Michael Henson, chemical engineering professor and co-director of The Institute for Massachusetts Biofuels Research (TIMBR), was one of 12 distinguished expert speakers at a weeklong discussion of the changing energy landscape held Jan. 20-24 at Harvard University.
An expert in microbial processes for liquid biofuels production, Henson’s research focuses on developing computer models that allow improved design and operation of microbial fermentation processes for biofuels production from plant materials.
Henson’s workshop was part of the “Energy Controversies: Biofuels and Fracking” segment of the program. Participants examined the roles of alternatives in the emerging energy mix from the standpoint of associated technological, economic, legal and environmental impacts. His lecture, “Microbial Routes to Second Generation Biofuels,” focused on the technical and economic challenges to developing microbial technologies for converting plant materials to liquid transportation fuels. Student discussion on feedstock, conversion, downstream and distribution issues followed.
Fellow TIMBR co-directors Danny Schnell, biochemistry and molecular biology, and Susan Leschine, veterinary and animal sciences, said Henson’s participation was a notable recognition of his expertise in the field. Leschine said, “It’s a tribute to the expertise Mike brings to UMass Amherst research and education for him to be invited to participate alongside such a very impressive group of authorities.”
Schnell added, “This is the type of forum that enables TIMBR, through affiliated faculty such as Mike Henson, to champion the development of alternative, renewable fuels and chemicals from non-edible plant sources to reduce fossil fuel dependence and preserve the environment.”
The workshops blended lectures with overviews and breakout sessions in which participants discussed specific problems relevant to the presentations. The organizing committee reported overwhelming interest in the program among students and had to close registration before everyone who wished to attend could enroll.