as well as an opportunity to interact with numerous stakeholders. This project platform will help engage student participants in talking to potential customers, partners and competitors, and entrepreneurial opportunities that follow successful academic research. A summer biofuel research apprenticeship program and visits of local high school students to the project site will be used as a tool to engage K­12 students.

III) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)

NSF funds numerous research for undergraduate students through its REU Sites program. An REU site gives undergraduates opportunities to work in the research programs of the host institution. We intake several undergraduate students for research every summer through the REU program. To read more about the REU program, you can click the following link:

DOE grant is a federal fund from the United States Department of Energy. DOE funds various educational organizations creating opportunities for students from various backgrounds to work on their ideas, projects, and research. We are currently working on a DOE-funded project for the cost-effective production of fuels alongside other partnering institutes. 

DOE Project-
I) Pilot-Scale Biochemical and Hydrothermal Integrated Biorefinery (IBR) for Cost-Effective Production Of Fuels and Value Added Products

The goal of this research is the cost-effective production of biocarbon, carbon nanofibers, polylactide, and phenol from the waste streams generated from the biochemical platform technology while processing lignocellulosic biomass for 1 tpd throughput. These products will be able to generate revenue and help lower the fuel cost from these facilities. 

Specific goals include:

  • conversion of solid waste/lignin residue (UHS) into biocarbon and carbon nanofibers by hydrothermal processing
  • enrichment of aqueous waste stream into lactic acid by wet oxidation followed by manufacture of polylactide
  • production of phenol from solid residue by wet oxidation
  • optimization of products from waste streams for revenue
  • upgradation of derived bio-oil and alcohols recovery
  • biomass slurry flow optimization
  • pilot scale plant testing for the entire technology platform and
  • TEA and LCA studies.

The revenues generated from these bioproducts will help to address the Bioenergy Technology Office’s (BETO) for strategies of cost-competitive biofuel production. This project is collaborative and partnering institutions include South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, Old Dominion University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Idaho National Laboratory, and Southwest Research Institute. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an independent agency of the United States federal government for environmental protection. EPA works to ensure the protection of human health and the environment. Nearly half of the EPA’s budget goes into grants to state environmental programs, non-profits, educational institutions, and others for scientific studies. One of that project is EPA’s P3 -People, Prosperity and the Planet. 

EPA’s P3 – People, Prosperity and the Planet – Program is a unique competition that is open to teams of college/university students working to design solutions for a sustainable future. P3 offers students hands-on experience that brings their classroom learning to life, while also allowing them to create tangible changes in their communities. This annual, two-phased research grants program challenges students to research, develop, and design innovative projects that address real-world challenges involving all areas of environmental protection and public health.

Phase I serves as a “proof of concept,” where teams are awarded a one-year grant of up to $25,000 to develop their idea and showcase their research in the spring at EPA’s National Student Design Expo (NSDE). These teams are then eligible to compete for a Phase II grant of up to $100,000 to implement their design in a real-world setting. P3 aims to foster progress towards environmental awareness by achieving the symbiotic goals of improved quality of life for all people, economic prosperity, and protection of the planet – people, prosperity, and the planet. ODU biomass lab team have participated in this program on multiple occasions showcasing their brilliant ideas relevant to the grant’s theme.

EPA Projects-
I) Low-cost Household Biochar Water Filter for Lead Removal (2017-2018)

The major challenge of using biochar as a cost-competitive method is to assess what quantity of lead a given amount of biochar can adsorb before supersaturation in a continuous flow packed-bed system. Adsorption of a substance involves its accumulation at the interface between two phases. Breakthrough; the point at which all adsorption sites are occupied-adsorbate and adsorbent are in equilibrium, of a given amount of biochar data can be used to design a household water filter for drinking water free of lead contamination. This P3 award team proposes to design a biochar filter for the removal of lead from tap water using the principle of adsorption

II) Flash Hydrolysis of Microalgae for On-site Nutrients Recovery and Biofuels Production (2014-2015)

Some of the major challenges in accomplishing the objective of cost-competitive biofuels production from microalgae include dewatering, high nitrogen/protein content, and diverse composition of microalgae. In view of challenges associated with utilizing this high water content biomass, principally the need for water and nitrogen removal, reactions in subcritical water (critical point: 374°C, 22.1 MPa) medium may be an attractive option for extracting valuable bioactive compounds and producing liquid hydrocarbons from microalgae. In subcritical water-based processes, water is kept in the liquid phase and so the latent heat required for phase change of water from liquid to vapor (2.26 MJ/kg) is avoided. This allows reducing the energy requirement for the subcritical water-based process compared to that of steam-based processes. 

The P3 award team proposes to build and operate a flash hydrolyzer. It is a plug flow type reactor which operates between 150-320°C under subcritical water conditions and is capable of processing 100 gallons per hour of algal slurry with tunable residence time.

You can find more in-depth information about EPA Research in the Research section.